Types of Law Degrees and Legal Studies Degrees

Aug 22, 2019

Law school degrees exist at several different levels, each of which has its own unique applications and specialization options available. Find out the differences between legal studies degrees and law degrees, and which one best fits your plans, by reading below.

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  • 0:50 Juris Doctor
  • 1:39 Master of Laws
  • 2:56 Doctor of Juridicial Science
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What Degree Do You Get From Law School?

You might be wondering, what is a law degree called? Well, individuals who attend law school have several different options for degrees, all of which exist at the post-bachelor's level. The most common degree, and that required to practice law in the US, is the Juris Doctor (J.D.). Anyone who has ever worked as a lawyer in their past has earned this degree, as well as many legal scholars who may never have practiced. The J.D. is considered a professional degree, but law schools still require that an undergraduate degree be completed before applying, in much the same way as a master's.

Levels of Law Degrees

Legal degrees are typically available at three different levels, with each level serving slightly different purposes. These degree levels, from basic to most advanced, include:

  • Juris Doctor (J.D.)
  • Master of Laws (L.L.M.)
  • Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.)

The J.D. is predominantly used by those practicing as lawyers. J.D. programs take about 3 years to complete on average, and after completion, graduates will need to pass their state's bar exam and obtain licensure in order to practice. The Master of Laws (L.L.M.) degree can be pursued by those holding a J.D. who wish to develop further specializations in a particular area of law, or occasionally by those with law degrees from schools outside the US who wish to practice within the US, resulting in what is known as a comparative law degree. L.L.M. programs generally need around a year to complete and may involve substantial research, writing of papers, and participation in seminars. Many accredited online law degree programs available are L.L.M.s, possibly because they tend to be supplemental in nature.

The Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) degree is the highest law degree commonly offered, primarily held by those intending to perform research rather than practice law. S.J.D. candidates must produce a high quality dissertation after at least 3 years of study in order to be awarded the degree. An L.L.M. degree is frequently required before applying to S.J.D. programs.

Different Law Degrees

There are other types of law degrees available which do not conform to the standard law school progression. The Master of Legal Studies (MLS) is a graduate degree designed for those who do not wish to practice law, and somewhat less common than L.L.M. programs. It might be more accurately considered a counterpart to the J.D., providing an alternate route after completion of a bachelor's program in law studies. MLS degrees are typically held by those who assist attorneys, such as paralegals or legal secretaries, or by individuals in roles where extensive knowledge of law relevant to their field would be beneficial. A Ph.D. in law is also an uncommon option, taking around three years to complete. Ph.D.s in law are mostly used by professors and other academics, and may have more of an interdisciplinary focus.

Joint degrees are rare, but also a possibility. Joint degrees include a law degree and another degree, such as a J.D./M.D., which combines the J.D. with a medical doctor's degree. J.D./Ph.D. and J.D./Master's degrees in various disciplines are also an option, usually with the intent of providing highly specialized knowledge in a particular field, such as law dealing with medical or technological breakthroughs.

Law Specialties

For both J.D. and L.L.M. degrees, there are a variety of specialization options which can be pursued. Specialties usually consist of a particular area of law, such as business law, taxation, civil liberties, immigration, constitutional law, and more. While a specialization isn't always required to obtain a J.D., it is often recommended if the option is available. Those who did not fulfill the requirements for a specialization while studying for a J.D. can develop one by returning to school for the L.L.M. degree, which has far more specializations available than J.D. programs usually offer. It is also possible to obtain certification in a specialty, and although the exact details vary from state to state, the process often involves an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited degree program, a written exam, and a track record of practice in that specialty.

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