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A moot court trial

Masters of Law Degree Program Overview

The LL.M. in Trial Advocacy at California Western School of Law offers students a unique combination of coursework and training that makes it one of the top criminal law LL.M. degree programs in the country. In this two-semester program, students earn a Masters of Law degree while learning from the best criminal defense attorneys in San Diego. To apply, a student must have passed or taken a state’s bar exam prior to beginning the program. To graduate, a student must complete 24 units over two semesters.

LL.M. in Trial Advocacy Hands-On Training

  • Two mock trials before active judges
  • Clinical internship at a federal defender's office or with a private clinical defense law firm
  • Week-long training program for federal defenders hosted by the Office of Defender Services/Training Branch, Administrative Office of the United States Courts

Courses in the LL.M. in Trial Advocacy program, including both substantive and criminal law, are designed to prepare our LL.M. students to step right into the courtroom. In the fall semester, students take the following courses:

  • Federal Defender Training
  • LL.M. Trial Skills Program
  • Federal Motions Practice
  • Evidence Advocacy
  • LL.M. Scholarship Seminar

Each class is designed to be interactive and to improve a student’s litigation skills (e.g., oral advocacy or motions practice). The legal research and writing assignments are often based on real cases and reflect the complexity of practicing federal criminal law. The small class size means that each student receives personalized supervision, instruction, and feedback. The fall semester includes two mock trials held before active judges.

In the spring semester, students complete a clinical internship at a federal defender's office or with a private criminal defense law firm. We will assist students in finding the right placement for them in San Diego or in another part of the country. Students have the opportunity to appear in court, assist with case preparation, and participate in client meetings under the supervision of an experienced federal defender. California Western was the first criminal law LL.M. program to offer a clinical component, and students gain valuable experience that provides an advantage in finding employment.

After completing the clinical component, students return to San Diego to participate in a week-long training program for federal defenders hosted by the Office of Defender Services/Training Branch, Administrative Office of the United States Courts. During this program, students attend advanced trial skills lectures and participate in small group simulations with top federal defenders from around the country.

The LL.M. program’s co-founders, Professors Justin Brooks and Mario Conte, both teach courses each year and carefully select instructors for their expertise and ability to work with students. In addition, Professor Brooks supervises the clinical placement component. Each course instructor has years of experience practicing and teaching federal criminal defense law, and many have worked at a federal defender's office. Our faculty teaches the skills and knowledge needed to be a successful practitioner and focus their curricula on preparing students for courtroom practice.

There is no better place to study than in San Diego. The federal district is one of the busiest in the country, partly due to its proximity to Mexico. The reputation of San Diego as “America’s Finest City” is supported by its sunny weather, miles of beaches, opportunities for outdoor activities, and a vibrant social scene. Financial aid is available as well as work-study opportunities with the California Innocence Project.