Individuals hoping to practice law and work within the legal system can pursue juris doctor (JD) degrees.
Lawyers enjoy fast-paced, challenging work and benefit from lucrative and secure employment opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for lawyers to grow by 4% from 2019-2029.
JD degrees provide aspiring lawyers with the tools to properly identify and address legal problems. Lawyers work to solve complex problems, so they depend on a strong foundation of analytical reasoning and argumentation skills to advocate for their clients.
Our list of the best law schools in the U.S. offers a helpful starting point for candidates searching for the ideal program.
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Why Get a JD?
A JD degree is a highly specialized credential that prepares future attorneys to practice law. People who possess strong reading, writing, and argumentative skills may enjoy the coursework and prospective career options afforded by JD degrees. Graduates can choose from many specialized fields within the legal system to follow their passion.
The BLS reports that lawyers earned a median annual salary of $122,960 as of 2019. They also enjoy a positive job outlook and many career advancement opportunities.
As they grow within their careers and benefit from work experience, many attorneys consider earning their judgeship to oversee a court of law. Others opt to return to academia to instruct law students. Regardless of their specific trajectory, JD graduates enjoy rewarding careers with positive growth opportunities.
In addition to preparing law professionals to participate in the legal process, the JD degree also offers several other benefits:
- Specialized Studies
- Prospective lawyers can select elective courses and choose a specialized career path to follow their interests and grow their skills. Law students can concentrate in areas like international law, entertainment law, and healthcare law.
- Versatile Options
- Developing an understanding of the law offers a valuable asset in many professions outside of the courtroom. In pursuing a JD degree, students learn about legal processes, logical reasoning, and critical thinking that may benefit them in research or business.
- Challenging Format
- Individuals with active minds may enjoy the challenges and ever-changing landscape of law school and the legal field. Practicing law allows professionals to solve problems in unique and effective ways.
Programs Offering a Juris Doctor in 2021
We compiled the following using the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, where schools self-report their program offerings. All programs on this list are accredited and hold approval from the American Bar Association. Explore the below program websites to find the JD degree that best fits your needs.
What To Expect From JD Programs
Law students practice legal strategies, develop an understanding of legal doctrine, and build argumentative and oration skills. The JD degree generally takes three years to complete, but accelerated programs allow enrollees to finish earlier, and part-time options allow learners to study at a slower pace and continue to work while pursuing degrees. Most JD degrees comprise 90 credits, often including experiential learning opportunities.
JD coursework comprises core courses in fundamental aspects of law, electives and opportunities for specialization, and extracurricular opportunities like clinics, law review, and on-campus interviews. Candidates who choose to concentrate in specific areas of law, like tax law, intellectual property, or public interest law, often enjoy a competitive edge in the job market.
While candidates do not need specific undergraduate degrees to apply to JD programs, certain bachelor’s degrees may give prospective lawyers an advantage. Since JD programs place a heavy emphasis on reading, writing, and public speaking, students may benefit from undergraduate work in English, history, or business. Candidates with criminal justice backgrounds thrive in JD degrees.
In addition to providing transcripts, resumes, letters of recommendation, JD candidates should also prepare to write personal statements. These essays help inform admissions committees on a prospective student’s writing ability, interests, and ambitions. These statements allow applicants to include any personal information that is not included in the application process.
JD candidates should also prepare to take the Law School Admittance Test (LSAT), which examines students’ likelihood of succeeding in their first year of law school.
Taking the LSAT
The LSAT is the only test accepted by all schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA).
While some institutions may accept other tests, students who want to apply to multiple top law schools should prepare to sit for the LSAT.
The LSAT comprises four main sections: reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, logical reasoning, and writing. The first three sections include multiple-choice questions completed in one sitting, while the written portion, completed during a separate sitting, focuses on essays.
While law schools may vary in their LSAT score requirements, most consider a score of 160 or higher as generally acceptable. Candidates can retake the exam, but law schools may examine their number of attempts. Prospective students can benefit from LSAT prep programs like Khan Academy to ensure success and avoid taking the test multiple times.
Each test-taker must pay $200 to sit for the LSAT, unless they demonstrate the absolute inability to pay for the exam. Test scores hold value for five years and can be used to apply to many law degrees.
Comparing the JD to Other Law Degrees
In addition to the JD degree, several other types of law degrees can launch students into careers in the legal field. Candidates should compare different law degrees to ensure which program best aligns with their goals.
Master of Laws
The LLM degree, a 1-2 year program, best suits professionals who hold previous degrees in law. These highly specialized programs typically focus on a particular aspect of law, such as environmental law, intellectual property, taxation, or human rights law.
Master of Legal Studies
Individuals who want to work in the legal field but do not plan to practice as lawyers can pursue 1-2 year MLS degrees. Potential careers for these graduates include law enforcement, securities and exchange commissions, Food and Drug Administration, human resources, or business.
Master of Dispute Resolution
The 1-2 year MDR degree best suits candidates who want to study methods of resolution and negotiation. Widely applicable in many professional settings, MDR degrees usually comprise coursework in negotiation, dispute resolution, mediation, arbitration practice, and conflict management.
Doctor of Judicial Science
The SJD is the terminal degree in the legal field and requires two years of study after the completion of a JD or LLM. This doctoral degree prepares legal professionals for careers in postsecondary education, legal science, and legal research.
