If you come to the U.S. for a law degree, you can choose a Juris Doctor (J.D.) or Master of Laws (LL.M.) program.
What is the different between a J.D. and an LL.M.?
· Bar Exam. If your J.D. is from an U.S. law school accredited by the American Bar Association, you may sit for the bar exam of any U.S. state or territory. LL.M. graduates may sit for the bar in only a handful of U.S. states.
· Length. The J.D. program is 3 years (6 semesters). An LL.M. program is 1 year (2 semesters).
· LSAT. You must take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) for J.D. admission. You do not need the LSAT for LL.M. admission.
· First degree. A first or undergraduate degree in any subject is acceptable for J.D. program admission. A first degree in law is required for LL.M. program admission. If you hold a non-U.S. law degree (e.g., LL.B. or B.A.) you may enter either a J.D. or LL.M. program in the U.S.
· S.J.D. eligibility. You must have an LL.M. to enter an S.J.D. program in the U.S. The S.J.D. also requires a first law degree, but it can be a J.D., LL.B., or B.A., in addition to the LL.M.
The J.D. is a general law degree that focuses more on teaching students how to think like lawyers than it focuses on teaching students how to practice law. U.S. law schools offer a mix of traditional theory-oriented classroom courses, and experiential, practical courses.
No U.S. schools offer an undergraduate law degree. The first available U.S. law degree is the J.D., and it is considered a graduate professional degree.
First year. Students typically complete the J.D. in 3 years (or 4 years part-time program or while earning a joint degree). The first year consists of 5 or 6 (or more) mandatory courses that include civil procedure, criminal law, contracts, torts, constitutional law, property, and sometimes international law. First year students often also take legal writing, research and analysis.
Second and third years. Upper level students have great flexibility in choosing from at times 100 – 150 (or more) upper-level courses. During these two years students take no more than 20–25 of those courses.
These may include courses in administrative law, civil litigation, criminal law, commercial law, corporations, evidence, family law, professional responsibility, taxation, and wills and trusts. These courses are generally considered to be “basic” to a law degree program, and are tested on many state bar exams. Every law school offers supplementary courses, such as international law, environmental law, conflict of laws, labor law and jurisprudence—which may not be on U.S. bar exams.
Specialized courses. Upper level students may be able to specialize in particular areas of law, such as corporate law, finance, tax, health, environmental, international human rights, or criminal law. At some schools, students who specialize may be awarded with “certificates” in that area of law.
Experiential courses and activities. Upper level students may get involved with: student-run law reviews and journals; legal assistance clinics servicing real, live clients; internships / externships where the students gain practical work experience; and extra-curricular activities and student organizations.
What are the J.D. entry requirements for domestic U.S. students?
U.S. J.D. applicants typically hold 4-year undergraduate B.A. or B.S. degrees with solid marks or grades, and must submit letters of recommendation, present a well-written application, and pay an application fee.
They ordinarily must take and receive an acceptable score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).
J.D. applicants are not required to major in a particular field of undergraduate study. Many have studied history, political science, philosophy, English, international relations, business, philosophy, geography, psychology, economics or sociology. They have also studied engineering, computer science, mathematics, and any number of other disciplines.
What are the J.D. entry requirement for international students?
International students would typically enroll for a J.D. at one of three stages of their educational careers.
- First, they may enroll for a 3-year J.D. after they complete an LL.B. or B.A. or other undergraduate degree outside the U.S. After they complete the J.D., they may decide to study for an LL.M. degree in the U.S., and possibly pursue an S.J.D. afterwards.
- Second, they may enroll for a J.D. after they complete an LL.M. in the U.S. or elsewhere. If they earn a U.S. LL.M., they may qualify to complete the J.D. in 2 years rather than 3. After their J.D., they may do an S.J.D., based on their having completed the LL.M. An international student requires an LL.M. to enter an S.J.D. program in the U.S., but does not need a J.D. to enter an S.J.D. program.
- Third, they may enroll in a joint J.D. / LL.M. degree program, which can be earned in approximately 3 years instead of the 4 years it would take to earn the two degrees separately.
With few exceptions, international students must satisfy the same requirements as domestic students for J.D. program entry. For example, some schools do not require current LL.M. students or graduates to take the LSAT. In addition to waiving the LSAT, the schools may offer these international LL.M. students “advanced J.D. standing”, and thus some or all LL.M. credits may count toward the J.D. degree.
Like international LL.M. students, international J.D. applicants must submit evidence of their English language competence, along with all the other materials required of domestic J.D. applicants.