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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

September 20, 2007

The Lack of Transparency in the LL.M. Application Process

One thing that I find highly ironic about US LL.M. admissions is the real lack of information provided by law schools. The irony is that law schools provide huge amounts of data regarding their J.D. program, but the very same schools provide very little information about acceptance rates and yield (percentage of accepted students who attend) for their LL.M. program(s). Here I focus on LL.M. programs for international students. Thus the very same schools that make it very easy to think about school selection for J.D. applicants, don't make it easy for LL.M. applicants. It is reasonable to say that as result, LL.M. applicants at a huge disadvantage relative to J.D. applicants for purposes of formulating an efficient application strategy.

One example. The typical way an LL.M. program reports its relative level of difficulty is exemplified by the University of Chicago (Chicago actually reports the number of applications, which makes it better than some other schools. I use Chicago simply as an example, but not in an attempt to make it look bad.):
Each year the Law School receives approximately 750 applications for the 50 positions in the LL.M. program

Keep in mind that this only tells you the number of admits, but not the number admitted and not yield, so you don't know what percentage decided to attend. Contrast this with the J.D. applications for 2005 (the most recent on the US News and World Report site):
Acceptance Rate: 15.9%
Number of Applicants: 4818
Number Accepted: 766
Number Enrolled: 192

If J.D. applicants only knew the number enrolled and the number of applicants, they might draw the mistaken conclusion that only approximately 4% of applicants were admitted. Based on that same mistaken impression, 50 out of 750 for the LL.M. program gives us approximately 7%. Now the actually rate of admission for the LL.M. program? Certainly it is easier than the J.D. program, but by how much? Based on what I know about the process as well as my experience with clients who get into Chicago, I bet the actual percentage of admitted students is somewhere between 25% and 30% (I will be happy to be corrected, I sent this post to the Dean of the Law School over two weeks ago and have yet to receive a reply).

Essentially international LL.M. applicants to US programs experience information asymmetry in their school selection, while J.D. candidates have a situation of almost perfect information (they can look at their LSAT & GPA and a clear sense of their relative likelihood of acceptance to any particular program). This is simply unfair and inexcusable. Make no mistake about it, most LL.M. programs engage in a set of practices that, whether intended or not, obfuscate the ability of applicants to determine the real difficulty of admission.

While admissions officers might argue that the LL.M. program is more like graduate programs in other parts of the university, I find this argument unacceptable for two reasons. First, LL.M. programs are part of Law Schools that easily have the means for reporting full information on their admissions decisions. Second, J.D. program admissions results reporting is, generally speaking, the standard by which to measure all other graduate programs and therefore applying the lesser standards generally used in the Arts and Sciences would simply be to engage in bad practice. (Yes, I said that, really only professional schools in Law, Medicine, and Business consistently report good numbers).

So why not report on acceptance rates and yield? Well, as anyone who has actually helped applicants at this for years can tell you, there is- with the exception of the very top programs (Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Columbia, Chicago, Northwestern, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, UC Berkeley, UCLA, New York University, University of Michigan, and Georgetown)- very little relationship between the difficulty of entering the school's LL.M. and J.D. programs. And even for the schools I mentioned, it is hard to know for sure because of the lack of LL.M. data for most of these programs.

The lack of information that schools provide is further compounded by the lack of information provided elsewhere. Given the relatively small size of the LL.M.applicant market, no one is publishing books on this. At best LL.M.programs get a passing mention. The only decent general LL.M. site, http://www.llm-guide.com/, is forced to show J.D. ranking information because there really is nothing better.

Some may argue that knowing a school's J.D. ranking is enough, but given my experience I don't think so. First of all, the Japanese lawyers (弁護士 Bengoshi), patent lawyers (弁理士 Benrishi), judges, prosecutors, government officials, and legal experts I have worked with, have often had to apply to too many schools because they were uncertain about the actual level of difficulty and the only really good numbers that they really have to look at for J.D. programs. I don't know about the situation in other countries, but LL.M.applicants in Japan tend to apply to more programs than applicants in other fields. It is common for Japanese LL.M. applicants to apply to 8 to 12 schools, as compared to the usual 4 to 6 that most graduate applicants apply to.

In the situation of information asymmetry that LL.M. applicants find themselves in, the only rational thing is apply to as many programs as they can in order to see what the best result is. I can't believe such actions are really in the interest of admissions offices, which get flooded, relatively speaking, with applications from Japan. Japanese represent a very large percentage of LL.M. applicants. Consider that 8 out of 50 in Chicago's 2007-2008 Class are Japanese, three more than the next largest nationality represented. This percentage of Japanese students is quite typical for most programs (Yale and Stanford probably being the exceptions due to their small size and selectivity). Assuming similar behavior from applicants in other countries, one can assume that with the exception of Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, these programs must have relatively low yields. Of course, I can't know that for sure. However in the third post in this series, I attempt to answer that question. But before turning to that question, please read the second post where I analyze the impact of American Bar Association reporting requirements on the difference between the way J.D. and LL.M. admissions data is provided.

Questions? Comments? Write comments here or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com.
-Adam Markus
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