Types of Law Degrees and Certificates in the United States

Law degree options for lawyers and non-lawyers

Learn about the law degrees available to lawyers and non-lawyers

Though the JD is the most common, there are a number of law degrees available to lawyers and non-lawyers in the United States.

In order to practice law in the United States, you will—in most cases—need a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. While this is the most common law degree, it’s not the only law degree you can earn.

Lawyers who wish to stand out in a competitive job market or who wish to receive additional training in a particular area of law might consider obtaining a post-JD degree. Professionals who hope to work in a law-related field, but don’t actually want to practice law, might consider obtaining a law degree or certificate designed for non-lawyers.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the different types of law degrees available in the US.

Juris Doctor (JD)

A Juris Doctor (JD) indicates that the holder has a doctoral degree in law. The JD is earned after graduating from law school and, in most cases, is necessary to practice law.

The JD is offered by both ABA-accredited law schools and law schools that don’t have ABA accreditation. For this reason, it’s important to understand what ABA accreditation means. 

ABA-accredited law schools meet ABA approval standards. These standards are designed to ensure that graduates receive a sound legal education. Perhaps more importantly, most states won’t allow a person to sit for the bar exam unless that person graduated from an ABA-accredited law school.

Enjuris tip: Learn how to apply to an ABA-accredited law school.

Notably, a number of reports (including this one from the Los Angeles Times) have raised significant concerns with respect to unaccredited law schools.

Master of Laws (LLM)

A Master of Laws (LLM) is designed for people who have already earned a JD and want to specialize in a particular area of law.

Most LLM programs take 1 year of full-time study or 2 years of part-time study to complete. The majority of law schools offer LLMs and the concentration options are extensive, ranging from admiralty law to urban affairs.

Enjuris tip: Take a look at the complete list of LLM concentrations and programs compiled by the American Bar Association.

Students who pursue an LLM generally hope to be more competitive in the job market or want to pursue a field of law that isn’t covered in depth in law school (such as human rights law or agriculture and food law). An LLM may also be beneficial to international lawyers who want to become more familiar with the practice of law in the US.

Keep in mind that you will first need to obtain your JD in order to apply to an LLM program. In addition, most LLM programs require that you submit your law school transcripts and several letters of recommendation.

Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD)

The Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) is the highest level of law degree that you can obtain in the US. Students pursuing an SJD must first earn their JD and LLM.

Most SJDs take 2 years of full-time study to complete. The 2 years are research-intensive and candidates are expected to produce a dissertation that contributes to current legal scholarship. Typically, SJD holders pursue careers as law professors or legal scholars.

Enjuris tip: Be sure to do your due diligence before deciding to pursue an SJD. At least 1 distinguished law professor has argued that the SJD degree isn’t universally respected or known by academic employers.

Degrees and certificates for nonlawyers

For individuals who don’t intend to practice law, but nevertheless want to broaden their knowledge about the legal system, a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) or Master of Jurisprudence (MJ) may be appropriate.

These 2 graduate-level degrees are designed for non-lawyers who wish to learn more about the law but don’t actually want to practice law. For example, professionals in the business, regulatory compliance, law enforcement, or social work fields may benefit from such a degree.

In addition, many law schools offer certificate programs designed for working professionals in certain law-related fields. For example, the University of Pittsburgh School of Law offers the following certificates:

  • Health Care Compliance Certificate
  • Human Resources Certificate
  • Certificate in Disability Legal Studies

Due to the range of certificate programs, the application requirements vary. Most programs, however, require that applicants have a bachelor’s degree.

If you’re considering earning your JD or some other law degree, take a moment to look through the Enjuris student center for some helpful tips.

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