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How Professional Law Degrees Differ from Legal Master’s Degrees

Higher Education Articles September 19, 2015

Professional and master’s degree programs are available through many law schools. Writing, independent legal studies and academic research are in Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree programs. Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree programs award professional law degrees.

Professional Law Degrees vs. Legal Master’s Degrees

The professional JD degree enables aspiring lawyers to qualify to take state bar examinations. By contrast, Master of Laws (LL.M.) programs are meant for established lawyers, offering specialized training in numerous legal subjects. Non-professional master’s programs in legal studies or related areas are also available at a few schools.

Juris Doctor Degree

Aspiring lawyers who wish to take state bar exams may enroll into a JD program. Many programs are available in both full-time and part-time formats.

It may take 20 hours or fewer per week for full-time students to complete the program in keeping up with the stipulations of the American Bar Association, and consequently they may earn the JD degree within three years. The program may last 1-2 years longer for part-time students who often attend evening classes.

Coursework for first-year JD students includes general courses, such as civil procedure, torts, and criminal law. Second- and third-year students enrolled in most law schools are allowed to tailor the coursework in accordance with their specific area of focus, such as:

•Sports law
•Environmental law
•Administrative law
•Civil rights
•Employment law
•Copyright law
•Trusts and Estates

Master of Laws Degree

Law school graduates and experienced lawyers would benefit from enrolling into Master of Laws (LL.M.) programs that are usually less structured than professional JD programs and incorporate 12-40 credit hours of coursework. In the majority of cases, enrollment in a Master of Laws (LL.M.) program is restricted to students who hold a JD or its foreign equivalent.

As in the case of the majority of master’s programs, Master of Laws (LL.M.) programs are available in evening, part-time and distance learning variants. These programs are considerably flexible and allow students to choose an area of specialization or a range of subjects without insisting on a specific area of focus. Schools may offer numerous specializations such as:

•Contract law
•Criminal law
•Jurisprudence
•Family law
•Constitutional law
•Administrative law
•Juvenile Justice
•International business

Master of Legal Studies

People often mistake a Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.) for a law degree, which it isn’t. Advanced students who seek a grasp of basic law principles can enroll into this nonprofessional degree program. Students without any prior legal training can seek admission though the program does attract many applicants with legal experience.

Dual Degree Programs

An advanced education beyond the law field is necessary for successful careers as lawyers, and many law schools recognize this fact. Secondary degree options are available to JD students through most schools. Coursework overlaps in Juris Doctor (J.D.) and Master of Laws (LL.M.) programs and students may complete the programs concurrently. Schools may offer other common programs in combination with a JD such as:

•Master of Education (M.Ed.)
•Master of Social Work (M.S.W.)
•Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science (Ph.D.)
•Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
•Master of Arts in International Law (M.A.)
•Master of Science in Accounting (M.S.)
•Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.)

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