Public defenders and prosecutors are some of society’s quietest heroes. They have a difficult, demanding case load right from day one and handle some of the toughest, most emotionally-trying cases imaginable. They spend a good deal of time and money to earn their law degree and pass the bar, yet, like teachers, make a relatively modest, taxpayer funded salary.
Many hope to qualify for loan forgiveness and advance in public service. Others hope to gain valuable courtroom experience and eventually work for a law firm to increase their earning potential and expand their professional opportunities.
At one time or another, everyone wonders if they should get an advanced degree to move up, or move out, depending on the longer-term goal. Public defenders and prosecutors considering the benefits–and drawbacks–of an advanced degree need to be aware that it will take more than just the Master’s of Law, or LL.M., to advance.
Employers from both the public and private sector want candidates with experience, leadership skills, personal traits that embody their mission and culture, and extensive training in advanced litigation-related skills.
Here are the top reasons to pursue the LL.M. if you are a public defender or prosecutor:
Skill and substantive knowledge development
Many law school graduates find themselves in the public defender or prosecutor’s office because it called to them toward the end of law school (or happened to be the right job at the time). Unfortunately, not every law student enrolls in advanced advocacy and skill development courses.
Some law schools do not even offer advanced courses like damages, negotiation or family law mediation. An LL.M. in Advocacy at Stetson University College of Law, for example, offers courses in mastering voir dire, advanced evidence, conducting effective discovery, and complex counseling and negotiation.
Open your own practice
A growing number of lawyers work in solo or small practices. If you dream of owning your own firm consider the LL.M. as a way to gain experience, learn the business side of law firm operations, and build your professional network. Some LL.M. programs, such as Stetson Law’s Advocacy and Elder Law LL.M. programs, offer courses in law practice management.
Make up for a gap
Let’s face it, not everyone lands at the top of their class in law school. Sometimes you need to earn an additional credential to show a future employer you truly have what it takes to be successful.
Learn something new
Not everyone graduates from law school knowing exactly what they want to do and only discover their passion after they get their first job. Fortunately, LL.M. specialties exist in just about every practice area, from tax to aviation law. At Stetson, several LL.M. students found their way to elder law because of a family member who needed help. However, because of the highly technical nature of elder and disability law, they chose to pursue the LL.M. in Elder Law to learn the specifics of veterans’ benefits, government and public health benefits, guardianship, estate and gift tax, and long-term care planning.
Most LL.M. programs can be completed in as little as two years on a part-time basis. Some, like Stetson’s LL.M. in International Law, are designed to be one-year intensive programs, but can also be taken part-time over two years.
There are LL.M. programs that are offered live in a traditional classroom setting and some that are offered via distance education, or online, which makes it very convenient for busy public servants. Finally, be sure and ask about scholarship availability. While there are certainly fewer scholarships available for LL.M. programs, they do exist and are often need-based. Stetson Law offers partial tuition discounts for all three of its LL.M. programs.
Whether you are planning to move up in public service or transition to the private sector, it is important to honestly assess your skills, your skill gaps, and your interests before you decide whether or not the LL.M. is for you. Talk with your law school career development office. Most offices serve alumni, so take advantage of that excellent resource before you make the time and financial commitment to the LL.M. Do your research and make sure you choose an ABA-approved school and program if you decide that an LL.M. is the right path for you.