In an earlier post, I discussed whether a tax LLM was worth the cost largely as a function of its affect on landing one’s first tax job. In this post, I will discuss long-term or intrinsic benefits of the Master of Laws in Taxation on jobs after your first job. In subsequent posts, including its effect on getting clients, on later jobs, and on academia. It should be noted that this post is my thoughts based on personal experience, and the experience of others may vary.
Of course, if a graduate tax law degree has an effect on one’s first job, it will have a “ripple effect” on subsequent job opportunities. For example, those who do well enough in their LLM program to end up in a large national firm or in the DOJ Tax Division will see more doors open as a result of the value of their job experience. But, once someone has that first job experience in hand, does the LLM become inconsequential?
It certainly can, but, once you become a known quantity to employers in your market either through reputation or validation from respected lawyers, getting a job becomes mostly a function of your performance in your last job and not how many resume lines you have. Performance in law school is trumped easily by real world performance and results, and probably never are two candidates so close in qualifications following their first job that the decision will come down to the fact that one person obtained an advanced tax degree and the other did not. So, as a resume builder, the LLM quickly loses its importance on the job market.
That isn’t to say the LLM will not be remarkable or helpful. First, it can be a networking tool or a point of validation for some firms. For example, for those with a non-Ivy level credential, the graduate degree from a school like NYU, Georgetown, or Northwestern can satiate a white-shoe firm’s need for validation of their “elite” status – that they hire attorneys with certain credentials. Attending a selective school remains, for whatever reason, an easy point of reference for belonging. Not unrelated to that is the value of the school for networking. The NYU LLM is not uncommon among many practitioners in large law firms and accounting firms. Sharing this experience either as something to bond over at an interview or as the impetus that causes you to reach out is certainly of value. Personal connections are just as important as professional qualifications, if not more.
For that same reason, a local LLM degree, for example the USD Tax LLM in San Diego, can be every bit as powerful as a degree from an elite school. Perhaps more so, given the much larger network of attorneys in a given market with local degrees. With a local LLM degree, networking opportunities will be even more abundant at alumni events. Furthermore, in insular markets like San Diego, unless you have strong demonstrable local connections, employers may not give you the time of day no matter how otherwise qualified you are. Thus, the LLM degree can communicate membership in elite levels of society or it can communicate ties in the local community, and it may continue to do so long after your first job.
As will be further discussed in my next post, tax education has an intrinsic value. The education and skills learned in the LLM program can also have an effect beyond your first job. Although two attorneys with similar time in a big firm or in government may compete for the same jobs, having an extra year of education before coming into that job can be a significant advantage. In my personal experience, I can say that having had one year of dedicated tax law education gave me a running start in my first job with the IRS. There was so much lingo and tax code-speak I had to learn in my first year in the IRS, but I was able to understand a lot of it because I had immersed myself in some version of it for a year before.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that I was considered a quick learner and ahead of the curve in my first couple of years as an IRS trial attorney, and I was given a lot of responsibility in an incredibly short time. In comparing my first few years with those of other in the IRS, I generally had more responsibility and experience given to me earlier. As a result, when I interviewed at my next job, I was a better candidate than those who had more years of experience (but not necessarily quality of experience) than I did. Then, in my second job, the broad education I had in my LLM program still came in handy. Years after the LLM program, I found myself referencing my class notes to refresh myself on some legal or procedural issue. In addition, I continued to use the tax-specific research skills I learned in the LLM program.
–The author of this post is Daniel W. Layton, a partner at Layton & Lopez Tax Attorneys, LLP in Orange County, CA. He is a former IRS trial attorney and ex-prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Tax Division in downtown Los Angeles.