JD vs. LLM Degrees: Understanding the Differences

JD vs. LLM Degrees: Understanding the Differences


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JD vs. LLM Degrees: Understanding the Differences

If you are interested in practicing law in the US, you will, in most cases, need to have a Juris Doctor (JD) degree or a Masters in Law (LLM) degree. Both law degrees focus on the law as well as its applications.

Juris Doctor is considered as the first degree of an aspiring Lawyer. Masters in Law is an advanced certification in law with global credibility.

Domestic students in the US will usually take a J.D. degree, take the bar exam, and become a practicing lawyer.  Some JD graduates who want to be experts in a specific area of law pursue an LLM degree.

International students who want to have an advanced understanding of US laws for the purpose of practicing law in the US pursue a Masters in Law.  Besides, most US state bar associations require individuals who graduated with a law degree outside the US to also ear a law degree from US schools. These individuals then need to earn an LLM degree. 

What Degree Do You Get From Law School?

Professionals who have set their sights on careers in legal support, academia, research, and business can choose from a number of degrees that are related to law. However, a Juris Doctor and Masters in Laws degrees are specifically designed for aspiring lawyers who intend to practice in the court of law or want to specialize in a specific field of law.

Although the most obvious difference between a Juris Doctor and Masters in Law degree is in the application and purpose of each degree, there are many more differences.

1.   Description of the Course

Juris Doctor (JD):  This course is usually completed in three years by a full-time student. Law studies prepare students to pass the bar examination to become a practicing Lawyer in the US.

Masters in Law (LLM):  This is a second degree for Lawyers who have earned their JD degrees and passed the bar exam.

2.   Admission Requirements

Juris Doctor (JD):  A 4-year Bachelor’s degree

Masters in Law (LLM):  A JD degree or any first law degree for Lawyers who completed their law studies abroad

3.   Length of the Program

Juris Doctor (JD): 3 years of full-time law studies

Masters in Law (LLM):  1-year of full-time law studies

4.   Curriculum

Juris Doctor (JD):   A standard curriculum designed to give students a full understanding of the broad concepts and theories covered by the U.S legal system

Masters in Law (LLM):   An advanced curriculum for lawyers who need additional expertise in a specific area of US law or for foreign-educated lawyers who need education in US laws to be able to practice law in the US.

5.   Purpose

Juris Doctor (JD): 

  • Designed to prepare students to qualify for the bar exams and earn their state license to practice Law in that particular state.

  • Designed to equip students without any legal work experience will all the training and skills needed to practice Law.

  • A general Law degree with the required overview courses focusing on topics extremely important for any practicing Lawyer to understand (e.g. criminal Law and contracts).

Masters in Law (LLM):   

  • Designed to gain advanced knowledge and training in a specific field of law for career advancements such as health care, law, and tax law.

  • Help JD graduates overcome the stigma of having graduated from a low-ranking law school or for having a low GPA.

  • In order to help JD graduates increase their chances of being hired in high-level government jobs.

  • Raise the chances of lawyers to get hired in academic, policy, or consulting positions.

  • Impress potential employers of an individual’s mastery of the legal discipline.

6.   Focus

Juris Doctor (JD): 

  • Focuses on preparing students for a legal practice

  • Law studies focus on the definition of the law and how it is applied.

Masters in Law (LLM):   

  • Focuses more on theory because it is assumed that students already have basic legal skills.

  • Focuses on the study of one legal discipline.

  • Focuses on legal topics such as employment law, intellectual property law, tax law, and international law to help students prepare for career advancement in their chosen field of law.

  • Allows JD graduates to take law courses they missed on their JD program.

7.   Graduating Requirements

Juris Doctor (JD):  No thesis requirement

Masters in Law (LLM):  A thesis is a requirement for graduation. The thesis requirement is often a barrier for LLM students who enroll in the program right after completing their JD degree.

8.   Skills Gained

Juris Doctor (JD):  The program focuses on preparing students to become practicing lawyers, thus the curriculum emphasizes on the importance of students having basic courtroom skills  Students are also thought how to do extensive legal research, how to craft and analyze legal documents, and how to represent clients in the private and public sectors. Topics in this program include civil procedure, constitutional law, criminal law, civil law, legal writing, contracts and property law, and tart law.

Masters in Law (LLM):  In this, you can develop the crucial legal skills that may contribute to the advancement of your law career. Also, domestic lawyers gain expertise in specialized fields of law giving their law practice a competitive edge while the foreign lawyers gain knowledge about US law which can help them pass the bar exam to become a practicing lawyer in the US.

9.   Career Paths

Juris Doctor (JD):  Upon completing law studies and passing the bar exam, a practicing lawyer with a JD degree can pursue careers in the private or public sector as:

  • Compliance Lawyer

  • Patent Lawyer

  • Real Estate Lawyer

  • Immigration Lawyer

  • Lobbyist

  • Legal Consultant

Masters in Law (LLM):  A practicing lawyer with an LLM degree can take the same career path as a lawyer with a JD graduate degree except that an LLM degree will allow him to practice internationally. Careers that he can additionally pursue include the following:

  • Practicing law in the US for foreign-educated lawyers

  • Employment with international firms

  • Consultation work for international companies

  • Practicing in a specialized field of law

A Masters in Law is often an optional degree for US lawyers who have JD degrees. It is not mandatory to have an LLM degree to be a practicing lawyer in the US. This is the main reason some US lawyers are wary of pursuing an LLM degree.

With a few exceptions, an LLM degree is and will never be a substitute for the experience you will gain as a practicing lawyer.

 While an LLM degree will be an admission ticket to a government job or a job in a highly competitive and large law firm, many lawyers say that the courses they were required to take were of little value to what they learned in the first case they handled in their new and specialized field of law.

Most LLM graduates strongly recommend that a JD graduate should not immediately enroll in an LLM program. They should first work on being a practicing lawyer and gain some experience in the practice of law.

This recommendation is based on the fact that to complete a JD degree, a law student only needs to pass his classes and tests. An LLM program, on the other hand, requires a thesis that a student must defend before graduation.

It would be difficult to think of a legal question to create a thesis around that would be relevant to the practice of Law without first being part of the practice of Law. It would just be like reading and translating what others wrote and defending one’s opinions.

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