Lawyers or attorneys work for clients, either as defendants or prosecutors, and help make cases before judges and juries to help them avoid legal trouble or achieve a settlement. Other types of lawyers may help individuals or companies draw up and manage contracts or handle civil cases, while some lawyers work for the government, helping shape the law. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, becoming a lawyer requires at least two degrees: a four-year undergraduate degree followed by a three-year law degree. Most law degree programs will focus on Federal law, or law that applies at a national level, rather than the law of the state in which the school is located. Some degree programs place more emphasis on learning legal skills rather than legal knowledge, teaching students how to analyze legal problems, read cases, and apply the law to individual scenarios.
Law schools in the Unites States currently confer three types of degrees: a Juris Doctor (J.D.), a Master of Laws (LL.M.) and a Doctor of Juridical Science (J.S.D or S.J.D.). The Juris Doctor must be obtained in order to practice law, while the latter two degrees are more international in scope. Curriculum is similar across most law schools, with emphasis on constitutional law, contracts, torts, and procedure.
Admission requirements differ across schools and degree levels, but most law schools require every incoming student to have completed a bachelor’s degree with minimum undergraduate GPA score and to attain a satisfactory score on the Law School Admission Test. Statistics show that, today, fewer students apply to law school immediately after finishing their undergraduate education. Instead, more and more law school applicants already have years of work experience.
In order to begin practicing law after undergraduate and graduate degrees are completed, every prospective lawyer will need to pass the bar exam. This license can be pursued through the state in which a graduate plans to work. Around 60% of people holding law degrees become lawyers or hold other positions in the legal system, while most of the remainder work in fields related to business. Law degrees can also put graduates on the path to working as barristers or solicitors or in the fields of legal counseling, banking and finance, education, or government and politics.
Juris Doctor Degree
A Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree takes three years to complete and is a necessary degree for those who wish to become lawyers in the United States. Applicants to a J.D. program must have completed a bachelor’s degree, but no specific undergraduate law courses are required, nor is any prior work experience in the judicial system. Law schools do require applicants to pass the Law School Admission Test and may also request a resume and letters of recommendation.
During the first year of a Juris Doctor degree, students will study topics such as criminal law, international law, torts, civil procedure, law and ethics, legal writing, contracts, property, and public interest law. The second and third years can be customized by the student in accordance with individual interests. Students may choose a concentration, including public law, advocacy or general law and can also take optional courses in particular areas, for example, in business and taxes. Some J.D. programs offer specializations such as international law or business law and policy, or even joint degree programs, such as law and philosophy, law and management, law and public health or law and urban planning. These joint programs may sometimes take more than the standard three years to complete.
To supplement their academic achievements, Juris Doctor students must earn practical legal experience by volunteering to do pro bono work under the supervision of licensed lawyers, at a law firm or legal organization.
Master of Laws Degree
The Master of Laws (LL.M.) is considered to be the second level of professional law degree after the Juris Doctor, and it takes one year to complete. This degree is valuable for international lawyers who wish to practice American law. LL.M. students can choose specializations such as tax law, environmental law, technology law, or human rights law, and the curriculum will vary accordingly. There are many concentrations available within the Master of Laws degree. While coursework will depend upon the particular type of LL.M. program pursued, some possible courses include intellectual property law, estate planning, bankruptcy, and local and state taxation.
Doctor of Juridicial Science Degree
The J.S.D, or Doctor of Judicial Science, is the most advanced law degree in the United States. It qualifies graduates to work as law professors, teaching in academic settings. The program is centered around research, and students must identify an area of specialty before applying. Most programs will also expect applicants to submit a dissertation proposal upon application. In order to be admitted into a Doctor of Judicial Science degree program, applicants will need to have completed either a Juris Doctor degree or a Master of Law degree. People applying to a J.S.D program are usually established law professionals with several years of experience in the field. Students must complete a limited number of courses, which can include business law, family law, legal research, or migration law. After that, they will spend the remainder of their time doing research and completing and defending a dissertation. The J.S.D. program is generally be completed in three years.
The tuition cost of J.S.D programs varies greatly between universities, with the average cost for private law schools lying between $40,000 and $45,000 per academic year. However, programs quality and expense vary widely, and tuition fees can range all the way from $1,200, among the more affordable options, to $62,000 a year.
After the completion of a law degree, graduates must pass the bar examination in order to become qualified to practice law in a given jurisdiction. Bar exams are controlled and administered by agencies of individual states, and run at least two days in duration, with some states holding three-day exams. The exam itself consists of a multi-state standardized examinations portion and an essay portion, and tests graduates on general legal principles as well as knowledge of the applicable state’s law. Most law schools do not specifically prepare students for a particular bar exam, but focus on teaching common law and analyzing facts. Because of this, students must study specific state laws on their own in order to pass the bar examination. Private bar review courses can be attended between graduating from law school and sitting for the bar.