So, you want a Master’s Degree?
So this post actually took me longer than expected. I can’t really say why but I think it would be safe to say I put more time into conevying my ideas.
There is so much choice as to what ‘type’ of masters to pick but more and more people especially from law backgrounds seem to be picking LLM’s. Anyway, this post is going to talk about the other options available apart from an LLM and get you to think about your:
A) reasons for doing a masters
B) how it will increase/decrease your employability
So – postgraduate degrees…how important is it these days?
The idea of doing a Masters degree is appealing at first, but looking at the larger picture, I wonder how relevant it is really in the world of work. I wonder how much thought people really put into deciding why they want to do an LLM. I am all for further study – those who know me well know I encourage it at every opportunity. Having said that, there is much to consider before embarking on it.
People do a Masters degree for various reasons. It’s important to know what yours is before you jump into it. Some do it to further their knowledge in a particular area – they want to be an expert in their field. This is actually what the masters is designed to do. Teach and cultivate your knowledge of a specific field.
Take law for example – These days, hardly will you look at an academic law profile or a Nigerian lawyers profile and not see those three letters – LLM. It’s almost mandatory. In the same way, most good firms in Nigeria would actively encourage you to pursue an LLM if you’re already practicing and don’t have one. It’s all about packaging. Remember me discussing this in some previous posts? Right- packaging. An LLM is something for the firm to boast about. It gives it an international dimension.
” Our expert in Finance also has an LLM from Oxford University and is very well versed (or ‘Sound’ as they say in Nigeria) in this area…”
All na packaging. On the one hand it boosts the firms profile and on the other it shows that you’re bringing something different to the table. Let me elaborate on what I mean.
In 2010, I did a LLM in International Economic and Trade law. A mouthful I know. Anyway, my modules included:
1. International Economic Law
2. International Trade Law
3. International Financial Law
4. International Commercial Arbitration
Now. They are indeed interesting modules – I learnt a great deal from them all. It boosted my confidence a bit more because I saw the LLM as an added advantage. If I was going to apply to a law firm, the personal statement section/ covering letter is the best opportunity to market yourself. Something along the lines of..
“…having studied these four demanding modules, this LLM has given me the opportunity to gain a better understanding of these relevant areas of law. As these areas are still developing in Nigeria, I believe I would be highly instrumental in boosting this law firms profile…”
Or something along those lines -:)
Anyway, whilst it’s all exciting and all, the truth is practically all LLM modules are theoretical based information. This means if I was to go and practice tomorrow, a large chunk of this newly acquired information wouldn’t be relevant in the court room. Thats not to say if I went to work for a finance or arbitration firm it wouldn’t be. It’s just about knowing how best the Masters degree will serve you.
Well as i said before, it depends on why you’re doing a masters in the first place. My personal reasons for doing it was because I wanted to broaden my knowledge. The PhD was always part of the larger picture so I knew that an LLM would be a pre-requisite to apply for it. All four modules had something different to offer – The ones which really had an impact however were International Trade Law and International Financial Law. The latter because it’s obviously directly relevant to my PhD at the moment. Secondly and unashamedly, I thought it would look good on my CV. So those are my reasons.
So, lets look at some of the other reasons for persuing a postgraduate course.
So you want to do a masters…?
1.Some people do a Master’s degree because they are still deciding what to do after their law degree. This is quite a popular. Common reasons include not wanting to to rush into law school…what if i don’t get a training contract? What if I don’t get a pupillage? Or, doing it if you’re still deciding whether law is still for you. Doing a masters for the reasons above isn’t a bad idea – almost everyone has a first degree these days so it can give you a bit of an edge over other applicants in the long run.
2.Some people do a master’s in a bid to make up for achieving a 2.2 in their undergrad. This is probably the most common reason of all. It’s perfectly legitimate though – you may have just missed out on that 2.1, but your final grade is your final grade. Not everyone will give you the opportunity to explain why you ended up with a 2.2. Some job description boxes will say ‘minimum requirement 2.1’. Others, may give you the opportunity to apply with a 2.2 and a masters. If you have mitigating circumstances for your 2.2 and excel in your masters, that could suffice. If you fall into this category, let me just say – the leap from undergrad to masters is big. You’re lecturers wont really be holding your hand. This is the start of independent study.
3.Others do a master’s because “its what everyone does these days right?” Now, I’m not so sure that this is a good enough reason. Doing a postgrad in any subject is not only costly, but extremely time consuming. If you’re doing it for that reason alone, maybe you need to figure out what your end goal is sooner rather than later.
