Talking About Tax LL.M. Programs

The acronym LL.M. basically stands for master of laws but its literal Latin translation is the ponderous Latin Legum Magister. Knowing this, it is not hard to figure out why simply saying LL.M. is a much preferred way to refer to LL.M. programs these days. The LL.M. degree is a postgraduate degree program that requires a minimum of one extra year of study to complete.

If you are considering the possibility of returning to school to earn your LL.M. with a specialization in tax law, there are some things you should think through carefully before making this investment. You will never find an argument against adding additional credentials or specializations to your resume, especially in this continually tough job market.

However, unless you are independently wealthy and most LL.M. candidates nationwide do not report that this is the case for them, you may also graduate without improved job prospects and with an additional hefty batch of student loans to pay back. It is important to factor in all the angles before making the high cost decision to return to school for an advanced tax law degree.

What is the Value of Tax LL.M. Programs

This is an excellent question; one that to date even master analysts and journalists who work for respected publications such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have not been able to sufficiently answer. It is easy enough to answer this question if you are a law school, however, because students who enroll in a master’s program with an eye towards earning their tax LL.M. degree may shell out as much as an addition $50,000 to $80,000 for the honor of spending another year studying towards an even more advanced degree in law school rather than out navigating the murky waters of the national job market trying to find employment.

Furthermore, because the American Bar Association (ABA) requires very strict accreditation standards for law schools who are maintaining an accredited program, they have a very expensive tenured staff of full professors to support and pay for, and offering an advanced LL.M. degree to law students who are willing to pay for the luxury can help law schools to offset the costs and add to their bottom line profitability. But for you as a law student, the value is less easily quantifiable.

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If you are planning for a highly specialized career in tax law, then an LL.M. may translate with direct value to your bottom line as well. But for most law school graduates who seek an LL.M. degree, it has to date been quite difficult to quantify the financial value that extra expensive year of schooling can deliver to them. This is important research you should be prepared to do for yourself before you enroll in a tax LL.M. program to ensure it makes solid financial sense for your specific career goals.

Additional Research about LL.M. Program Graduates

Another important area where you will need to do your research prior to enrolling in a tax LL.M. program is to determine the employment and salary statistics at least for graduates of the specific program you are applying to. Because the ABA does not research these areas in their professional oversight capacity and it would be too great of a task to research these statistics nationwide, just focus on your specific geographic region and the specific program you are enrolling in and see if the cost to benefit ratio analysis comes out in your favor. Before you ever write one check or take out a single penny in additional loan money, you should already have a plan in place for how you plan to pay back your student loans and support yourself after graduation.

Too many law students reenter law school without taking these two issues seriously, which is contributing to the more than 50 percent of law school graduates who have reported having to enroll in a governmental student loan debt relief program over the last few years. To avoid becoming a highly educated student loan casualty, it is essential to remember that timing is everything in deciding when, where and if to enroll in any of the tax LL.M. programs out there during your career.


This article was contributed by Tom Werner, a graduate of the class of 2009 with his tax LL.M. degree from UCSB. He currently lives in San Diego.

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