Lawyer Degree Program Options

Juris Doctor programs include professional coursework in constitutional law, criminal law and contracts, along with hands-on legal training opportunities. Graduates of a J.D. degree program who want to specialize in an area of the law can go on to earn a 1-year master's degree in law.

Essential Information

A 3-year Juris Doctor program teaches students how to analyze a client's legal problems, research the laws needed for cases, develop an effective case strategy and represent clients in a court of law. Programs also teach students the basics of the legal system. Master of Laws (LL.M.) programs are typically intended for graduates of J.D. programs and they last about one year. LL.M. programs allow students to study one or more specific area of the law, such as bankruptcy law, criminal law or family law. Most programs have a flexible curriculum, allowing students to choose their own courses.

  • Program Levels in Law: Juris Doctor degree, master's degree
  • Prerequisites: Bachelor's degree, LSAT scores for J.D.; Juris Doctor and legal experience for LL.M.
  • Other Requirements: Externships and/or internships

Juris Doctor

Students applying for enrollment in a J.D. program must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. Law schools don't usually require a bachelor's degree in a specific subject. Students usually must also successfully pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and complete an admissions interview.

The majority of the basic coursework required for a J.D. program is taken during the first year. In the second year, students typically focus on an area or areas of law that are of interest to them. Students complete externships, internships, clinics, legal journals or study abroad programs to expand their legal knowledge during the remaining year. Examples of topics covered in a program include the following:

  • Criminal law and procedure
  • Legal writing
  • Constitutional law
  • Legal research methods
  • Ethics and politics
  • Property

Master of Laws

Most schools require applicants to hold J.D. degrees and to have some work experience in the legal field. LL.M. programs are unique in curriculum because the courses for each student are chosen by that student. In general, students will take courses in specific areas of law, focusing on what area or areas interest them. In addition, most programs include options for internships, workshops, seminars and research projects. Areas of law a student may study include these:

  • Criminal
  • Family
  • Bankruptcy
  • Corporate
  • Real estate
  • Personal injury

Popular Career Options

After completing a law degree program, graduates can choose among a myriad of lawyer-based careers. According to the BLS, lawyers held about 759,800 jobs in 2012. These jobs were found in various industries, including the following:

  • Government agencies
  • Law firms
  • Corporations
  • Banks
  • Nonprofit organizations

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Graduates, after passing the bar exam, may find work in private practices, law firms, corporations or government agencies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for lawyers from 2012-2022 is expected to grow 10% ( The BLS also reported that the median annual earnings for lawyers were $114,970, as of May 2014.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

In order to practice law in the U.S., individuals must pass their state's bar exam. According to the BLS, all states require individuals to pass a written exam, and some states require passing an ethics exam. Most states use the Multistate Bar Examination and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.

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