Lawyer Degree Program Options

Aspiring lawyers must first complete a 3-year Juris Doctor program involving professional coursework in constitutional and criminal law and contracts. Graduates can then move onto a 1-year LLM program to specialize in a certain area of law.

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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 (LLM) programs are typically intended for graduates of Juris Doctor programs and they last about one year. LLM 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.

Students applying for enrollment in a Juris Doctor program must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university, although 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. To obtain an LLM degree, most schools require applicants to hold Juris Doctor degrees and to have some work experience in the legal field.

Juris Doctor

The majority of the basic coursework required for a Juris Doctor 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 and internships, work in clinics, work on 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

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Master of Laws

LLM programs are unique in curriculum because the courses for each student are chosen by that student. In general, students 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 609,930 jobs in 2015. 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 2014-2024 is expected to grow 6% ( The BLS also reported that the average annual earnings for lawyers was $136,260 as of May 2015.

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.

The Juris Doctor and Masters of Laws (LLM) degrees are two options for students looking to enter a career as a lawyer. Students must first graduate with a 3-year Juris Doctor degree before continuing their education in an LLM program.

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