4. Finally, some embark on a Masters because they simply enjoy reading. I was talking to someone about this yesterday who is a medical doctor. He has a first degree in Pharmacology and works as a GP. Now, on top all the plenty reading, he told me: ‘Fols, I’m thinking of doing a masters o.’ In my mind, i was like, huh? This is someone who spent the best part of 8 years studying (collectively) and not due to him failing or anything. I think he honestly just enjoys reading so I can imagine him re enrolling at his old uni to do a Master’s in public health or something. It’s not like he needs this new course.. but I have concluded he loves reading so hey -:)
The position of a lawyer with an LLM:
If you’re thinking of doing a masters – think carefully about the larger picture. I’m not against doing it as I have previously said. I only ask that you consider all the options and not settle for an LLM with the mind that its the only option. If you’re into Corporate Finance for example, it may make more sense doing a masters in Law and Finance (MSc) rather than doing an LLM. A friend from law school wants to go into Management and so the masters she has applied for is Management and Entrepreneurship (or something along those lines lol). The point is, she’s coming from a legal background but after deciding she does want to do a masters, has considered the end goal and is going down a different direction. Hope this is making sense…!
I won’t lie – the competition is fierce out there. Some jobs literally have 100 applications for one spot. So on the one hand, having a Masters can make you stand out. Take Nigeria for example – if you look at many of the very top firms, many of the lawyers will have a Masters as well as additional small courses. Apart from requiring a 2.1 at law school for most firms, havin an LLM can again give you an edge over other applicants. You could have two applicants – mirrored results but one has a masters, one doesn’t. You guys get the picture.
As I mentioned above, I do advocate for further study. Whilst I’ll stick with this, people who want to apply should considerother courses. Still talking about law, you can do an MBA, MSC, HR – the list is endless. The point being butressed here is its important that you tailor your course to suit your actual end goal. Why bother doing International Buisness Law LLM if you’ll end doing Family law at Igbosere High Court, Lagos? It sounds stupid I know but I have seeeen this happen!
A masters programme is available anywhere and everywhere, but people always think “England” is the happening place. Don’t limit yourself to the UK. Gosh, theres America, there’s Europe, theres Africa. See, many people are under this misconception that coming to the UK is the only place one can do a master’s for law. Let me correct your understanding small. It is not!
(Experience is koko!!)
More study is a good thing but one needs to be careful not to let their CV only look academic based. Too much academic achievements and not enough actual experience – disaster. As a lawyer, That’s why you wonder why you’re overlooked for a position and its given to someone else with less academic credentials. Experience matters. Don’t fill up your CV with just more letters beside your name. Gain more working experience. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have a master’s degree and all employers will want you. Experience sometimes supercedes all of that my darlings. Sometimes, the skills you have don’t match job requirements. When you make some applications, its only natural to think
” well I have an LLM/MA, it shows I’m smart – they will want me”.
No my dear. Even if you’re applying for legal positions in the interim, you may find that your academic qualifications aren’t doing you any favours. A commom response to some applications is
“Unfortunately, other applicants suited the role more closely…”
Its not because you’re not “qualified” in the broad sense – other applicants who don’t have your credentials probably just have more experience than you do. Experience matters.
Someone I know finished his PhD four years back. LLB, LLM, B.L, MCIArb,PhD…you name it, he had it. But, he had absolutely no experience by the time he graduated. He focused sooooo much on these courses that he didn’t make time. It shows he thought academics would replace experience. So,with smashing credentials, high 2.1 from undergrad and a distinction at masters, he struggled to get a job for about a year and a half. It wasnt that he didn’t have the brain’s ( he clearly did..) it was just that he lacked the experience. I know that getting experience is hard but anyhow you’re able to get it please do. You need it. Volunteer for a organisations. Keep sending unpaid internship applications out. Experience is important. Did you guys hear about that guy who handed out his CV at the tube station? If you didnt, read the article link Here . Again, this dude was smart but he was constantly being told, no experience, no experience. He had to go through drastic methods but hey.
Whatever you’re reason there’s no right or wrong one. My only advice is explore all the reasons why you’re doing what you want to do.
Here are a few honest questions to ask thy self :
1.What kind of masters? What are the options?
2. Are you financially prepared? – most masters are self funding unless you’re lucky to get full/part scholarship. If you’re an international student, will Daddy’s wallet be able to accommodate fees and living costs? If you’re a home student, will you work part time? How will you balance work and study?
3. Why are you doing it in the first place? Are you making up for a 2.2? An LLM is no substitute for work experience – should you gain more before embarking on it?
4. What do you want to gain from it? Are you expanding your knowledge or doing it because you just think it’s a good idea? Are you bridging the gap between doing your first degree and job searching? Again, a masters does not substitute for work experience.
5. What is the end goal? This should be the first and main question really. But you know how it is.
Okiessssss…my fingers are hurting! I hope it has been insightful…ish. -:)