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.
A. General Residency and Other Academic Requirements
To qualify for the LL.M. degree, students must spend the entire academic year — consisting of the fall, winter, and spring terms — in full-time residence and satisfactorily complete a course of study consisting of a minimum of 23 credits and a maximum of 28 credits in one academic year. The foregoing 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.
- Minimum Credits by Term: 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.
- Maximum Credits by Term: LL.M. students may register for up to 13 credits in the fall term, up to 12 credits in the spring term, and up to three credits (in a single offering) in the winter term, not to exceed 28 credits for the academic year. 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 and maximum credits should be directed to the Graduate Program.
Students enrolled at the law school may not be simultaneously enrolled, either full-time or part-time, in any other school or college either within Harvard University or at any other institution (provided, however, that LL.M. candidates may maintain an inactive enrollment status in a Ph.D. program at another institution).
In accordance with Harvard Law School policy, students may not be employed for more than 20 hours of work per week during the academic year while classes are in session.
LL.M. students must complete degree requirements for the LL.M. within 36 months of first matriculating at the law school. A leave of absence will not extend the period for completing degree requirements.
The typical study program consists of a balanced arrangement of courses and seminar work, subject to the approval of senior Graduate Program staff, acting under the direction of the Graduate Committee. Graduate students normally enroll in seven to nine courses/seminars in an academic year. Courses can carry from one to five credits, are taken for a grade, and often require exams but are sometimes assessed in other ways (papers, presentations, etc.) depending on the particular offering. Seminars are typically worth two credits, are taken for a grade, and are usually assessed through a designated type of written work (research papers, reaction papers) and/ or presentations, and have small enrollment totals. Reading groups are usually worth one credit, are graded on a credit/fail basis, entail intensive reading (as well as, in some cases, additional assignments) and classroom discussion, and generally have enrollment smaller than that of a seminar. It should be noted that law school classroom offerings — courses, seminars, and reading groups — are frequently referred to with the generic term “courses.”
All degree candidates must register for a full-time schedule of course and/or seminar credits in each term and regularly attend all class sessions. Failure to do so will preclude eligibility for graduation. Please refer to the online Course Catalog for course information and requirements at: hls.harvard.edu/courses.
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 the section on Course Registration and Course Changes.
All degree candidates must register for a full-time load of 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 also described below. The cross-registration process and guidelines for courses outside of the Law School are described on in the section on Course Registration and Course Changes.
B. U.S. Law Course Requirement, International Students
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, of at least three credits, in U.S. law from the following list of “primary” courses:
Antitrust Law and Economics
Constitutional Law: First Amendment
Constitutional Law: Separation of Powers, Federalism, and the Fourteenth Amendment
Evidence (sections worth three or more credits)
Legislation and Regulation*
Separation of Powers
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.
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) may petition the Committee on Graduate Studies to substitute another substantive course in U.S. law.
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.
C. Course Requirements for U.S.-Educated Students
Students who hold a J.D. degree from a school in the United States, including Puerto Rico (“U.S.-Educated Students”) must attend the anti-plagiarism session of the Legal Research, Writing and Analysis course that takes place during Orientation, and complete all associated training modules. They may sit in on the rest of the course, but may not receive credit for it.
U.S.-Educated Students who hope 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 may consult with Catherine Peshkin or Nancy Pinn for further discussion of possible course selections in these areas.
D. Written Work Requirement
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 that already requires a paper that would satisfy the writing requirement — commonly referred to as writing “in conjunction” with a course or seminar — or as an independent paper supervised by a member of the law school faculty (including instructors with Harvard Law School teaching appointments). Where a student seeks to write a paper “in conjunction” with a course or seminar, it must be clear that the offering already requires a paper that would otherwise satisfy the LL.M. Written Work Requirement, (ii) the paper is not in lieu of an exam or other assignment(s) of the course (unless such option is specified in the syllabus and available to all enrollees in the course on an equal basis), and (iii) the paper is an individual assignment and not part of a group project. 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.
LL.M. students, other than U.S.-Educated Students, may select either of the two options described below. The parameters for paper length and corresponding credits are as follows:
- 25-Page Paper: one credit if written independently; no additional 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
U.S.-Educated Students must write a 50-Page Paper.
The Written Work Requirement cannot be satisfied with a series of shorter papers or journal entries, works of joint authorship, moot court briefs, or clinical work product. As the foregoing list of exclusions is not exhaustive, students should confirm with the Graduate Program that the proposed format for their required written work meets the requirement.
