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LL.M. Course and Writing Requirements, Recommendations, and Options

Note: Information in this section relates specifically to requirements for HLS degree completion. It does not relate to qualification for any bar examination or other professional licensing.


To obtain the LL.M. degree, students must spend the entire academic year in full-time residence and satisfactorily complete a course of study consisting of a minimum of 23 credits and a maximum of 27 credits in one academic year. The forgoing minimum and maximum include the one credit assigned for completion of the portion of the Legal Research, Writing and Analysis course that takes place during Orientation. As an academic matter, all LL.M. degree candidates must register for at least nine to 10 credits in the fall term, at least eight to 10 credits in the spring term, and at least two credits in the winter term. In some cases, different minimums may apply for visa purposes. Students typically enroll in nine to 11 credits in each of the fall and spring terms and two to three credits in the winter term. Any questions about academic requirements should be directed to the Graduate Program Office.

The typical study program will consist of a balanced arrangement of courses and seminar work, subject to the approval of Jeanne Tai, the Assistant Dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies or Nancy Pinn, the Director of Administration and Student Affairs for the Graduate Program. Graduate students normally enroll in from seven to nine courses/seminars in an academic year. A course ordinarily requires a written examination. Most courses at the Law School carry two or three credits; some courses, such as Corporations, Constitutional Law, Commercial Transactions, and Taxation, carry four credits. A seminar typically requires assigned written work, such as a series of reaction papers or a research paper, and generally carries two credits. A reading group typically carries one credit and does not require an exam. It should be noted that Law School classroom offerings—courses, seminars, and reading groups—are frequently referred to simply as “courses”.

All degree candidates must register for course and/or seminar credits in each term and regularly attend all class sessions. Failure to register for a full-time load of credits for any term or to attend classes on a regular basis will preclude eligibility for graduation. Please refer to the online Course Catalog for course information and requirements.

Additional course requirements for LL.M. students are described below. The written work requirement is described below. The cross-registration process and guidelines for courses outside of the Law School are described in Section IV.


LL.M. candidates who do not hold a J.D. degree from a law school in the United States (including Puerto Rico) are required to take one core course in American law from the following list of “primary”courses:

Civil Procedure*
Constitutional Law: First Amendment
Constitutional Law: Separation of Powers, Federalism, and the Fourteenth Amendment
Criminal Law*
Family Law
Legislation and Regulation*

Courses marked with an asterisk (*) are first-year courses in the J.D. curriculum. The remaining courses on the list above are part of the upper-level curriculum. Descriptions of these courses can be found in the online Course Catalog (see above).

The Committee on Graduate Studies will consider petitions to substitute another substantive course in U.S. law. Petitions will be considered from students who have significant grounding in U.S. law or in a substantially similar common law equivalent (as determined by the Committee on Graduate Studies). Candidates may consult with the Graduate Program for suggestions on which courses might qualify as appropriate substitutions.


The Committee on Graduate Studies strongly recommends that each LL.M. candidate also take at least one course focusing on legal history, legal theory, policy analysis, or legal process. In addition, students who hold a J.D. degree from a school in the United States (including Puerto Rico), and who are hoping to embark on a law teaching career, are strongly encouraged to take at least one course that is primarily focused on legal theory or jurisprudence. Students are invited to consult with Jeanne Tai or Nancy Pinn for further discussion of possible course selections in these areas.


Students who are interested in the fields of corporate law, finance and governance, international human rights, or taxation may pursue a concentration in one of these fields. Each concentration consists of a series of requirements, as follows:


  • Corporate Governance and Finance of the Public Firm (spring) (Professor Mark Roe)
  • Comparative Corporate Governance Seminar (spring) (Professor Mark Roe)
  • Corporations (any section)
  • At least three credits combined from a list of designated courses in corporate law, finance and governance, provided to concentration applicants and on file in the Graduate Program Office


  • Human Rights in the UN Treaty Bodies seminar (fall-spring) (Professor Gerald Neuman)
  • International Human Rights (fall) (Professor Gerald Neuman)
  • At least seven credits combined from a list of designated courses in international human rights, provided to concentration applicants and on file in the Graduate Program Office


  • Taxation (fall)
  • Taxation of Businesses Corporations (spring) (Professor Thomas Brennan)
  • Tax Law, Policy, and Practice Seminar (fall or spring) (Professor Stephen Shay)
  • One of the following three courses
    • U.S. Aspects of International Income Taxation (fall) (Professor Stephen Shay)
    • Taxation of Corporate Mergers, Acquisitions, and Divisions (spring) (Professor Alvin Warren)
    • Tax Law, Finance, and Strategic Planning (spring) (Professor Thomas Brennan)

Further information about each of these concentrations is available from the Graduate Program Office.

An LL.M. student may not participate in more than one of the three available concentrations. Work successfully completed in conjunction with a concentration counts towards the requirements for the LL.M. degree. However, the concentrations will not, in themselves, satisfy the minimum credit requirements for the LL.M. degree. During course counseling, students should confirm that they are enrolled in a course of study designed to meet degree requirements. For international students pursuing a concentration, the requirement for a core course in U.S. law is satisfied by the course in Corporations (Corporate Law, Finance and Governance concentration), or Taxation (Taxation concentration). Students participating in the International Human Rights concentration will need to select at least one core course in U.S. law outside of the concentration requirements.

