Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Property LLMs?

In the last two weeks, LLM programs have come under scrutiny (See here, here, here, and here).  The general consensus seems to be that the master of law degree is valuable for aspiring tax attorneys and graduates of foreign law schools looking to work in the US.  What about the real property-based LLM?  At least four U.S. schools--John Marshall, Miami, Pace, and New York Law School--offer an advanced degree in Real Estate.  Shelby Green, Director of Pace's program, promoted the LLM as a solution to the growing complexity of Real Estate law (see here, pdf).  If I'm reading Prof. Green correctly, she's arguing that real estate practice--like tax--has become so complex and sub-specialized that an extra year of study is merited.  I think you could also argue that law schools do a rather poor job of teaching transactional skills and, thus, a year of focusing on negotiating and closing deals could give a student an edge in the job market. 

Does our audience have any sense if these programs are worth the cost and time?  Does having a real estate LLM give applicants a significant boost in hiring?  If an aspiring real estate attorney couldn't find work, would they be better off working for free in a real estate practice?

Steve Clowney

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As a lawyer with an LL.M. in Real Estate Law from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, who also taught a course in a later version of that program, my view is that an LL.M. in Real Estate Law is a very worthwhile program.

However, I recommend that the program be open only to those lawyers who have at least five years of practice - in other words make it a part-time LL.M. program.

Such an approach not only makes class discussions useful and interesting (as lawyers banter about how they approached similar matters in practice), but it also creates a greater sense of community/collegiality among those lawyers which will carry on through-out their careers.

A good LL.M. course will concentrate on practical real estate issues (lease negotiations, financing, taxation issues, property holding structures, etc.), not theory.

My experience teaching in the program suggests that an LL.M. in Real Estate Law is completely useless if it is filled with recent graduates who haven't done any deals and who can't grasp what E.& O.E. means.

Posted by: Mitch Kowalski | Sep 29, 2010 11:01:37 AM

I do not think an LLM in real-estate is a worth the money.

The theories behind real estate practice are taught in U.S. law schools fairly extensively. I learned the basics of what I need to know to do title searches, check deeds, and prepare contracts in my first year courses.

Some schools do provide courses on transactional real estate as well. If a student knows he is going to do real estate work then it would be wise to take such a course. I didn't know and have had to learn on the job.

Which brings me to why an LLM program is not a good idea. CLE programs are cheaper and often provide better practical instruction than possible through an LLM. This is especially true in the U.S. where each jurisdiction -- and even some localities in those jurisdictions -- have differences in law and procedure.

More importantly, you get advice from people who have been in the trenches before. These are the people that can tell you to check the deed notes kept in the unlocked filing cabinet in the Country County courthouse deed room to find full chains for the Smith farm, where the Smiths used to own half of Country County but gained it and parceled it out randomly over the 200-year history of the County. Or to watch out for Attorney Jones who tends to draft defective deeds if you're not careful; or Attorney Williams who always tries to sneak in tricky clauses in the real estate contract.

Oh, and you also gain networking exposure -- very valuable in this market.

I do not see anything an LLM in real estate could truly provide that a good CLE and some time with the caselaw and statutes cannot. After all, lawyers have already spent 3-years in law school and should have a good foundation to begin with.

The only people I know who obtained LLMs and received jobs because of them were tax LLMs. Everyone who obtained LLMs in other areas aren't even working in those areas (or are in academia).

Heck, even my Tax LLM colleagues have told me becoming a CPA might have done more than the LLM.

If the concern is a job, the CLE is a better way to go. If the concern is most knowledge for value, a CLE is the way to go. If the interest is staying in academia for one more year, then by all means the LLM would be great.

Just my two cents.

Posted by: John Nelson | Sep 30, 2010 8:41:46 AM

I think that real estate practice is complex enough to merit an LL.M. My question is whether an LL.M. is worth it in terms of money spent and opportunity costs. If enough employers value the LL.M. highly enough, then I'd think the answer to that would be yes. I'd be really interested in the placement data from the Real Estate LL.M.s that are already out there.

Posted by: Ben Barros | Sep 30, 2010 8:51:32 AM

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