|Hitting the books
The case for going back to school
By Rita Shackel, Associate Dean & Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney
When most law students graduate from law school the last thing on their mind is further legal study! Most law students rush out of law school eager to commence their career, start earning money and simply want to forget about lectures (and lecturers!), assignments and exams.
Yet many law graduates find themselves contemplating further study in law before too long. Why? The reality is that postgraduate study in law offers new horizons and is a catalyst for career progression or even a change in career direction.
More than just career
The decision to pursue postgraduate study in law is usually a strategic matter of career development. However, for most people, postgraduate study ends up being more about the experience in learning and critical engagement.
Postgraduate students usually discover (to their surprise) that they actually like being back at law school, they enjoy studying and most find their courses extremely stimulating and engaging.
Postgraduate study in law is not just more study in law. Postgraduate study occurs in a very different space to undergraduate studies. The goals, focus and pedagogy of postgraduate study in law are different to the LLB and JD experience.
Moreover, the skills and experience law graduates bring to postgraduate study is a key factor that shapes the classroom dynamic and learning experience, even in virtual learning spaces.
A quality postgraduate law program will enable students to advance their knowledge, critical thinking and develop new skills by creating a vibrant, interactive and student-led space for learning. At the end of the day a postgraduate degree in law should deliver what students are seeking in undertaking advanced studies, by challenging and extending the student through deep and critical engagement and encouraging independent and reflective learning. In this way postgraduate study is ultimately about growth (intellectually and otherwise); where that growth takes the postgraduate student is for the student to decide.
More lawyers are recognising the value of postgraduate study in law particularly in an unpredictable and increasingly specialist marketplace.
In 2011, 6000 students were engaged in postgraduate study in law across Australia. Postgraduate study; in law can be broadly categorised into three types of programs: (i) Law Masters – Coursework; (ii) Law Masters/Research – PhD; (iii) Law Graduate Certificate/Diploma Graduates.
The vast majority of practising lawyers that return to legal studies will enrol in an LLM (Coursework) degree program. The LLM degree is internationally recognised as an important stepping-stone to promotion in all sectors of the profession and to partnership in law firms. It also represents a pathway into postgraduate research degrees.
The structure of an LLM (coursework) degree enables part-time study. This is very important, as most postgraduate students are engaged in full-time work. Most LLM (coursework) degree programs offer a specialised program of study, something that most postgraduate students are looking for, as the increased specialisation of law and legal practice is well recognised.The legal services marketplace needs lawyers that can service the marketplace and deliver the specialised services and products, which the market demands.
When is a good time?
A key question asked by many prospective postgraduate students is: when is the right time to enrol in further study. In deciding when to commence postgraduate study, students should consider a number of factors including whether professional and personal commitments currently permit for further study.
Although postgraduate students typically enjoy being back at law school, advanced study does take time. For some students, the level of knowledge and practical experience already attained in the workplace will also be an important consideration as they might not otherwise be able to capitalise on the benefits of specialisation that postgraduate study offers. Financial considerations may also be relevant to the question of timing.
Facts and figures
Here are some facts: currently the median age of Masters coursework graduates (ie at completion of postgraduate study) in law in Australia is 32 (30 and 35 respectively for women and men). The vast majority of Masters coursework graduates available for employment are in full-time employment (93% compared with 84.7% for all fields of education) and their median salary is $85,000 (compared to a median salary for all fields of education of $75,000).
Female masters by coursework graduates have a median salary of $80,000 compared to $69,000 compared to all fields of education. This is particularly noteworthy when one considers that female LLM graduates are on average two years younger than their counterparts in other fields.
In conclusion, whether you are seeking promotion, progression, partnership or looking for a change, postgraduate study in law has many offerings to meet your particular needs. For most graduates, postgraduate study represents a very positive professional, intellectual and personal decision.
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