A question law students and recent law school graduates ask with great frequency is whether they should pursue a Tax LLM.
To a great extent, the value of a master of tax laws degree tracks the value of a law degree generally. As the legal market tightened, so did the tax law market. Then, so did LLM admissions. Essentially, LLM programs got more competitive because law students, lets face it, all tend to think the same.
There are a lot more top students from top schools than ever before who, for one reason or another, didn’t have a permanent job offer for right after graduation. A large number of those students decided to pursue an LLM for one more chance at that on-campus-interview process.
Going from “and” to “or.”
To understand why this is important, it helps to have a little background. I’ll talk about how to choose an LLM program later, but lets take it for granted here that NYU is the top program in the country followed by Georgetown. To be admitted into NYU or GULC’s LLM in 2008 required having top grades in tax classes in law school or being in the top 25% (about) of your class from a regional school or having great prior job experience in tax or had middling grades from a very good law school (as good as UCLA, for example). Entry wasn’t automatic, but it was within reach if you met one criteria or another and were willing to pay 40 grand in tuition and move to New York and pay rent there.
(I’ll post on the value of regional programs in a later edition For this post, suffice it to say that entrance into most regional programs seems to remain almost open-enrollment, although they may be more stingy with scholarships.)
By 2009, the days of “or” are gone. The credentials of those coming out of NYU or Georgetown’s LLM programs, on average, are far better than before. More and more, NYU’s LLM classes are made up of people who went to top schools and are in the top 25%, have top grades from a regional law school and have prior tax experience, an accounting degree or a CPA license.
This affects my answer to the question of whether a tax LLM is a good idea for three reasons. 1) The person asking the question is a lot less likely to gain admission into a top program; 2) if the person does gain admission, his or her competition once she arrives there are higher, making her personal chances of standing out there lower; and, (3) if the person goes to a regional school, he or she will still be competing for jobs against these ultra-credentialed NYU and Georgetown LLM grads.
So, let me answer the question with a question: To which LLM program do you intend on applying?
For information about the author of this post, Daniel W. Layton, click here.
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