What Are Your Postgraduate Law Options In The United States?
In the United States formal law qualifications are only offered to students who are studying at a postgraduate level. In order to be considered for a place at US law school, candidates must have gained an undergraduate degree beforehand. This is true for both US residents and international students. Here are the key pathways on offer if you are planning to attend a US law school to complete a postgraduate course.
Juris Doctor (JD) degree
One of the most commonly undertaken law degrees in the country, the Juris Doctor (JD) is generally required if a person is planning to practice law in the United States. In contrast to other countries that offer bachelors degrees in law, the JD is considered to be the first degree in law in America. This qualification is offered at law schools that have been approved by the American Bar Association, and at some which are not. To be considered as an applicant, you will need a strong bachelors degree and good results in your Law School Admissions Test. This test is taken by all US law school students and takes the form of five 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions, so extensive revision is essential. Each law school will evaluate your results individually, if you retake the test in the hope of gaining a higher grade, admissions staff will take the average score. A JD program lasts three years when taken as a full-time course. If you graduate successfully from a law school which is ABA approved, you automatically pass any US state’s educational requirements for acceptance to take the bar examination, and eventually practice law. Not every state accepts international students to the bar exam however, and those which do will usually pass your case to the American Bar Association for them to assess your merits.
Master of Laws degree (LLM)
Also known as a Master of Laws, the LLM – or Legum Magister in Latin – is a postgraduate qualification which infers a student with international credibility. Courses are provided across the United States for indigenous JD graduates who wish to specialise in a specific area of law, as well as for foreign students who want an introduction to the US legal world. When choosing an LLM, students can pick from a large number of course topics and types, most of which are taught alongside JD students. To be eligible you will need a first degree in law, but the LSAT test is not required. If English is not your first language, you have to prove your proficiency with test results. The program can be delivered over one year of full-time study, but other options are widely available. Like a JD degree, the LLM will not enable international students to sit a bar exam in every US state, but you can check with individual American universities to find out if this is the case where you’ll be studying.
A combined JD/MA degree
As the practice and study of law has become steadily more interdisciplinary, many US law schools give students the chance to take a joint law degree. Faculties and students look at how law and law making affect other spheres of influence, like politics, economics, industry, and environmental campaigns. The most popular are; JD/MBAs in which students look at the world of business as it relates to law, the JD/MA which offers a humanities based perspective and the JD/MSc which could look at law in combination with science, medicine or engineering. A joint degree will take four years to complete – longer than a JD degree on its own – because of the extra topics that are included. However, it takes less time that pursuing the two courses individually. Entry requirements vary between institutions, but most are the same as for a single JD degree.
Studying law at doctoral level
Two degrees are awarded at doctoral level by US law schools; these are the Doctor of Comparative Law Studies or DCL, and the Doctor of Juridical Science or SJD. These highly advanced qualifications are mostly undertaken by students who will teach law at degree level. To be considered, candidates should have attended an accredited US law school to complete their LLM, but some similar qualifications are acceptable. Prospective students will also have to successfully pass an oral examination and a written test that relates to their specialism. The course can take between three and five years, with the student following their own research path, under guidance from a doctoral committee.