2. Registration for Required Written Work
All LL.M. students must formally register for the Written Work Requirement by submitting the LL.M. Written Work Requirement Registration and Proposal Form to the proposed faculty supervisor for signature and, once reviewed and signed, submitting the completed paperwork to the Graduate Program by no later than the published dates set forth in the Harvard Law School Handbook of Academic Policies 2023-2024, and as also specified in this section. Details about the proposal will be provided by the Graduate Program. Faculty members may require additional preliminary information, such as a discussion of the subject matter, an outline, or a longer description. A student should submit the Registration and Proposal form, as well as any other material requested, to the faculty member well in advance of the published deadlines since faculty members may require additional preliminary work before accepting a proposal.
Students writing the 50-Page Paper, or the 25-Page Paper in the fall term, must submit the signed Registration and Proposal Form to the Graduate Program by October 16, 2023. Students writing the 25-Page Paper in the spring term must submit the signed Registration and Proposal Form to the Graduate Program by February 5, 2024. Students who fail to register for the LL.M. Written Work Requirement by February 5, 2024 may be removed from the May 2024 degree list.
3. Supervision of Required Written Work
Students may ask any Harvard Law School faculty member or instructor with a Harvard Law School teaching appointment to supervise written work. Faculty on certain types of leave may not be available in a given term.
Writing credits under the supervision of a visiting faculty member ordinarily must be registered for and completed during the term(s) of the visitor’s appointment; many visitors have Harvard Law School appointments for only one term. Students who are contemplating supervision by visiting faculty for projects that might fall outside of that faculty member’s term of appointment should contact the Graduate Program staff for guidance on this point.
4. Prohibition against Compensation
Students may not receive academic credit for written work for which they also receive compensation.
5. Multiple Use of Papers
Occasionally students seek to submit one paper for two or more courses or seminars. In such cases, the paper must be of sufficiently greater scope or depth to warrant such multiple credit. In order to assure compliance with this requirement, any student planning to submit the same or similar written work in more than one academic offering must first obtain the approval of the Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs by submitting a memo that documents the project plan. The instructors involved should discuss appropriate ways to make sure that the submitted work meets this greater burden. This memo must be signed by the instructors for both courses and must set forth the way in which the paper will meet the added requirement described in this paragraph.
Once the Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs approves the project, the memo must then be submitted to the Office of the Registrar before the student is accorded the requested credits. This rule applies to submission of work in any offering whether at the law school or elsewhere. A student who submits the same, or substantially the same, work in more than one course without such prior permission will be subject to disciplinary action.
6. Human Subject Research
Law School projects involving human subjects are reviewed by the Committee on the Use of Human Subjects (CUHS) within the Office of the Vice Provost for Research (OVPR), which serves as the University-wide Institutional Review Board (IRB). Students considering research projects that fall under IRB purview, i.e., regulated research with human subjects (including surveys or interviews) should review the University’s policies on use of human subjects in research available on the Committee’s website (cuhs.harvard.edu) and discuss their work with the Law School’s Director of Research Administration. Note that students should allow sufficient time for IRB review; late requests for review may not be granted. Requests are triaged within CUHS; please email email@example.com or call (617) 496-2847.
In addition, students whose research involves the collection or storage of human subject information must establish data security procedures that reflect the sensitivity of the data and in accordance with the Harvard Research Data Security Policy. Students should consult their faculty supervisors and the Information Technology Services (ITS) Department (at firstname.lastname@example.org) for additional information.
7. Credit Adjustments
1. An LL.M. student writing the 25-Page Paper may seek to extend the work to a 50-Page Paper provided that (1) the student has the faculty supervisor’s advance approval for the change, (2) the faculty supervisor confirms that the final paper significantly exceeds the original parameters in form (at least 25 additional pages) and in substance, (3) the additional credit would not cause the student to exceed the maximum credit parameter for the term or the year, (4) approval is confirmed by the Graduate Program and noted to the Office of the Registrar, and (5) all such steps are completed by no later than April 13, 2024. The foregoing is the only circumstance where an additional credit may be considered and granted.
2. An LL.M. student who has registered for the 50-Page Paper and whose writing plans change may reduce the project to a 25-Page paper provided that (1) the student has the faculty supervisor’s advance approval for the change, (2) the final paper fulfills the narrower scope of a 25-Page paper in form and in substance, (3) the credit reduction would not cause the student to fall below the minimum credit requirement for the term and the year , (4) the student has not taken part in the Winter Term Writing Program, (5) approval is confirmed by the Graduate Program and noted to the Office of the Registrar, and (6) all such steps are completed by no later than April 13, 2024.
