From obtaining a bachelor’s degree to sitting for the bar exam, becoming a lawyer doesn’t happen overnight
The degree you receive when you complete law school is the Juris Doctor (J.D.). Ask most people how long it takes to obtain a J.D. and they’ll tell you 3 years. But law schools are becoming more innovative and the answer to this question is no longer so straightforward.
Let’s take a closer look.
Obtaining an undergraduate degree
Currently, the vast majority of law schools require that you obtain a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor's degree typically takes 4 years of full-time study to complete, during which time you’ll earn 120 semester credits and take around 40 college courses.
There’s at least 1 ABA-approved law school, Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, that will admit “exceptional students” who have not earned a bachelor’s degree. However, the school warns that many state bar associations (including the State Bar of Michigan) will not allow a student without a bachelor’s degree to take the bar exam.
Taking the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)
The LSAT is offered several times throughout the year. Most undergraduate students take the LSAT during the summer before their senior year of college and then apply to law schools during the fall of their senior year.
However, some students take the LSAT after they graduate so they can focus exclusively on preparing for the test. Other students don’t decide they want to attend law school until after they graduate from college.
The point is, when you take the LSAT may impact when you’re able to apply for and attend law school—and therefore how long it takes you to earn a JD degree.
Completing law school
Under the ABA rules, a law student must complete no fewer than 83 credit hours in order to graduate from an ABA-approved law school. At least 64 of these credit hours must be in courses that require attendance in regularly scheduled classroom sessions or direct faculty instruction.
Additionally, these 83 credit hours must be completed no earlier than 24 months and, except in extraordinary circumstances, no later than 84 months after the student has begun law school. Accordingly, it will take law students anywhere from 2–7 years to earn their J.D. (with most students completing law school in 3 years).
Students who attend law school part-time or who experience some sort of health emergency that forces them to step away from school for an extended period may take longer than 3 years.
Obtaining a Master of Laws (LL.M)
A Master of Laws (LL.M) is a post-law degree. Most LL.M degree programs take 1 year to complete. The degree is intended for people who want to study a more specialized field of law (such as taxation, intellectual property, or human rights law).
If you’re considering obtaining a law degree, head over to our student center to learn more about your options.