Bill: As your email implies, large private law firms are often snobbish about credentials. Why? Because they can be.
The most prestigious firms - and the ones that pay that good salary you're looking for - get thousands of resumes each year. In their defense, they need to use something to pick and choose potential candidates quickly. Grades and alma mater are the criteria typically used in this regard. Even these firms know that this is not always the best way to do things. They recognize that there may be some great people they are overlooking and that there may be many reasons why an otherwise qualified candidate may attend a lower-ranked school or may not have scored at the top of his or her class. Still, they cannot interview everyone - so they pick and choose.
Unfortunately, even an MBA or LLM is not going to compensate for a law school that is not on the radar screen of the top firms. Either of these degrees will, of course, make your resume more impressive and surely assist your legal practice. But the big firms out there see many qualified people with advanced degrees. Even if you have an LLM from NYU, for example, you are still going to be subject to the quick credential check I mentioned above.
I guess what I am trying to tell you is that you should not look at an LLM or an MBA as your ticket to a $150,000 first-year salary at a Wall Street firm. On the more positive side, if you come down the ladder a bit to smaller firms, especially those that specialize in tax, for instance, and you have an LLM, you are eventually going to find a match. In other words, the advanced degree will make you more marketable but only to a certain extent. Thus, you have to ask yourself whether it's really worth it - and if you really want another professional degree.
One suggestion before you take the leap is to go to a lawyers' directory such as the one at www.martindale.com. Look up a few law firms -- especially those that specialize in an area you're interested in. Look at the individual attorney profiles and see how many lower-tier law school graduates with LLMs or MBAs work at these firms. That should be a good indicator for what lies ahead.
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