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Law Degree Overview
A law degree program provides students with the knowledge and information necessary to work within a legal system. Students enrolled in such a program will be exposed to the various facets of the law, including how they are made, interpreted, refined and overturned. The study of law ask individuals to carefully consider the availability of information in regards to making informed decisions, then apply those methods to a legal setting. Law students will study a broad range of topics, and learn about the various functions of courts and how to operate within the legal system. Some institutions will mock cases, asking law students to defend or prosecute based on available information. During such instances students will research previous cases, citing examples along with current evidence to prove or disprove one's innocence.
Law degrees are graduate level degrees earned through the completion of law school, typically taking 3 years and requiring a bachelor degree prior to acceptance into law school. There are two forms of law degrees, the more common Juris Doctor, which can be consider an equivalent to a master's degree, or the less common Master of Law, which confers the title of LLM or LL.M and can be considered the equivalent of a doctoral degree. Students pursuing a master of law degree will typically specialize in a particular field of law, programs of which typically take one to two years to complete. Law schools typically require high marks on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) exam to be considered for admission.
A curriculum in law may include:
- Civil Procedure
- Criminal Law
- Legal Writing
A degree in law does not mean that an individual can immediately begin work as a lawyer. In the United States, all 50 states require admission to their respective Bar association in order to be licensed to practice law. The requirements for admission will vary from state to state, often requiring passing of a state administered Bar examination. Once an individual has obtained licensure he or she will be able to practice law within their respective state.
What are the Different Types of Law Degrees?
The highest degree in law comes in three different flavors with distinct tracks for each college degree program option. Whether you are seeking a law degree online or a traditional classroom-based college degree, you will need to know the following information about these programs. The 3 primary types of law degrees are:
- Master of Laws – LL.M. or LLM
- Juris Doctor – J.D. or DJur
- Doctor of Juridical Science – S.J.D. or J.S.D.
Master of Laws
The Master of Laws program is a second degree program within the hierarchy of law degrees after the juris doctor degree. Meaning, you must have a JD at minimum in order to apply to the Master of Laws or LL.M. program in the United States. The LLM or LL.M. program is typically a one year program for full-time students.
Students enrolled in a LL.M. program can designate an area of concentration such as international legal studies, taxation, environmental law, technology law, or human rights law. As you might expect, the designated concentrations or areas of specialties in the Master of Laws program provide students with a deep understanding within a specific academic discipline to help prepare them for careers in that field.
The set of classes required to earn a Master of Laws degree will depend on the school and the specific concentration selected. A general set of courses may include bankruptcy law, intellectual property, corporate tax, or estate planning. If you were to select an LLM with an emphasis in international law, classes may include the following:
- International Business Law
- Legal Research
- International Public Law
- International Trade Law
- Law & Economics
- International Law & Diplomacy
- International Human Rights Law
- Legal History
What is a JD or Juris Doctor degree? Juris doctor is commonly abbreviated as a JD and is synonymous with a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree or DJur. Regardless of the acronym or term used to describe this type of law degree, the term juris doctor means “Techer of Law” while Doctor of Jurisprudence means “Techer of Legal Knowledge”.
In most cases, a juris doctor degree is required to practice law in the United States. A JD is considered a first degree in law or graduate-entry professional degree in law. In layman’s terms, a first degree in law is the initial degree you can obtain without prior judicial experience or previous law courses. A juris doctor degree can be earned in 3 years as a full-time student yet can last longer if coupled with a master’s degree program. Specifically, a JD can be joined with a master’s in public policy, business, homeland security, or criminal justice thus extending the length of time involved in earning the degree.
How to earn a JD requires students to apply to an accredited law program after successfully obtaining a bachelor’s degree or higher. As a first degree program, students are not required to have prior legal experience nor law classes prior to matriculation. Your application to law school for a JD program will be accompanied with LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) scores, resume, and letters of recommendation. All states accept a degree from an American Bar Association approved college as meeting or exceeding the requirements for that state’s education requirements needed to take the bar exam. For your state’s requirements for the bar exam, visit the NCBE’s website today.
