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Differences between the LL.M. Thesis and Non-Thesis Options

Both of our Master's options require 45 credits and lead to the same LL.M. degree, but they are differentiated by the proportion of coursework to scholarly research and writing.

The Thesis option is a specialized research-intensive LL.M. program, while the Non-Thesis option is a more general LL.M. program. In choosing the LL.M. program that best suits their interests, background and objectives, prospective students are encouraged to take into account their aptitude for in-depth academic legal scholarship, their interest in taking a range of courses and their professional and personal timelines.

The four principal differences between the two options are explained below:

1. Length and depth

Thesis: A Master’s Thesis is a 30,000-word project. It should constitute a sustained analytical contribution to an ongoing academic discussion or to developing concepts and practices. The Thesis must demonstrate substantial knowledge, intellectual curiosity, critical argument, and scholarly ambition. The theoretical and methodological approaches incorporated into the research and writing should be clearly understood and articulated. Applicants to the LL.M. program with Thesis are expected to submit a proposal that illustrates their readiness to explore a particular research question in depth. For more information on the proposal, see Proposal, tracking and progress.

Non-Thesis: A Supervised Research Project is a 15,000-word paper. It constitutes a substantial piece of critical writing, of publishable length and quality, that elucidates particular ideas or problems within an area of law. The Research Project should exhibit a solid understanding of its own theoretical and methodological framework, and should be clearly written with the incorporation of relevant and significant sources. Applicants to the LL.M. program, Non-Thesis option, are expected to indicate areas of interest and to succeed in courses pertinent to their proposed topic of research and writing. LL.M. students in the course-intensive Non-Thesis program write their Supervised Research Projects in the summer session and complete all requirements for their LL.M. degree within a twelve-month period. (Alternatively, a student may register for the project in the fall term of the second year.) The University time limitation allows up to three years for completion for all Master degrees; however, the Research Project is considered a course and once a student registers for it in a given term, it must be completed in that term. For more information on the research project, see Proposal, tracking and progress.

2. Supervision and evaluation

Thesis: LL.M. students writing a Thesis are assigned a supervisor who is a full-time member of the Faculty of Law. The supervisor must confirm the readiness of the thesis for submission to the University’s Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

The Thesis, once submitted, is sent for evaluation to the external examiner. The examiner must find the Thesis satisfactory prior to final ethesis submission.  For detailed information, please visit the Thesis Guidelines.

Non-Thesis: LL.M. students writing a Supervised Research Project are assigned a supervisor from the Faculty of Law. In addition to full-time professors, part-time or adjunct professors may act as supervisors, subject to confirmation from the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies. The Project is discussed in draft stages with the supervisor and is submitted to the Graduate Programs Office of the Faculty of Law upon completion. The Supervisor evaluates the Project on a Pass/Fail basis and provides written comments to the student.

3. Number of Courses

LL.M. students who are writing a Thesis take substantially fewer courses than those writing a Supervised Research Project. Thus, students following the Non-Thesis option can register in a full load of courses in both the fall and winter sessions, thereby exploring various subjects and approaches to law at McGill. Thesis students take fewer courses, thus focusing in a more precise way on their particular research area under the guidance of their supervisors.

4. Time to completion

All LL.M. students at McGill must register for three full-time sessions (Fall, Winter and Summer) in residence (45 credits). Further sessions are labeled “additional” sessions and tuition fees are substantially lower.

LL.M. students in the course-intensive Non-Thesis program typically write their Supervised Research Projects in the summer session and thus can complete all requirements for their LL.M. degree within a twelve-month period.

LL.M. students writing a Thesis typically complete their program within two years, although the University time limitation allows them up to three years. Thesis students begin to refine their topic of research and to work on extended outlines in the winter term of their first year. Their research and writing thus goes through their third session and beyond.

For more information, see Typical calendar of general LL.M. Thesis and Non-Thesis students.

N.B: Candidates for admission are asked to apply specifically to the Thesis or Non-Thesis version of the LL.M. program. Note, however, that the Graduate Studies Admissions Committee makes the final recommendation to the University as to the appropriate program of study for each successful applicant. For example, students may be accepted to the Non-Thesis program if the Committee finds that taking a full course load is necessary to prepare for a writing project.