Popular Law Courses and Activities
Core courses provide students with a foundational understanding of procedures, various laws, and contracts, while activities like practicing in clinics, participating in law reviews, and performing in on-campus interviews prepare them for professional law responsibilities. Common courses include:
Specialized Areas of Legal Study
Selecting a specialization within a JD degree is not required, but it may help prospective lawyers to prepare for their future careers. Specialized studies also allow learners to develop their passion, grow their skills, and expand their network.
While much of the JD degree coursework comprises core requirements, elective courses help first-year and second-year law students delve into specific areas. If enrollees choose to specialize, they generally begin to take upper-level elective courses during their third year of study. Some of the specialized areas of law include:
- Tax law
- Intellectual property
- Public interest law
- Environmental law
- International law
- Entertainment law
- Healthcare law
- Business law
- Constitutional law
- Criminal law
Pursuing a specialization can also help future law professionals differentiate themselves in the job market. Specializations allow each student to develop a specific skill set and increase industry-specific knowledge, which may impress employers.
How Much Will a JD Degree Cost?
Annual tuition rates and associated fees for law schools range from $13,130-$72,470. Private or public status, school prestige, in-state vs. out-of-state tuition, and method of instruction all influence this figure. Other costs associated with pursuing an advanced degree include housing, loss of income for full-time students, and relocation or commuting for on-campus students.
Students pursue law degrees for many reasons, but they often expect to receive an especially high salary upon graduation. While law can offer lucrative opportunities, aspiring professionals should still avoid incurring too much student debt.
Many ABA-accredited programs offer affordable, public, and even online education opportunities, providing law students with substantial savings on their education investments. Learners can also lower their debt by pursuing financial aid options, including scholarships, fellowships, grants, and loans.
Jobs for Law School Graduates
Law school graduates can use their advanced reading, writing, and argumentation skills to secure employment in law or apply their skills outside of the court system. Graduates apply conflict resolution training to mediate issues outside of the legal field as arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators.
They may also choose to stay in academia and educate the next generation of legal professionals. If law professionals choose to practice law, they can advance their careers as judges after five years of experience.
After obtaining a JD degree and passing the bar exam, lawyers can professionally advise and represent individuals, businesses, and agencies on issues and disputes. Lawyers work in private offices, corporate legal offices, or federal, local, and state governments.
Judge or Hearing Officer
Successful lawyers can advance in their careers to become judges and uphold the law by overseeing the legal process in courts. Judges and hearing officers find employment in federal and state governments.
Professor of Law
College, university, and law school professors instruct students in core and elective law courses. Professors may also act in an advisory role or supervise clinics and law reviews.
- Required Education: JD or SJD degree
- Average Annual Salary: $130,190
Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators
Professionals with expertise in arbitration, mediation, and dispute resolution provide solutions for settling cases outside of court trials. This profession requires an advanced understanding of the legal system.
Choosing the Right JD Program
An aspiring law student can begin their school search with our ranked lists, but they should also consider the following factors in their research:
- Your prospective law schools should hold ABA accreditation, as well as regional agencies, like the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
- Specialization Options
- Law schools may offer limited selections for specialization based on their staff credentials and elective offerings, so candidates should determine their ideal career path before selecting a program.
- Program Length
- JD degrees generally last three years and comprise about 90 credits, but these numbers vary by program, so prospective enrollees should select schools with a manageable credit load for their lifestyle.
- Law school experiential learning opportunities and extracurricular activities help to build resumes. Students should be wary of programs that do not offer these assets.
- Since JD degrees can take several years to complete, learners should carefully consider the location of their potential schools. Commuting or relocating adds considerable costs to a student’s overall educational experience.
Should You Get Your Law Degree Online?
Since admission for JD programs requires an undergraduate degree, prospective lawyers generally complete about seven years of schooling before they can begin practicing law. This considerable investment of time and money deters many students, but distance learning may help to solve some of these issues.
While the ABA does not accredit any fully online JD programs, aspiring law students can still earn online degrees in accredited hybrid programs. Enrollees must participate in some on-campus activities for JD degrees, even if they complete coursework online. LLM and MLS degrees, however, offer fully online options.
Hybrid JD degrees still offer several benefits:
Enrollees in asynchronous classes can complete courses at their convenience. Students can also vary their course load to finish an online program more quickly or more slowly than the usual three years.
Online learners can complete distance courses from anywhere and avoid the hassle of relocating or the time commitment of regularly commuting to a university campus. All accredited JD programs include some on-campus requirements, however.
Online students pay less in tuition for law courses and save on related fees for services like parking, technology, and health centers.
Frequently Asked Questions
What degrees do you need to be a lawyer?
To become a lawyer, an individual must earn a JD degree, which requires a bachelor’s degree. The undergraduate degree does not need to relate to law, but those with criminal justice backgrounds may have an advantage.
How long does it take to get a law degree?
The JD degree generally takes three years to complete, but accelerated programs allow students to finish more quickly. Part-time options allow learners to spread out the program over a longer period to continue working while studying.
What are different law degrees?
A student interested in earning a law degree can pursue a JD, LLM, MLS, MJD, and/or SJD.
What is the difference between a juris doctor and a law degree?
A JD degree is a type of law degree that prepares students to become practicing lawyers. Other law degrees prepare professionals for other roles in the legal field.
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