MSW & JD Dual Degree Programs

This article covers dual Juris Doctor (JD) and Master of Social Work (MSW) programs. Topics covered include career options, admissions information and coursework.

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Students who pursue a Juris Doctor (JD) and Master of Social Work (MSW) dual degree learn to both perform social work at a managerial level and practice law. These two fields intersect in a broad variety of ways, especially in terms of providing assistance to people seeking social services (such as domestic violence victims or tenants facing eviction).

General Program Information

This combination of degrees is ideal for students who want to practice law in support of marginalized and vulnerable populations. Completion of these two degree programs independently is usually expected to take about five years. However, dual degree programs allow students to save about one year from that estimated completion time.

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Students in this dual degree program take on a full curriculum from both the law school and the school of social work at the university. In addition to the core courses, schools may have students select an advanced practice specialization in social work as part of the MSW curriculum. Some examples of available tracks include mental health, families and children, aging populations and migration studies.

Core courses that students might encounter in these programs include:

Social Work with Individuals and Families

These comprehensive courses introduce students to social work and provide historical context. They then build to modern skills and practices such as interviewing techniques, appropriate levels of intervention and problem-solving. There may be a series of courses that build up to more advanced practices such as family therapy and individual psychotherapy.

Human Behavior in the Social Environment

These courses cover the full range of human growth and development, from prior to birth through the end of life. Students learn how social factors influence human development throughout these different stages. These courses may also be presented in a series, with later courses covering psychopathology in adults.

Criminal Law

Criminal law courses cover all different types of crimes as defined by the state. There is often a particular focus on crimes for which the penalty is incarceration. Courses focus on general principles such as justifications and sanctions.

Legal Skills / Lawyering

A first-year legal skills course often helps to prepare students for the rigors of law school as well as basic skills they will need in practice. Topics covered include legal analysis, time management and problem-solving. More advanced classes may focus on persuasive writing and speaking.


Tort law covers civil cases in which damages are alleged. This is a fundamental element that most law schools teach early in the program. Students learn about the different types of torts such as assault, emotional distress and negligence.

Admissions Information

Students will usually need to apply and be accepted to each of the schools (law and social work). Acceptance to one school does not guarantee acceptance to the other, and they must get into both to be approved for the dual degree program.

Law schools usually require that a student have some type of accredited bachelor's degree to be accepted. MSW programs don't necessarily require for the student to have a bachelor's degree in a related discipline, but they may ask for or give preference to students who have prior social work experience or coursework.

Other possible requirements include a minimum score on the LSAT or GRE, a minimum 3.0 GPA in upper-division coursework, a personal statement or statement of purpose, a current resume/CV and at least two letters of recommendation.

A dual MSW/JD program is best suited for students who want to practice law in fields that overlap with advocacy for the rights of populations who receive social services. The dual degree basically allows law students to add the social work degree with about a year's worth of reduction in class time.

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