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Lawyer Studies: Degrees and Concentration Overviews

J.D. programs represent the entry-level path for aspiring lawyers, while LL.M. programs offer practicing lawyers advanced training in a specific area, such as tax law or estate planning. J.S.D. programs are research-focused doctoral degree.

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Essential Information

Juris Doctor (J.D.) programs require three years of study and offer comprehensive training in all types of law and legal procedures. Applicants must have an undergraduate degree and satisfactory scores on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Program graduates can take their state's bar exam to obtain mandatory licensure.

Individuals who have earned a J.D. degree and licensure may move onto an Master of Laws (LL.M.). Current employment is recommended for some of these programs. Many LL.M. programs are offered online. In addition to preparing for specialized practice, graduates can teach in J.D. programs.

In a Doctor of Juridical Science (J.S.D.) program, attorneys spend three to five years researching a particular area of law, culminating in a defense of their dissertation. Applicants to a J.S.D program must have a J.D. and LL.M.


Juris Doctor

The J.D. degree is a professional doctorate degree and is the most common degree for practicing lawyers. There are many areas of specialization for professional lawyers, such as civil litigation, criminal law, business law, governmental administration and regulation, estate planning, tax law and international law.

J.D. programs require three years for completion for full-time students, are highly structured and require courses in the following areas:

  • Contracts
  • Dispute resolution
  • Ethics
  • Torts
  • Law and society
  • Legal research

Master of Laws

The LL.M. degree program offers advanced training in a specific area of the law. Numerous programs are available, and many are offered through distance-learning programs in order to serve busy professionals. Most graduates obtain further education in order to practice in a specific area of the law, in either private practice or for an agency.

Program coursework varies depending upon the area of specialization, which include the following options:

  • International arbitration
  • International law
  • Tax law
  • Estate planning
  • Ocean and coastal law
  • Intellectual property

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Doctor of Juridical Science

A J.S.D. degree is generally considered the terminal legal degree and is considered the equivalent of a Ph.D. in other fields.

As with many research-based doctoral programs, there are not usually required courses, but the curriculum consists of student-designed research and its completion, which is often guided and approved by a doctoral committee.


Career Options

Graduates of an L.L.M. program have usually pursued specialization, which allows them to work in a specific area of the law, either in private practice or for a government agency. Additionally, they may teach in J.D. programs.

Graduates of a J.S.D. program often remain in an academic career, but general career options include:

  • Researcher
  • Professor
  • Public policy development

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Salaries for practicing lawyers vary widely depending upon the type of position obtained. The median salary for all types of lawyers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), was $115,820 in 2015. Job opportunities for lawyers were expected to increase by 6% from 2014-2024.

Continuing Education

All practicing lawyers must maintain a certain number of continuing education credits each year in order to maintain licensure. The number of credits varies by state.

To become a lawyer, individuals must first earn a J.D., then they may earn a LL.M. to specialize in a particular area. Lawyers who have an LL.M. may then go on to earn a J.S.D. and become a researcher of law, law professor and/or public policy developer.

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