Wednesday, September 28, 2011
While that used to the case, it isn't any longer according to some employers. And that should give serious pause to anyone thinking about taking on even more debt in the hope of gaining a competitive advantage in a bad job market by pursuing a graduate law degree. Interviews with a sampling of tax lawyers suggest an LLM may not help much unless you get it from one of the top 3 programs out of the 30 schools that currently offer an LLM in taxation. And even then, it's no guarantee of a decent return on investment.
Conventional wisdom suggests a tax LLM degree can open professional doors for an aspiring tax lawyer -- and that more are pursuing that degree in the sluggish economy -- but not all firms value the degree equally. James H. Lokey Jr., a partner with King & Spalding in Atlanta in charge of the firm's tax practice group, said the tax LLM degree is helpful for three types of people: the unemployed who don't know what to do, lawyers going to small firms without as many people to talk to, and people who prefer having an overview of a subject before jumping into it. People who don't fit into one of those groups may be wasting money if they pursue an LLM degree, he said.
"In addition to the out-of-pocket cost, there's a huge opportunity cost if you would otherwise have a job," Lokey said. "I would prefer to have somebody who's had four or five tax courses in law school, who is very smart and ready to get to work, than somebody who's got more mediocre credentials with an LLM."
Samuel Weiner, partner and head of the transactional tax group at Latham & Watkins LLP in Los Angeles, views the tax LLM degree more favorably. "We don't require our young attorneys who want to join the tax department to have an LLM, but we're happy to see it when we do," he said. "To me, as part of our hiring team, it indicates that the attorney is going to have a lot more than just your basic knowledge of tax in general."
Tax LLM degrees are important for a job candidate's prospects, said Mark A. Vogel, an associate professor and head of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Graduate Tax Program. "When more attorneys are in the job pool and are competing for fewer jobs, the tax LLM becomes even more important as a distinguishing factor for more junior attorneys as they search for jobs," Vogel said.
. . . .Where those students seek their degree is important, both Lokey and Weiner said. When asked how he would evaluate job candidates with LLM degrees from schools other than NYU, Georgetown, or Florida, Lokey said, "To tell you the truth, I never see tax LLMs from other schools." Weiner said Latham & Watkins sees some candidates with LLM degrees from Loyola, but that those are generally Los Angeles natives who are committed to working there. He said that other than Loyola, his firm's LLM holders come from NYU, Georgetown, or Florida.
"Those, I would say, would travel more nationally," he said about degrees from those three institutions.
Samuel Donaldson, associate dean and professor of law at the University of Washington School of Law, said that if he were advising a student on where to go and if the student wanted to be an academic, he should attend one of the top three ranked schools, because academic hiring committees prefer the elite programs. He would also tell students who want to work in the New York or Washington areas to consider either NYU or Georgetown.
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