According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), becoming a lawyer requires a minimum of two degrees over the course of 7 years of full-time study – 4 years for an undergraduate degree, followed by a 3 year law degree earned from a law school accredited by the ABA.
If you are considering law school, generally there are three different types of law degrees a person can earn in the U.S.A. These degrees include a Juris Doctor, a Master of Laws, and a Doctor of Juridical Science.
The Juris Doctor allows a person to practice law within the United States of America. This is the first law degree that a person becoming an attorney will earn. A Juris Doctor takes three full years to complete and is started after a person has earned a bachelor’s degree from a college. There are some Juris Doctor degrees that can be completed in combination with other master’s degree programs in particular areas of the law such as public policy or business. These programs will take over three years to finish.
During the first year a student will study basic topics such as criminal law, civil procedure, and international law. The second and third year can be customized by the student to reflect their personal interests. Elective courses in particular areas such as business and taxes can be taken during the second and the third years.
Master of Laws
While most master degree programs are a first level of a graduate degree in a subject, a Master of Laws is actually the law degree that is completed after a Juris Doctor degree. A master of law degree program takes a year to complete studying full time and a student may specialize in a specific area of the law such as environmental law, human rights law, taxation, or technology law. There are many concentrations within the master of law degree, which means the curricula for each program will vary. For example, a person that enrolls in a tax master of law degree will learn about the tax laws of the United States and gain an understanding of these laws throughout the program.
A master of law degree can be very beneficial for international lawyers that want to familiarize themselves with and practice law in the United States legally. An American lawyer that wants to specialize in a certain area or prepare for the S.J.D. program is often accepted in these programs as well.
Doctor of Juridical Science
A Doctor of Juridical Science is the highest form of law degree available in the United States. A Doctor of Juridical Science degree can be finished in three years as a full time student. This program will qualify individuals to work as law professors in academic settings.
A Doctor of Juridical Science is research intensive and requires a student to know what their research interests are before they start the application process. The majority of a student’s time is spent completing and defending a dissertation. The student will work with an adviser during their first year of the program in order to determine course requirements.
In order to be eligible for a Doctor of Juridical Science program a person must have a Juris Doctor degree or a master of law degree. There are some law schools that have a preference of which type of degree a person has before entering the program. Most programs will expect an individual to submit their dissertation proposals upon applying. Most people applying to these programs have several years of experience as a legal professional.