What Types of Law and Legal Studies Degrees Are There?

Interested in law, but have no idea where to start? Learn about the different types of law and legal studies degrees that you can pursue, and find the field that's right for you. Schools offering Juris Doctor degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Are My Options for Pursuing a Law Degree?

Many people consider getting a law degree, but the field of legal studies is massive, and there are far more big decisions left once you've made the commitment to go to law school. The type of degree most people are familiar with is the Juris Doctor, or JD, which stands as the standard degree which must be held to practice as a lawyer. Beyond that exists the Master of Laws, or LLM degree, which requires that another degree in law already be held, and provides additional education and expertise with particular topics. There are also other law-related degrees geared towards those who do not intend to practice, such as the Master of Legal Studies, Master of Science in Law and Doctor of Science in Law, which are intended for legal scholars. Deciding which degree is best for you will depend heavily on your reasons for going into law and what you plan to do after graduation.

Types of Law Degrees Juris Doctor (JD), Master of Laws (LLM), Master of Legal Studies (MLS), Master of Science in Law (MSL), Doctor of Science in Law (JSD)
JD Programs Require a bachelor's degree, take 3 years to complete, graduates may practice law
LLM Programs Require a JD, take 1 year to complete, designed to enhance knowledge of already practicing lawyers
MSL/MLS Programs Require a bachelor's degree at minimum, take 1-2 years to complete, used for careers outside of law where knowledge of the law is important
JSD Programs Require a JD or LLM, take 3-5 years to complete, scholarly degree mostly held by professors

How Do I Obtain a Juris Doctor Degree?

The JD is the minimum requirement for practicing law in the US, regardless of what aspect of law you hope to specialize in. Prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, and corporate lawyers all hold this degree. To enter law school, a bachelor's degree must already have been earned, and prospective law students must pass the LSAT exam. JDs typically take three years to complete and include courses on subjects like contract law, professional ethics, and opportunities to advise and participate in real-world cases. Programs will often include specialty courses on topics like copyright law, international law, medical law, and other areas in which graduates may decide to work. After graduation, new lawyers must become members of their state's Bar Association and/or the American Bar Association, which acts as the professional organization for practicing lawyers.

How Do I Obtain a Master Of Laws Degree?

To get an LLM, one must first have received a JD. While requirements for programs can vary substantially, many LLM programs require at least two years of practice before returning to school, although some do not, and simply build upon the JD program at the school. LLM programs can offer either a broad look into many different areas of American law or be highly specialized in particular areas such as environmental law or business law. In broader programs, optional legal certificates can be earned in addition to the LLM, denoting the graduate's familiarity with a particular area of law. The average LLM program takes one year to complete, and each can have such different subject matter from one another that few generalities can be drawn as to what courses are included. Upon receiving a Master of Laws degree, the graduate will return to practicing law, making use of their new expertise.

How Do I Obtain a Master of Legal Studies or Master of Science in Law Degree?

The Master of Legal Studies (MLS) and Master of Science in Law (MSL) are graduate-level degrees designed for those who are not seeking to practice law. The MLS is a business-oriented degree, while the MS in law is for those whose work in other fields that may require familiarity with the law. Both programs are commonly undertaken by those who have already worked in a career for several years and are trying to enhance their value and effectiveness with knowledge of law. MLS courses may have overlap with those courses taken by JD students, particularly those with areas of business law or intellectual property law, which are valued in the corporate world. MS in law degrees are built to accommodate those who work in science, technology, and engineering, and cover legal topics such as patent design and intellectual property, as well as regulatory environments for various industries. Holders of MLS degrees are well-equipped for jobs such as head of human resources or contract negotiator, while an MS in law often helps those working in start-up companies, product development, or as expert witnesses in court cases related to their field.

How Do I Obtain a Doctor of Science in Law?

The Doctor of Science in Law, commonly abbreviated as JSD or SJD, is the highest degree within the field of legal studies and is considered equivalent to a PhD. It is primarily a scholarly degree, one based around teaching and research rather than practice, although a JD is often required before acceptance into a JSD program, and some even require the LLM degree. JSD programs are very exclusive, limited to only a few dozen per school at most, and as such programs tend to be less strictly assembled, offering more flexibility to focus on the topics that matter most to students, with the goal of creating an original and innovative piece of legal scholarship in their dissertation. Many who go on to earn the JSD become professors at prestigious law schools around the world.

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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