The courses involved in earning a juris doctor at an accredited college or university will vary by program and by school. Generally, you will find curriculum include a number of the follow types of classes:
- Civil Procedure
- Law & Ethics
- International Law
- Criminal Law
- Constitutional Law
- Legal Writing
- Patent Law
- Federal Litigation
- Public Policy
- Environmental Law
Doctor of Juridical Science
As the most advanced degree in law, the Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D. or J.S.D.) degree can be earned in three years on a full-time basis. The bulk of accredited colleges and universities in the United States offering Doctor of Juridical Science degree programs require substantive experience in law prior to matriculation.
The S.J.D. is a research doctorate in law and seen as equivalent to a PhD degree program. The Doctor of Juridical Science builds on the professional training in law found in the JD and LLM and aimed at training students to become legal scientist, research professionals, law professors, scholars in law, and high-level legal consultants.
The first year of an S.J.D. program will be spent on core classes like business law, family law, legal advocacy, national security, taxation, economic law and the like. The remainder of the program will be invested in researching and writing your dissertation paper. The dissertation paper will have parameters and guidance established by the university so additional research into exact requirements will be needed on your part to determine the scope.
Law Degree Online
The fastest growing segment within higher education in the last decade has been online learning or distance learning programs. The online learning sector is attractive to many students and working professionals given its learning modalities, flexibility, independence, and quality. By selecting a law degree online in California or an online law degree in Texas or Florida could be the segue you have been looking for the enhance your career or get you into the legal field from an outside industry. As you research accredited colleges and universities that may be right for you, keep your priority checklist handy and request information from schools as often as you see fit to find the best program for you. For additional resources from MatchCollege on online learning programs and research articles, visit any one of the following:
- Top Skills Employers Look for in Prospective Candidates
- Current Profile of Online Students
- Are Online College Degree Programs Right for Me?
- Is an Online College or Traditional College Setting Best for You?
- Benefits of Earning a College Degree Online
- How to Make Online College More Affordable
- Which Type of Online Degree or Credential is Right For You?
- Unique Aspects of Taking Online College Courses
What Jobs Can I Get with a Law Degree?
A number of vocational opportunities exist for those students who have earned a degree in law. Some are obvious, like an attorney, while others are not as pronounced. Below you will find a sampling of careers within law you can explore when deciding to earn a law degree.
- Professional Counseling
- Council for Nongovernment Agencies
- Negotiating & Conflict Resolution
- Banking & Finance
- Government & Politics
- Entrepreneur & Business Development
- Public Interest Advocate
- Policy Analyst
- Sales Manager
- Human Resources Director
- Private Judge
- Legal Recruiter
- Real Estate Specialist
- Investment Banker
- Management Consultant
- Legal Editor
- CEO, CFO, COO
Employment Outlook and Career Resources
Finding work as a lawyer can be difficult as it is an incredibly competitive market. Job growth for lawyers is expected to remain steady, but an increase in law school graduates will put available positions at a premium. Students considering a career in law should be prepared for long work days, little free time, and increased stress during their first few years at a law firm. Entry level positions for lawyers are known as associate level positions, with promotion coming in a variety of forms, including law firm partnership, corporate law, private practice, or in some cases, judicial positions.
States with the Highest Number of Attorneys
- California 76,840
- New York 72,760
- Florida 47,590
- Texas 43,240
- District of Columbia 31,470
Top Paying States for Attorneys
- District of Columbia $182,810
- California $162,010
- New York $161,260
- Massachusetts $158,760
- Delaware $157,610
Largest Employers of Attorneys in the United States
- Legal Services 382,730
- Local Government Agencies 53,640
- State Government Agencies 41,340
- Federal Executive Branch 36,510
- Private Corporations 17,910
The average salary of lawyer is $118,000 with a projected 6% growth through 2024 adding nearly 43,800 jobs through 2024. It is important to note the income for an attorney can vary wildly based on experience, location, position and employer. For a complete list of online law colleges and law degrees, visit the MatchCollege resource page today.
Individual interested in law may also be interested in international law, tax law, and health law.