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LLM Law vs. LLM Subject: Should I Study a General or Specialised Degree?

Industry developments and changes in the law mean that the number of LLM subjects on offer to today’s prospective postgraduates is diverse and ever-growing. In fact, you could be spoilt for choice!

As far as LLM decision dilemmas go, if you’re not keen on the independent topic choice and course structure of an LLM by Research then you’ll have to choose between either a general Law LLM or a specialised programme.

A general LLM, referred to as an LLM Master of Laws, LLM Law, LLM Law (General) or LLM General Programme in the UK according to each law school’s preference, allows you to pick and mix your units and modules (the number of which will depend on the course provider). This means you can cover a diverse collection of law areas, or choose to gear your choices to focus in one particular direction.

A specialised LLM will also involve a choice from a list of modules in most cases. However, these modules will cover very specific, at times niche topics relating to the LLM subject, with the aim of giving the student in-depth knowledge of that particular area.

So what should you think about when choosing between LLM Law and LLM subject?

Career aims

Some LLM postgraduate students already practise as lawyers, and therefore it is highly likely they have selected their LLM subject specialism to complement the area of law in which they work, or in which they intend to progress. If you already work in the legal sector, or this is the next step for you after your studies, then a specialised programme may be a good choice.

Say, for example, your interests lie in a career within commercial, corporate or business law, then it may be wise to choose a more specialised LLM focusing on one of these areas. It would enable you to gain in-depth knowledge in the academic side of the law which you can then apply to your work in legal practice.

Of course, it’s not just lawyers who have interests in studying law. In-depth legal knowledge can also be useful for people working in various business roles, or those who want to pursue law study as an academic career.  Specialised LLMs can also be suitable in these situations. For example, senior personnel in HR may find that a focus on Employment Law will enrich their career.

Course structure & assessment

Both a general and specialised LLM will require a dissertation and/or a collection of extended written pieces of work for assessment. Regardless of which type of course to choose you will develop the same sort of skills, such as the ability to research meticulously and debate areas of law at an advanced level, plus exceptional writing skills. So there’s no need to worry that you might miss out on something like this by selecting one LLM type over another.

Some courses may require students to complete examinations and assessments as well. Take a close look at the course structures, content covered, and assessment criteria for your shortlisted law schools and LLM programmes – it may help to decide which one is right for you.

If you want to keep your options open, and enjoy several areas of law and more diversity in your studies, then LLM Law may be for you. Specialised programmes still offer a range of topics, but you will be much more restricted in terms of the areas of law you will cover.

Part-time LLMs & distance learning

Only a select few UK law schools currently offer Master of Laws programmes in a part-time structure, or via distance learning. If you choose either of these ways of studying, then your programme choice will be more limited.

It is possible to study a general LLM Law course via distance learning. The University of Huddersfield for example offers this option, and there are a handful of specialised programmes to choose from ranging from International Business Law at the University of Liverpool, Mental Health Law at Northumbria University, and Computer and Communications Law at Queen Mary, to Employment Law at the University of Leicester, Food Law at De Montfort University, or Human Rights Law at Aberystwyth University.

 However, only certain subjects are offered by certain law schools. It’s quite likely that the subject range available via distance learning will grow in the future, but if distance learning is the only feasible option for you right now then you may have be flexible on the subject you study.

It will certainly help to think about your future as well as your current situation and interests when it comes to making the final decision.

By Jos Weale, Editor,