All of the concentrations provide opportunities for students to satisfy the written work requirement for the LL.M. degree. Students enrolling in one of these concentrations whose primary law degrees are from the United States (including Puerto Rico) must do so by writing the 50-page paper, described below.


All LL.M. candidates must register for and successfully complete a paper that involves independent reflection, formulation of a sustained argument, and, in many cases, in-depth research. The paper written to satisfy the Written Work Requirement must be an individual effort: group projects, works of joint authorship, and the like do not qualify for the Written Work Requirement. The paper may be written in conjunction with a Law School course or seminar, or as an independent paper supervised by a member of the Law School faculty (including instructors with Law School teaching appointments). Where there is no course or seminar in the field in which a student wants to work, candidates generally will be able to find a faculty member who will be available to guide research in the particular field.

Students who hold J.D. degrees from a law school in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico) must write a 50-page paper (see description below). LL.M. students whose primary law degrees are from schools other than those in the U.S. may select either of the two options described below.

The parameters for paper length and credits earned are as follows:

  • 25-page paper: one credit if written independently; no credit (beyond the associated course credit) if written in conjunction with a course that requires a paper
  • 50-page paper: two credits if written independently; one credit if written in conjunction with a course that requires a paper

A series of shorter papers or journal entries does not satisfy the requirement.


Students who wish to spend the winter term pursuing their research and writing on a single piece of written work worth at least two credits, while in residence in Cambridge, instead of doing course work, may apply to the Winter Term Writing Program (“WWP”). Information and applications will be available through the Graduate Program Office in October. Regardless of whether they plan to apply for the WWP, all students should register for a winter course since submitting an application does not guarantee admission to the Winter Term Writing Program. If admitted, students will then have the opportunity to drop the winter-term course for which they had previously enrolled. Participants in the WWP are expected to structure their own time and efforts during the term. However, there will be a mandatory group session on writing issues before the end of the first week of the term, and each participant will with a senior member of the Graduate Program administration in order to share insights, discuss research objectives, and identify areas where additional assistance may be needed.

Optional Graduate Academic Offerings

The Graduate Program organizes several optional academic offerings for graduate students throughout the year. These offerings, which have come to play a central role in the intellectual and community life of Graduate Program students, include the LL.M. Writers’ Workshop, the Workshop for Short Writing Projects, the Byse Workshops, a year-long Law Teaching Colloquium, the Empirical Legal Studies Series, and the Graduate Forum. Participation is optional, and does not result in academic credit. Dates, times, and locations for fall-term workshops and colloquia will be provided in early September.

Schedules and information for such programs throughout the year will be announced on the HLS Administrative Updates site and forwarded through the Graduate Program Listservs (see Section VII).


Writers’ Workshop. Students writing the 50-Page Paper are strongly encouraged to participate in an optional, but extremely useful, workshop designed to support students engaged in complex writing projects. This Writers’ Workshop helps students identify a topic and research question, develop a research design, formulate a proposal, and structure the research and writing phases of their projects. Students also receive help in identifying resources from Harvard Law School, Harvard University, and the greater Boston area that may enrich their projects. The Workshop is organized in small groups on the basis of participants’ research interests. Peer learning through regular group attendance and oral presentation is strongly encouraged.

Workshop for Short Writing Projects. Students writing the 25-Page Paper are strongly encouraged to take part in the programming presented through the Workshop for Short Writing Projects. This Workshop offers guidance to students in such areas as choosing topics and supervisors, writing research proposals, and addressing methodological and organizational issues, and the like.


The Byse Workshops, offered in academic areas of particular relevance to graduate students, provide in-depth treatment of the scholarship in their fields. The Workshops, led by the Byse Fellows, meet approximately every one or two weeks during the course of a semester. Discussion is generally organized around reading materials and/or an exposition by a workshop participant or guest speaker. The Workshops are offered on a noncredit basis. Participants who wish to write an independent paper based on the subject matter of a particular workshop may be eligible for one credit for the paper provided that the paper is at least 25 pages long and a faculty member serves as the supervisor of the paper.

The following Byse Workshops will be offered during 2015-2016:

Fall 2015
Advanced Topics in Evidence Law: Old Challenges and New Proposals
Mr. Gustavo Ribeiro

Spring 2016
Criminal Law in the Preventive State
Mr. Michele Materni

Detailed descriptions, meeting schedules, and related information will be provided in early September.


Offered in the fall and spring on a noncredit basis, this Colloquium is a series of information sessions highlighting various aspects of law teaching. In the past the Colloquium has drawn on the pedagogic expertise of faculty at Harvard Law School and other institutions to discuss issues such as pedagogical methods, how to develop research agendas, and various aspects of a career in law teaching. Topics may range from cutting-edge legal scholarship to internationalization to legal publishing to curricular issues. The Colloquium is designed for S.J.D., LL.M., and J.D. students who are contemplating a career in teaching, and has traditionally served as an interactive forum for students from the various Law School degree programs.


The Graduate Forum, coordinated by two Graduate Program Fellows, offers graduate students an opportunity to express their views on legal and other issues outside the formal boundaries of the classroom. The Graduate Forum also coordinates social and integrative events for all graduate students and serves as a clearinghouse for ideas and suggestions. In the past, the Graduate Forum has taken different formats and directions; the unifying themes of these different formats have been to draw on the experience of both LL.M. and S.J.D. students, to bring a comparative perspective to the matters discussed, and to serve as a centralized function for the exchange of ideas.