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Types of Law Degrees and Legal Studies Degrees

Higher Education Articles February 21, 2013

The United States offers three main types of law degrees such as Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.), and Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.).

Juris Doctor

Students aspiring to practice law in the United States can aim to complete a full-time Juris Doctor degree program in three years. It is possible to combine some J.D. programs with other master degree programs in particular focus areas of public policy, business or law; such combined programs would take more than three years to complete. Coursework in the first year includes basic courses such as civil procedure, criminal law, and international law. In the second and third years, it is possible for students to tailor their coursework in accordance with specific elective interests such as business and tax.

Educational Prerequisites

Admission criterion calls for a minimum qualification level of a bachelor degree. There is no need for an aspiring J.D. student to complete any undergraduate law courses or have any experience with the judicial system. A current resume, Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores and recommendation letters are expected to be provided with the application.

Course Topics

Coursework during the first year focuses on core subject areas; thereafter, students are allowed to choose a focus area and attend as many elective classes as required by the school. Such coursework includes:

•Public Interest Law
•Law and Ethics
•Environmental Law
•Patent Law
•Federal Litigation
•Legal Writing
•Constitutional Law
•Torts

Salary Information and Job Outlook

Job growth of thirteen percent has been projected for lawyers during the period from 2008 to 2018, with fierce competition expected due to many law school graduates (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)). The most common employers of lawyers are government agencies, corporations and law firms. In May 2010, a lawyer earned an average annual salary of $129,440.

Licensure Information and Continuing Education

Juris Doctor (J.D.) graduates will have to pass the bar exam before they are allowed to practice law. There is a different bar exam in each state; most states demand students to graduate from law schools that carry the accreditation from the American Bar Association (ABA). Lawyers have to satisfy licensure requirements in the state that they want to practice their profession.

Master of Laws

The Juris Doctor, a first level law degree is followed by a second degree, which is the Master of Laws; a one-year full-time program in which students are allowed to specialize in focus areas including taxation, technology law, environmental law and human rights law. Coursework differs depending on the area of specialization. For instance, students will gain a strong understanding of United States tax law, if they have enrolled into a tax law LL.M. program. International lawyers who want to legally practice American law or become familiar with it should take the LL.M. program, but American lawyers who want to focus their studies on a specific concentration area of law or prepare for a Doctor of Juridical Science program could be accepted.

Educational Prerequisites

Admission to a Master of Laws program is typically granted only to professionals who have completed degree programs in law outside the country, though lawyers who have completed J.D. programs or equivalent degrees within the United States are also admitted by some schools.

Course Topics

Coursework varies in accordance with the type of Master of Laws degree program pursued. Students have to complete core courses in a specific focus area and thereafter select electives that interest them. The courses could include:

•Bankruptcy
•Intellectual Property Law
•Local and State Taxation
•Corporate Tax Problems
•Estate Planning

Doctor of Juridical Science

There is no law degree in the country that is more advanced than the Doctor of Juridical Science, which is a full-time three-year program. Students qualify to work in academic settings as law professors by completing a S.J.D. program. This is a research intensive program that requires students to know their research interests before starting the application process. Majority of student’s time is spent on the defense and completion of a dissertation. The course prerequisites are usually handled during the first year of enrollment and determined by students in conjunction with their advisors.

Educational Requirements

Qualification for a S.J.D program requires an applicant to hold a J.D. or LL.M. degree. One or the other may be demanded by some schools’ while some could also require the submission by applicants of a dissertation proposal. Many individuals who seek enrollment in S.J.D. programs are established professionals from the field with several years of prior work experience.

Course Topics

The S.J.D. curriculum mainly focuses on researching and writing of a dissertation. However, before they embark on their projects, students are required to complete a few courses. Classroom lectures are tailored according to specific interests of individual students including:

•Migration Law
•Family Law
•Legal Advocacy
•Business Law
•Legal Research

Salary Information and Employment

Job growth of fifteen percent has been projected for professors during the period from 2008 to 2018, with fierce competition expected due to many law school graduates (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)). The most common jobs performed by doctoral graduates are in academia and involve writing papers and teaching. In May 2010, a postsecondary law teacher earned an average annual salary of $107,990.

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