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Lawyer Degree Program Options

Read about the curricula and requirements of degree programs in the practice of law. Learn about career options and licensing, and see employment and salary information for graduates.

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Essential Information

The standard academic path for becoming a lawyer involves completing a 4-year bachelor's program and then earning a 3-year Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school. 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. In order to practice law, lawyers must pass the bar exam of the state in which they want to practice.

Juris Doctor

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.

Education Prerequisites

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. Some schools may require a professional resume, personal statement and letters of recommendation. Students usually must also successfully pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and complete an admissions interview.

Course Topics

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
  • Contracts
  • Torts
  • Case analysis
  • Legal reasoning

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 2008-2018 is expected to grow 13% ( The BLS also reported that the mean annual earnings for lawyers were $129,440, as of May 2010.

Master of Laws

A Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree program is designed to 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. Master of Laws programs are typically intended for graduates of J.D. programs and they last about one year.

Education Prerequisites

Students are usually required to provide a personal statement, resume, letters of recommendation and transcripts of all previous college coursework to be considered for admission to a master's degree program. Most schools require students to hold J.D. degrees and to have some work experience in the legal field.

Course Topics

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 759,200 jobs in 2008. These jobs were found in various industries, including the following:

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

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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