All About LLMs LLM courses, news & advice. All good. All in one place.

You know you want to...

LLM by Research

An LLM by Research involves independent research of a particular law topic of your own choice. You can study one as a full-time course over one year, or on a part-time basis spread over two years, as with a general or specialised LLM.

The beauty of this type of law degree is that you can study pretty much any area of law or jurisprudence you like and get to grips with something you’re really passionate about, whilst adding real value to that area of academia by contributing a fresh nugget of research.

Research degrees in law aim to encourage strong independent thinking and debate on aspects of legal thought, legislation and practice. This is honed by the development of skills essential to the integrity of academic legal research. They form the ideal basis for a future MPhil or PhD in law, and can be a brilliant foundation for legal research in practice as a lawyer, or in other professions.

How is it different to a taught LLM?

An LLM by Research is a rather different beast to a taught general or specialised LLM degree.

Rather than studying a selection of structured modules in a similar vein to an undergraduate degree format, as is the case with taught LLMs, with a research degree it’s up to you to come up with your own subject specialism. And then study it…. on your own.

As an undergraduate, you will have become accustomed to a style of learning in which you toddle along (always enthusiastically, of course) to lectures, listen and make notes, and investigate topics via exercises, discussions and assessments in seminars. All followed by a juicy exam at the end of it all for good measure…

Postgraduate research studies allow the student to take control of everything; from the development of a research proposal (needed to apply for this type of degree) and finalising a title, through to determining and implementing the correct methods in order to ultimately produce and submit a comprehensive and enlightening piece of research.

But don’t panic! Once your research proposal has been accepted by a law school and you begin as a research student, you will take part in research method workshops and or a training programme in research skills and techniques alongside your studies. This will help you to adapt and develop in this style in a comfortable manner. 

The only element for assessment is your thesis, which will be the primary focus of the degree. The required length of this work will vary according to each law school, but generally you can expect to have to produce along the lines of 30,000 to 40,000 words.

Though there may be other research students at your law school, when it comes to your degree you will, apart from meetings with your supervisor, very much but left to work things out for yourself. It can be tricky to adapt to independent study initially; some even call it lonely at times – especially if you are fresh out of an undergraduate degree which had plenty of peers to share thoughts with. But providing you are genuinely interested in your topic, have a good sense of intuition and problem-solving skills, and install strict study patterns in your routine, then an LLM by Research can be a really enjoyable and engaging investment.

Research supervisors

A primary factor in your search for the right research law degree provider should be finding the most suitable supervisor for your research proposal.

Your supervisor will be your main go-to person for advice and guidance throughout your studies. It’s their role to ensure you are on the right track with your study and give you constructive feedback on your work to help you progress further with your independent study.

Your research supervisor at law school will be an academic with expertise in your chosen area of research. In most instances you will meet up with him or her every few weeks throughout the course of your studies. This is a chance for you to share your progress, voice any problems and run drafts for your thesis by them.

Some law schools offer their research students the opportunity work on a closer level with other staff members. For example, you might be invited to staff research seminars, in which law school members and sometimes guest academics share their recent research work with colleagues and peers. You might even have the chance to dip into taught LLM lectures and seminars if you feel it will benefit your own independent research.

Is the LLM by Research right for me?

If you want to pursue an academic career in law and progress to PhD study, an LLM by Research is a great way to get your teeth into the skills needed for extensive independent research. It will help you to engage with topics, themes and academics at a complex level, and prepare you for the next stage. Support and guidance from academics who are in the midst of their own research could well open doors for your own interests for future study.

In terms of a law career, exceptional legal research and writing skills are a vital attribute for any modern solicitor or barrister. An LLM by Research is certainly one way to demonstrate you have what it takes. But it’s important to remember that there is a lot more to being a lawyer than being able to research: they need to be flexible to clients’ needs and have great commercial awareness and communication skills. If you’d like to pursue this path, you need to ensure you have other additional experiences which show you are suited to this role.

In-depth knowledge of the law can be highly useful in industries such as banking and finance too. But the same rule applies: if you choose this option, then make sure you have other strings to your bow which demonstrate your suitability for a career outside of academia as well.

Finally: Are you tough enough? Be prepared for an LLM by Research to be intense and very hard work. It’s a steep learning curve, and you will have to adapt quickly to a very new style of study. Research requires lots of patience and initiative, and you won’t be able to see your supervisor on a daily basis for feedback. Compare your options with specialised taught LLM degrees as well, and consider which format of learning would be best for you.

By Jos Weale, Editor,