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Full-time LLM vs. Part-time LLM

Master of Laws qualifications are now obtainable via three different study modes: full-time, part-time and distance learning. The majority of people who wish to pursue an LLM programme still currently do so via either the full-time or part-time method. So what can you expect from these types of study?

Let’s break it down…

Essentially, a full-time LLM requires a student to dedicate themselves completely to intensive study of their chosen subject – just like an undergraduate degree. Taught courses involve attending lectures and participating in group seminars at the law school campus, whilst also conducting independent study in order to complete one or more extended pieces of work for assessment (the exact number will depend on the course provider).  Estimates for the amount of time attributed to studying in this way go up to 40 hours per week, including both face-to-face tutoring/seminars and independent study. A full-time LLM course will generally take between nine to twelve months to complete.

A part-time LLM programme will also involve attending lectures and seminars. However, the times when these take place differ; the majority of part-time postgraduates continue to work whilst they study, which means their university contact hours in which they attend lectures and group discussions take the form of evening and/or weekend sessions.

The estimated time attributed to part-time study, including contact hours and independent study, is therefore reduced to around 20 to 25 hours per week. As such, a part-time LLM course will take around two years to complete, with some taking longer depending on either the course structure or any special circumstances which mean the student needs more time.

An LLM by Research can also be undertaken as either a full-time or part-time course, however the nature of this particular programme means time will pretty much completely be dedicated to independent study and work.

Why study full-time at postgraduate level?

Full-time study is a wonderful way to engage with your chosen subject. It allows you to concentrate solely on your studies without the distractions or extra responsibilities of a job to consider as well.

A full-time LLM can offer a chance to relocate to another town or city for your study year. In a similar way to life on an undergraduate degree, you will have optimal support and advice from your tutors, course mates and other university services, such as the careers service, as you will need to be on-site at your law school most days.

There is the benefit of face-to-face tuition and contact hours, and it is therefore more likely that you will get help at the time when you really need it. In terms of your future career you can also take advantage of all available societies, law events, pro bono projects and careers advice, which may open up more networking opportunities and help you with things like applications or interview preparation.

Some things to think about

A key issue to consider in relation to full-time study is the cost. Fees need to be paid for straight away before the course begins, and then there’s the question of how you will fund your other LLM year costs, such as accommodation and study materials.

As a full-time postgraduate student there won’t not much time free at all which would allow you to work and earn. Postgraduate study is a step up from undergraduate level, and you can expect the work to be even more intense. Will you have the necessary savings or source of income to cover the year’s costs? There are a selection of LLM funding sources available, but it’s very important that you are certain you will be able to finance your full-time study if this is the option you choose.

If you’re currently working you might also want to consider whether you really want to take a year out away from your career. It could well mean giving up your job. Is this something which could cause short-term or longer-term difficulties? Again, it’s not unheard of, but you need to be sure of what makes most sense for you, both personally and professionally.

Why study a part-time LLM?

A part-time LLM can be a great option for those who don’t want or are unable to give up their jobs and/or other commitments to pursue full-time postgraduate study. Though it will take longer to obtain the degree, the flexibility of this method means it is still possible to work in either a full- or part-time role and keep earning money to support yourself (and others in some cases), and help cover the costs of the course.

Some things to think about

The range of LLM subjects available as a part-time course is not quite as large as the full-time options, so you might have to make some compromises on your chosen subject if it isn’t offered in this form yet. Different law schools have different part-time course options too. If you’re unable to relocate and the right course isn’t at your local institution, a distance learning LLM could be an alternative.

Though there are less study hours involved per week in comparison to full-time study, the work will still be intense. It can be difficult and at times pretty tiring to manage both a job and evening/weekend study, plus any other commitments. Many people do manage to set in place effective routines and make it work. Will it suit you?

International students should also consider that visas are only usually granted to those applying for a full-time course. 

By Jos Weale, Editor,