Evaluating Supplemental Education

An Actual Tale of Woe

A legal career transition counseling client came to my former company distraught. She had spent more than $50,000 securing an LLM in environmental law from an otherwise highly regarded law school, only to discover that prospective employers were (1) unimpressed with her new credential and (2) dismissive of the granting institution. Here’s what several employers told her: “Didn’t you know that X and Y law schools are the cream of the crop in environmental LLMs? Why did you decide to attend Z law school? Are you aware of environmental law certificate programs that are far less costly and less time-consuming than an LLM? Why didn’t you do any due diligence of these programs?”

Do Your Due Diligence

Increasingly, attorneys seek to supplement their legal education with additional education or training in order to become more competitive in the job market, better position themselves for promotion and generally boost their careers. Many legal career changers seek additional credentials when they aspire to transition to a new field.

Here are a few “due diligence” tips to keep in mind before selecting an academic or other training program:

Examine certificate and comparable programs in addition to LLM and other degree programs. LLMs are not the only answer. They are, however, expensive and time-consuming. Certificate programs, in contrast, may be a viable alternative for many disciplines. They may offer you an opportunity to obtain a credential with far less investment of your time and money. U.S. law schools currently offer a large number of certificate programs in many topical areas that are open to non-degree candidates. An increasing number of them are offered online.

In addition, many other academic institutions, as well as other organizations such as trade and professional associations, also offer legal certificate programs both on-site and online. When investigating any certificate, degree or other program, make sure to determine that it will be worth your time and money before enrolling.

Expand your survey of educational programs to include law-related ones. Depending upon your background and interests and the state of the employment market, you may be better off in terms of enhancing your employability if you obtain a law-related graduate degree or professional certificate rather than an LLM or legal certificate. There are, for example, superb law-related programs in fields such as contracting, international transactions, risk management, alternative dispute resolution, compliance, real estate, and insurance, to name just a few.

Talk to individuals who have already earned the credential. Get their assessment as to whether the credential made a difference to their careers, promotion potential and compensation. Ask them:

  • How difficult was it to find suitable employment after completing the program?
  • How much help – and what kind of help – did they receive with respect to finding employment from the granting institution’s career office?
  • Would they do it – pursue the credentialing program – again?

Talk directly to employers of individuals who have the degree or certificate. Ask them:

  • Do they value the fact that an employee has the credential?
  • How does the credential benefit their organization?
  • Do they believe the credential is a career booster?
  • What is their opinion of the credential-granting organization?

Talk to current students in the program. Ask them:

  • Is the program worth the time, effort, money, and career interruption?
  • What do they intend to do with their degree or certificate?

Talk to the career placement professionals and program directors at the sponsoring school or organization. Ask them:

  • Where can you expect to work once you earn the credential?
  • What is their track record when it comes to placing program graduates?
  • Where do program graduates work?
  • What career paths will be open to you?
  • Finally, ask them for specific examples of what they can do for you during and after you complete the program.

If they “stone-wall” you or become defensive, or if their answers are vague or otherwise unsatisfactory, say “thank you,” pick up your tuition payment check, and walk away from the program.

Do all of the above in person, face-to-face, if possible. Direct communication is far superior to either the telephone or email. Communication is more than mere words. Body language and facial expression are essential parts of the due diligence investigation you need to conduct about supplemental educational programs in order to be fully informed. If a face-to-face meeting is impossible, your fallback should be the telephone. While you won’t have the benefit of observing body language, things like “pregnant pauses” before responding to a question can be very informative. Email should be your last resort.

“Data-mine” the digital world. The perfect capstone to your research is the Internet, specifically social media. See what people are saying about the programs you are considering.

The importance of this kind of due diligence cannot be over-emphasized. The road to career doldrums is littered with the frustrations of attorneys who have gone before you who invested tens of thousands of dollars and enormous amounts of time in supplemental credentialing programs that proved to be of little job-seeking or career-boosting value.