LL.M. Law Firm Opportunities

Over the years, a small percentage of Yale’s LL.M. students have secured post-graduate positions with large, U.S.- and U.K.-based private-sector law firms. These law firms usually fall within the broad categories of U.S. “Big Law” and U.K. “Magic Circle” firms. They may be interested in hiring LL.M.s for their domestic (i.e., U.S.-based or U.K.-based, respectively) offices, or for their international offices. Post-graduate law firm positions in the U.S. can be especially difficult for LL.M. students to secure due to structural barriers in the U.S. legal job market.

The strongest LL.M. candidates for post-graduate law firm positions are those who have acquired prior work experience in practice areas relevant to the work of the law firms to which they are applying, either through employment with other law firms or private-sector entities or through employment with their own or third countries’ governments, courts, or regulatory bodies. Consequently, the more similar your prior professional experiences are to the type of work you seek, the more attractive you will likely be to that employer. This sort of professional background will also help to convince a prospective law firm employer that you really do wish to work in the private sector and not solely within the academy, as your pursuit of a YLS LL.M. degree suggests.

LL.M. students’ law firm candidacies are also strengthened when their home countries are of particular interest to prospective law firm employers, given the nature of firms’ work; the locations of their clients; and developments within pertinent business markets. In addition, law firms desire candidates with strong English abilities. International offices of U.S.- and U.K.-based law firms will likely also put a premium on foreign-language skills.

See below for additional information about two general types of law firm positions open to LL.M. students (one temporary, the other permanent); the practice areas for which law firms most often hire LL.M.s; the timeline for applying to law firms as an LL.M; and the process of submitting those applications.

LL.M. students who are interested in exploring post-graduate law firm employment should review this information; create U.S.-style resumes, and speak with CDO in the first part of the fall semester.

Two types of law firm positions are generally open to LL.M. candidates.  The availability of either type of position at a particular law firm will vary by year and need.  Law firms may have openings for one, both, or neither within any single recruiting cycle. 

Practical Training Positions (also sometimes called “Visiting Associateships”) usually take the form of a 6- to 12-month internship with a firm.  These term-bound opportunities are often easier for LL.M.s to obtain than permanent associate positions.  While there is some variation, U.S. law firm offices are less likely to require that LL.M.s who hold these positions sit for the bar exam, as compared with LL.M.s who are hired as permanent associates.  Depending upon students’ visa situations, the relatively short duration of these practical training opportunities can also be easier to navigate than longer-term opportunities.

Permanent Attorney Positions (also in the U.S. called “Associate Positions”) occur when law firms hire LL.M.s as entry-level associates with the expectation that they will remain with the firm for many years.  LL.M.s holding these positions are placed on the same associate track as the firm’s J.D. hires.  LL.M.s interested in pursuing these positions should plan to sit for a U.S.-jurisdiction bar exam after completing their LL.M. years at Yale. Unfortunately, when it comes to permanent associate positions, many U.S. law firms are not willing to look beyond the standard pool of U.S.-trained J.D. applicants. 

Law Firm Practice Groups That Often Hire LL.M.s

The law firm practice groups that most often hire LL.M.s tend either to focus on corporate and transactional law (e.g., a Capital Markets or a Mergers & Acquisitions practice group) or on International Arbitration.

For a number of reasons, it is significantly less common for LL.M.s to secure positions in the litigation practice groups of law firm offices that are located in countries other than where LL.M.s received their primary law degrees.

Applying to Law Firms

LL.M.s interested in law firm positions tend to pursue two application tracks in conjunction with one another: 

  • Participating in the CDO-cosponsored annual LL.M. Interview Program at which a large number of (primarily law firm) employers interview LL.M. candidates for post-graduate positions.
  • Applying directly to law firms.

CDO works closely with LL.M.s on both.  If you are interested in exploring post-graduate positions with law firms, make an appointment to speak with a CDO counselor in the fall semester of your LL.M. year. 

The LL.M. Interview Program

YLS co-sponsors an annual LL.M. Interview Program with six other law schools (Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, and University of Virginia). This one-day program provides LL.M.s with the opportunity to interview with many employers, the majority of which are law firm offices both in the U.S. and abroad. It is a primary recruiting tool for YLS LL.M.s who are seeking non-academic employment.

The LL.M. Interview Program typically takes place toward the end of January, midway through the LL.M. year. It involves pre-screening – meaning that employers review resumes submitted by interested and qualified LL.M.s from participating schools, and select the students they wish to interview.

LL.M.s will receive additional information about the LL.M. Interview Program and key dates for participation in the first part of their fall semesters.

Applying Directly to Law Firms

LL.M.s seeking post-graduate private-sector opportunities will likely wish to supplement their participation in the LL.M. Interview Program by sending applications directly to law firm offices of interest that will not be participating in the Interview Program.

See here for information about U.S.-style application materials, including resumes and cover letters, along with information about submitting applications directly to employers.

Although there is no set timeframe for this direct application process, LL.M.s are advised to commence sending applications in the fall to law firms that are not registered to participate in the LL.M. Interview Program. Depending upon those firms’ responses, LL.M.s may wish to continue submitting applications directly to law firms well into the spring.

In order to identify law firm employers beyond those participating in the LL.M. Interview Program to which you wish to apply:

  • You can utilize CDO’s employer research resources to identify law firm offices of particular interest by practice area and geographic preferences.
  • If you have practiced law previously in an area of business law, you may wish to speak with former colleagues about any ties they may have to U.S.- or U.K.-based law firms offices or practice groups.
  • You can look at firms’ websites. Most large private-sector law firms’ websites also contain attorney searches that allow searches by degree as well as school, so LL.M.s can identify whether those firms employ attorneys who hold LL.M. degrees, as well as attorneys with YLS or YLS LL.M.-specific ties.
  • Network with Yale alumni and others who are working at firms of interest to you, as well as with YLS LL.M. alumni who have held prior positions with those firms. Review CDO’s Networking webpage for additional information, advice, and resources – including sample outreach email text.