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Studying in the USA

In the UK, once you have taken the LPC or BPTC you are a qualified lawyer – no strings attached. In the USA, things are done a little differently. Their system is what is described as a federal one, meaning that each state sets its own rules and criteria, and has its own Bar Examination. Once you pass the Bar, you're only qualified in your state.

If you've studied an LLB in the UK but are considering a move to the USA, a US LLM might be the right option for you.

US LLM eligibility

In the USA, budding lawyers are required to complete an undergraduate degree in any topic before they are allowed to take their first law qualification, the Juris Doctor. This course lasts three years. It is possible to study a Juris Doctor in the  US as an international student, and you won't need to have studied law before.

However if you have done the LLB, you might be more interested in an LLM. Just like in the UK, the LLM is a one-year course and allow students with prior legal knowledge to go more advanced.

Why study an LLM in the US?

An LLM in the US will most likely concentrate on the US legal system, though there are options to study international or global modules.

If you're planning on working for an international firm, or a firm which has a lot of dealings with the US, studying an LLM over there will teach you all you need to know.

The US has some of the most respected law schools in the world, such as Harvard, Yale and NYU. Studying a law master's at one of these institutions will really set you apart from other lawyers, regardless of your intended career path. Legally Blonde's Elle Woods might not recognise that it's hard to get into Harvard Law, but your future employers will.

Qualifying in the US

Just like in the UK, studying an LLM won't make you a qualified lawyer – you'll need to pass the Bar Exam for the state you're in. You'll obviously need to know about US law to pass the bar, and there are intensive courses you can enrol on to prepare you.

New York State allows non-US students to sit the Bar Examination without an LLM or a JD – an LLB is enough. Being qualified as a New York attorney-at-law means your status as a lawyer will be recognised globally, making you an attractive candidate for law firms worldwide.

Similarly in California, to take the Bar Exam, you don't need to have studied an LLM, but you will need to have taken the LPC or BPTC and be a practising lawyer in the UK. If you don't want to take either of these UK qualifications, a US LLM will allow you to take the Bar Exam instead.

For every other state, it's important to check what the requirements for the Bar Exam are. Most states will need to assess your previous law education (your LLB) to make a decision on whether or not you are eligible. In some cases you won't then need to take the LLM, but many will require you to have had some legal education in the US.

Drawbacks of studying in the US

It's well known that course fees in the US are significantly higher than in Europe and the UK. Just one year of tuition fees at Harvard will set you back around $60,000 – that's about £45,000! You'll struggle to find a loan to cover this in the UK, and the UK government loan is only available for courses studied in the UK.

You also might not be able to become a qualified lawyer in the US after your LLM, and even if you are eligible and pass the Bar Exam, you won't be guaranteed a visa to live or work in the US.

We don't want to put you off, but studying a law master's involves a lot of decisions, with the US options being the toughest out there. If you're just interested in studying abroad, staying in Europe might be a lot easier for you; if you have your heart set on America, then go for it!

By Lauren Bowes, Editor,