E. Winter Term Writing Program
Students who wish to devote the winter term exclusively to pursuing their research and writing on a single piece of written work worth at least two credits, while in residence, instead of doing course work, may apply to the Winter Term Writing Program (“WWP”). Information and applications will be available through the Graduate Program 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 WWP. If admitted, students will then have the opportunity to drop the winter-term course for which they had previously enrolled in order to take part in the WWP. The WWP itself does not confer credit. Hence, the work done during the winter term must be part of an independent 50-Page Paper for which the credits are assigned to the winter term. 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 meet with a senior Graduate Program administrator partway through the term in order to share insights, discuss research objectives, and identify areas where additional assistance may be needed.
In addition to the Written Work Requirement, all students have the option of doing additional written work for credit. With the agreement of the instructor, a student may do such optional written work for additional credit related to a law school seminar or course, or on an independent basis with law school faculty supervision. These are excellent opportunities for pursuing topics in depth, for exploring issues beyond the formal curriculum, for developing publishable scholarship, and for tailoring the law school experience to the student’s personal interests.
LL.M. student optional written work may receive one or two writing credits and is expected to meet the standards for LL.M. Required Written Work in form (at least 25 pages of text, of the student’s individual work, for one credit) and in substance. The number of credits granted for a particular piece of writing must be arranged in advance between the student and the faculty supervisor.
B. Registration for Optional Written Work
Students must register for Optional Written Work by submitting the required registration form and proposal to the faculty supervisor for approval in advance and then to the Graduate Program by October 16, 2023 for fall term and by February 5, 2024 for spring term. Forms will be available online.
C. Research Assistant Work for Credit
Law School faculty members and instructors with a Harvard Law School teaching appointment have the discretion to give a student written work credit for writing done as a research assistant, subject to the following conditions:
- In order to qualify for academic credit, the writing must be equivalent to work that would qualify for optional independent written work credit (which, for LL.M. students, is at least 25 pages of text for one credit). Research assistant work that does not qualify for academic credit includes cite-checking, research summaries without analysis, and compilations or summaries of data without analysis.
- In no case may a student receive academic credit for research assistant work that is also compensated.
To register for Research Assistant Work for Credit, an LL.M. student must complete the required registration form and proposal and submit it to the Graduate Program in accordance with the section on Registration for Optional Written Work (above).
D. Moot Court Brief for Credit
Harvard Law School faculty members advising moot court teams have the discretion to approve written work credit for a student for writing done as part of a moot court team, subject to the following conditions:
- In order to qualify for academic credit, the writing must be equivalent to work that would qualify for optional independent written work credit (which, for LL.M. students, is at least 25 pages of text of the student’s individual work for one credit).
- An LL.M. student may seek no more than one credit for involvement in a moot court brief and must submit a narrative describing that student’s individual contributions — in terms of form and substance — to the final brief.
To register for a credit for a moot court brief, an LL.M. student must complete the required registration form and proposal and submit it to the Graduate Program in accordance with the section on Registration for Optional Written Work (above).
E. Required Consultation
LL.M. students must consult with Nancy Pinn, the Senior Director of Administration and Student Affairs for the Graduate Program, before seeking credit for optional written work of any kind, the writing of a Moot Court Brief for Credit, or Research Assistant Work for Credit.
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. Writing Workshop, the Law Teaching Colloquium, Byse Workshops, and the Empirical Legal Studies Series. Participation is optional, and does not result in academic credit. Dates, times, and other details for fall-term workshops and colloquia will be provided in early September where available. 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 the General section).
A. Writing Workshops
Writing Workshop for Long (50-page) Papers: Students writing the 50-Page Paper are strongly encouraged to participate in this 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 led by workshop advisors on the basis of participants’ research interests. Peer learning through regular group attendance and oral presentation of proposals is strongly encouraged. The Writers’ Workshop is different from the Winter Term Writing Program (WWP). However, the writing workshop advisors for the groups provide support for students who wish to apply for the WWP, the application for which requires a more elaborate research proposal than the one submitted in October in conjunction with registration for the 50-Page Paper.
Writing Workshop for Short (25-Page) 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, addressing methodological and organizational issues, and the like.
B. The Byse Workshops
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.
The following Byse Workshop will be offered during the 2023-2024 academic year:
Activists, Rebels, and Beyond
Angel Cabrera Silva
Abolitionist Approaches to Criminal Justice: Perspectives and Debates
C. The Law Teaching Colloquium
Offered in the fall and spring on a non-credit basis, the 2023-2024 Law Teaching Colloquium takes the form of four or more information sessions highlighting various aspects of law teaching. The first session is expected to take place in the fall. 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. This 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.