Is a Law Degree a Master's Degree or a Professional Degree?

When you hear about becoming a lawyer, you might wonder if law school involves the pursuit of a master's degree or a professional degree. In general, someone going to law school is likely pursuing a Juris Doctor (J.D.), which is a professional law degree. After earning a J.D., students may continue their studies and obtain a Master of Laws (LL.M.). Keep reading for more details on these programs and how they differ. Schools offering Juris Doctor degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Juris Doctor Overview

Professional Juris Doctor (J.D.) programs require roughly 80-90 semester credits of graduate study. J.D. programs typically take three years of full-time study.

Important Facts About Juris Doctor Programs

Online Availability No fully online J.D. programs are approved by the American Bar Association (ABA); most states require applicants to be a graduate from an ABA-approved program; only five states allow graduates of an online J.D. program to take the state bar exam
Possible Careers Law faculty, law clerk, lawyer, jury consultant, lobbyist, legislative analyst, legal consultant, politician, banking and finance, accountant, arbitrator, title examiner, trust officer
Continuing Education Most states require attorneys to complete continuing education periodically
Concentrations Master's degree concentrations include: Taxation, business transactions, health law, environmental law, intellectual property; also for foreign-trained lawyers to practice in the United States

Juris Doctor Degree Programs

Juris Doctor degree programs begin with core courses on topics such as criminal procedure, contract law, torts and constitutional law. The second and third years allow for more flexibility, giving students the opportunity to take elective courses almost exclusively. Some elective course options include family law, estate planning, labor law and health care delivery systems.

Accelerated J.D. programs allow students to earn their degrees in two years instead of three. Other schools offer dual-degree programs that award a J.D. concurrently with a Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Public Health (MPH) or Master of Public Administration (MPA). Dual-degree programs are intensive, and many of them are meant to be completed in three years - the same length of time typically allotted to complete a standard J.D. program.

Admissions Requirements

Admission into a J.D. program requires a bachelor's degree in any field, or prospective students must be in the final year of undergraduate study when they're applying. Students must also have a qualifying score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Universities offering dual degrees may have additional requirements, including satisfactory Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores and prerequisite coursework relevant to the secondary field of study. Additionally, dual-degree students may need to be accepted by two of a university's schools. For example, a dual J.D./MBA program may require students to apply to a university's law school and its business school.

Master of Laws Degree Programs

Students seeking advanced legal training in a specialized field can pursue a Master of Laws (LL.M.). These degrees are meant for practicing lawyers and J.D. program graduates who want specialized credentials in areas such as intellectual property, health or environmental law. LL.M. programs are also pursued by lawyers from other countries who wish to become qualified to practice law in the U.S.

Specific completion requirements may vary by school and by specialty, but many LL.M. programs require students to complete 20-30 credits of coursework. Graduation requirements will likely include seminar courses in the chosen specialty, as well as a final thesis.

Admissions Requirements

Unlike traditional master's degree programs, students can't enter an LL.M. program with just a bachelor's degree. Many programs only accept a small number of students, making admission to many programs competitive. Some LL.M. programs require prospective students to be currently practicing lawyers and to hold a J.D. degree accredited by the American Bar Association. International students with a law degree from another country may qualify for admission as long as the law credential is considered equivalent to a J.D. in the United States. Additionally, programs will look at academic history, professional experience and dedication to the specialty field as part of the admissions process.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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