LLM: Constitutional Law

Many of the most intriguing and exciting cases in the history of the United States fall under the umbrella of constitutional law. In 1787 the Continental Congress adopted the United States Constitution, which was subsequently ratified by the states over the next three years. Constitutional law encompasses every case since 1791 whose outcome has hinged upon the text, structure, or principles of the Constitution. The most important cases in constitutional law are heard by the Supreme Court on appeal. The opinions of the justices offer unique glimpses into American government and culture for the past 200 years or so.

American constitutional law attracts interest from a wide variety of disciplines. The Constitution is in a sense an incredibly extensive case study for both political theorists and policy specialists. The Framers of the Constitution drew specifically from the works of famous philosophers, and so the Constitution stands at the intersection of reality and the writings of some of history’s most influential philosophers.

Since constitutional law is so central to the American legal system, it almost always takes up a significant portion of the curricula for professional law degree programs. Most lawyers with a JD know enough about constitutional law to begin practicing law in that field without pursuing a Master of Laws.

However, for the same reason that constitutional law is an unusual choice of study for LLM degree candidates with American legal training, constitutional law features prominently in LLM programs offered to graduates of foreign law schools. In fact, pretty much all LLM programs for foreign lawyers include constitutional law in their curricula to varying degrees. In many states, a Master of Laws from an American law school enables lawyers with professional degrees from another country to practice law in that state. These LLM programs usually provide an intensive overview of the American legal system to foreign lawyers, hence the emphasis on constitutional law.

Of course lawyers from both the United States and from abroad have the opportunity to use an LLM as a means to explore some of the topics in constitutional law that require a high level of expertise. Comparative constitutional law involves studying the constitutions of different countries. The constantly developing practice of constitution writing by new governments across the world makes this field particularly exciting, however, the complexity involved with becoming familiar with the legal systems in different countries means that there is a whole lot of material to get through in comparative constitutional law.

Lawyers pursuing LLM degrees in narrowly focused areas of law such as environmental law or finance law will mostly deal with statutory law, but should also expect to study constitutional law. Since all laws passed by Congress must square with the Constitution, all LLM programs will include some time spent discussing constitutional law as far as it deals with specific fields of law.

In general, foreign lawyers should expect to spend much more time studying the Constitution in LLM programs than lawyers who obtained a Juris Doctor from an American law school would. In practice, most American lawyers interested in pursuing a career in constitutional law gain experience through academic studies such as legal writing and research outside of an LLM program, or through experience in the workforce at a law firm or as a clerk for a judge.

Constitutional Law Career Options

Constitutional law careers are comprised of a mix of private and public positions. For many, the greatest chance to get involved in constitutional issues is to work as a criminal lawyer, either as a public defender or as a prosecutor, especially at the federal level. There are also a number of non-profit organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, that take up causes and litigate civil rights and constitutional issues on a regular basis. In addition to these avenues, there are also highly selective positions that become available in the U.S. Department of Justice or even on the U.S. Supreme Court that may require practitioners to deal with constitutional law on a regular basis.

Here are a few samples of jobs in the constitutional law career field:

Attorney-Adviser, U.S. Deptartment of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel
Estimated Salary: $89,033 to $123,758

Attorney-advisers at the U.S. Department of Justice are primarily required to provide legal advice to the president and to various other bodies within the Executive Branch of the U.S. government, including performing analyses of the constitutionality of pending legislation. Responsibilities vary widely and range from revising the form of executive orders to resolving legal disputes between agencies.

Managing Attorney, American Civil Liberties Union Equality Center
Estimated Salary: Not listed

This position requires an attorney to supervise a group of lawyers that are litigating voting rights issues. In addition to supervising day-to-day litigation matters, a managing attorney is expected to work on overall strategy in the topic area of voting rights and must also interact with a wide variety of lobbyists, affiliates and other interested parties and organizations.

Assistant Public Defender (Franklin, Virginia)
Estimated Salary: $48,183

This constitutional law career requires an attorney to defend individuals who have been charged with crimes, but who cannot afford to retain private counsel. Duties range from trial- to appellate-level litigation and frequently include legal challenges regarding constitutional issues, especially police conduct. Caseloads are typically extensive, and the ability to quickly reach resolutions and plea-bargain deals with prosecutors is critical.