Tuesday, November 29, 2016

U.S. LLM Programs Probably Benefit International Students (Part 1): Students Who Stay in the U.S. (Michael Simkovic)

At a conference I recently attended, some law professors and administrators seemed willing to assume the worst about LLM and international JD programs.[1] They seemed to think that LLM programs provide revenue to law schools but do little to help students. This stoked my curiosity about international law programs. It seems likely, as conference attendees suggested, that LLM admissions are less exclusive than JD admissions at comparable institutions. But lower selectivity does not imply that LLM programs fail to help their students.

Immigrants are generally at a disadvantage relative to those born in the United States because of language, culture, and legal issues. But comparing immigrants to U.S.-born individuals tells us nothing about the benefits of U.S. education for immigrants. Instead, we can either compare immigrants to those from their countries who stay home, or compare immigrants to each other by education level.

Decades of peer reviewed labor economics research indicates that additional education boosts earnings. Moreover, Immigration to the United States can often dramatically boost earnings for immigrants over the long term. Are foreign LLM programs or international JDs exceptions to widely observed trends regarding benefits of education and immigration?

While data is limited, the unsurprising answer appears to be: Probably not.

Using U.S. Census data (ACS), I found (in a very preliminarily, quick analysis intended primarily to satisfy my own curiosity) that an LLM might boost long term annual earnings by as much as $25,000 on average compared to a bachelor’s degree (depending on unobserved selection effects, the causal boost could be lower since these are cross-tabbed means by race sex and education level). The earnings boost from a JD for immigrants might be around two or two and a half times as high as the boost from an LLM.

There are several important limitations of this analysis, since I only have U.S. data. First, it does not include those who permanently leave the U.S. upon completing their degrees. Nor does it compare those who never come to the U.S. in the first place to those who do. It only looks at differences in education level among immigrants in the U.S.

Second U.S. Census data does not specifically identify LLM graduates, but it identifies immigrants, education levels, and occupations. These variables can be used to roughly identify international law graduates,[2] without any need for them to have passed a U.S. bar exam.[3]

The first proxy I used looks only at immigrants in legal occupations--lawyers, magistrates, judges, paralegals and legal support workers. Some immigrant lawyers will only have bachelor’s degrees. Some will have LLMs or JDs or other advanced degrees in law. Outside of the United States, law is typically an undergraduate degree. Post-baccalaureate education is not required to practice. A foreign undergraduate law degree is generally sufficient to qualify to sit for the bar exam in New York.[4] Therefore, many immigrant lawyers will have no education beyond a foreign bachelor’s degree. Those who have additional education will likely have obtained an LLM (if they report having a master’s degree, doctorate or professional degree) or a JD (if they report having a professional degree).

Using foreign-born advanced-degree holding legal workers as a proxy for LLMs suggests that among immigrants working in legal occupations, those with Master’s degrees (likely LLM holders) earn about $25,000 more per year on average than those with Bachelor’s degrees. Those with professional degrees (likely JD holders) earn on average around $65,000 per year more than those with Bachelor’s degrees.

This is about what one would expect—someone with a 3-year advanced degree likely will earn more than someone with a 1-year advanced degree.

You can see average earnings by race and sex using this proxy here. Unfortunately for some smaller racial groups, the standard errors are very high.

A second proxy I looked at excludes licensed occupations (such as medical, engineering and religious occupations) that are unlikely to be filled by law graduates or prospective law graduates,[5] but includes a much broader range of occupations that law graduates—including those who never pass a bar exam—might fill. Compared to the under-inclusive proxy, education premiums are about the same for master’s degrees and lower for professional degrees.

You can see the earnings data by race and sex here. Standard errors are much lower, even for smaller racial groups.

Next time, I’ll discuss individuals who return to their countries of origin and bar passage rates.


[1] At the conference, attendees saw data on international student market share and growth. The data suggested that a relatively small number of law schools attract the lion’s share of international LLMs and JDs. Attendees were also informed that U.S. News does not rank LLM programs, that the ABA does not collect much data about LLM programs, and that the ABA requires that LLM programs not adversely affect JD programs.

Based on little more than ostensibly lighter regulation, some attendees enthusiastically speculated about competitor law schools’ nefarious activities. Some went further than speculation. One senior law school administrator compared LLMs and other non-JD programs to “Trump University”—a for-profit institution that critics allege used high-pressure sales tactics and unqualified faculty. A senior faculty member lambasted a local competitor for accepting many international students, while mentioning that his own institution had not “lowered its standards” in accepting international students.

[2] I have also excluded those of Hispanic ancestry, because I have heard that most LLM and international JDs are either from Europe or Asia.

[3] Anecdotally, some U.S.-based lawyers practice the law of a foreign jurisdiction, but maintain a presence in the U.S. to serve clients who do business here. Similarly, U.S. law firms have established foreign offices staffed in part with American lawyers.

[4] In New York State, foreign lawyers can qualify to sit for the bar exam without completing an LLM as long as their law degree is considered to be “substantially equivalent” to a U.S. law degree and is from a Common Law jurisdiction. According to the New York State Bar exam, this is the criteria under which “most applicants will be applying.” However, a recent article in the Bar Examiner says that in NY in 2013, 75% of bar applicants had LLMs. This might be because a very large share of applicants came from countries such as China, Japan, Korea, France, and Brazil (non-common law countries). The article also states that many bar applicants from common-law countries who are not required to pursue LLMs to qualify for the bar are doing so anyway because of employment benefits.

[5] Excluding computer, engineering, healthcare, scientific, actuary, social worker, religious and education occupations.


Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest | Permalink