A U.S. law school may offer a two-year Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree program for prospective students who have earned a law degree from a foreign law school that is accredited in its own country. (J.D. degrees in the U.S. are generally three years in length.) Depending on the institution, a student may be granted a one-year credit in acknowledgment of their foreign law degree. Alternatively, a school may require a student to complete the first-year curriculum based on courses taken for his or her foreign degree.
They must also supply the school with proof that they are proficient in English. This may require submission of TOEFL scores. A program may ask that applicants have a minimum of one year of experience working in the legal field or business. Additionally, a school may stipulate that, in order to be accepted into the program, the foreign law degree's requirements must be similar to the school's requirements for its J.D. degree.
U.S. law students who are interested in studying international law and who wish to study abroad or participate in a foreign exchange program also typically earn a J.D. degree. Enrollees might study at foreign universities for up to a year. Centering on topics such as commercial and business law as well as civil and criminal law, programs may be customized to meet the needs of the students. In addition to specific educational requirements, students of these programs should, ideally, be able to speak a foreign language.
Juris Doctor (J.D.) for Foreign-Trained Lawyers
In some J.D. degree programs, students have the option of taking an orientation course before moving on to core classes. It is generally developed to give foreign-trained lawyers a broad overview of U.S. law, especially the distinctive facets of a legal education in the U.S. The primary goal of this course is to help students from foreign countries assimilate into the educational structure and system used in America as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
Program coursework may fluctuate based on students' level of education and experience; however, some of the common courses can include:
- History of U.S. legal system
- Jurisprudence: the philosophy or science of law
- Economics for attorneys
- Social science and economic analysis for lawyers
- Psychology applications for lawyers
J.D. Study Abroad & Foreign Exchange
U.S. students seeking immersion in foreign law or non-U.S. students seeking intensive studies in the U.S. legal system may find that a study abroad and foreign exchange degree program may meet their needs. In addition to the inherent learning challenges of studying in a foreign country, programs tend to feature expert faculty from a variety of countries and legal disciplines and mock legal proceedings as part of their curricula.
The American Bar Association (ABA) provides educational and professional criteria and standards to which most U.S. law schools adhere in order to gain the association's approval. It's imperative that students accepted into J.D. study abroad degree programs understand whether their chosen coursework conforms to the ABA's approved criteria to receive proper credit toward their degree. The ABA (www.abanet.org) lists three types of foreign study programs for which it has developed criteria:
- Foreign Summer and Intersession Programs
- Student Study at Foreign Institutions
- Foreign Semester and Year-Long Study Abroad Programs
While decisions made about the quality of study abroad programs rests with each individual law school's administration and faculty, the ABA states that the selected foreign program must conform to their Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. This is the criterion set forth in the American Bar Association's Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.
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Master of Laws (LL.M.) for Foreign-Trained Lawyers
It typically takes about one year of full-time study for students to complete a Master of Laws (LL.M.) program. Attorneys who received their education and training in a country other than the United States can enroll in an LL.M. for Foreign Law Graduates to learn about international and U.S. legal issues. An institution may offer introductory courses in the U.S. legal system and legal writing.
In order to qualify for admittance to most LL.M. degree programs, students are normally required to hold a law degree (or its foreign counterpart). Foreign-trained law students who have not yet finished their law degree program may be accepted into an LL.M. degree program if they are admitted to the practice of law in their country. Additional requirements may include submission of TOEFL scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation and a personal statement.
Foreign students enrolled in a LL.M. program typically begin their studies with an introductory course or seminar in the fundamentals of U.S. law, designed to explain some of the distinguishing characteristics of the American legal system. It's common for students in these upper-level programs to be allowed to tailor a curriculum to meet their individual goals.
LL.M. degree programs tend to offer basic legal education in a variety of subjects, such as environmental law, international and comparative law and constitutional law. In addition to these essential courses, students usually select at least one area in which to specialize. These tend to include:
- Commercial and business law
- Civil and criminal law
- Conflict resolution strategies
- Comparative and international law
- Environmental law
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that from 2014 to 2024, the rate of employment growth for lawyers in the U.S. is expected to be 6%, about the same as the average for all jobs. The median annual salary for U.S. lawyers, according to the BLS in May 2015, is $115,820 (www.bls.gov)
Continuing Education Information
A student with a foreign law degree who completes an LL.M. for foreign-trained lawyers may be allowed to enroll in the school's J.D. program or take the bar exam for the state in which he or she resides. Both options are dependent on the institution and the regulations of the state's Board of Law Examiners.
Having an international background on your resume can be very useful to many practicing law. Those who have earned a law degree in a foreign country may pursue a Juris Doctor degree in the United States, generally in a reduced time frame as compared to the normal 3-year program, or pursue a Master of Laws degree, which can be earned in just one year. Citizens of the United States may choose to pursue their Juris Doctor degree while participating in a study abroad or foreign exchange program in order to broaden their international experience.