This year, 92 students enrolled on the Master of Laws (LLM) course at Duke University’s School of Law in Durham, North Carolina. The teaching starts in late August, although students have the option to take an additional semester with a more global perspective at one of Duke’s international campuses in either Geneva or Hong Kong in the summer prior to the start of their studies.

The school also offers a joint juris doctor/MBA and other courses including a JD/LLM in law and entrepreneurship, says David F. Levi, dean of the law school. “[Being based next] to many start-up businesses in local government, consulting and electronics, Duke’s law programme unsurprisingly takes into account developing legal trends in conjunction with a firm eye on employment.”

Law students can also enrol on a broad set of courses, including those in marketing and accounts, for a more business-orientated focus. “We give our students the work experience in firms and start-up companies that is so essential for employment and that many places now regard as standard,” Mr Levi says. He points to the growing connection between business and law as the catalyst for course innovation. “We have ambitious students who want to take part in the most complicated business transactions. These are students doing an advanced graduate-level degree who actively want this demanding, complex work.”

Competition between companies will increase as the economy improves, he adds. “What we saw in the onset of the financial crisis is that large national and multinational firms stopped hiring dramatically. Now it’s stabilised, but the old hiring rates haven’t come back.

“Clients want and expect new lawyers to be ready for financial pressure from day one. Obviously they’re not going to be fully prepared but we offer the opportunity to go to a firm within a particular bracket of legal education. There they can specialise and we can direct them to that experience that few others can.”

The students themselves are also becoming more competitive, Mr Levi notes. “The downturn has meant the global legal market has shrunk substantially. Now almost everyone we have attending is coming to law school because it’s really what they want to do. In the past, we sometimes had people who were not sure what they wanted. There’s much less of that, and instead a sense of realism and determination.”

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