Becoming a lawyer may reward you with a lot of benefits, but it’s a long and challenging educational path. This article is a detailed guide to introduce you to everything you need to know about becoming a lawyer and starting this long journey.

What is a JD Degree?

The United States has a different law education hierarchy compared to other countries. JD degree stands for Juris Doctor degree, and it’s the minimum required degree to practice your job as a lawyer in the States. In other words, the JD degree is your ticket to the state bar examination, which is the national test to license you as a lawyer within the country.

The JD degree was first introduced in the 20th century during the 60s in the US as a replacement for the Bachelor degree. To obtain such degree you need a bachelor qualification, not a particular one. Some may have a bachelor in chemistry but may choose to study law. Other than the US, a similar degree is delivered also in Canada and in Australia.

How to apply for a JD Degree?

In order to be admitted into a Juris Doctor degree program, you need to have a bachelor degree. Note that your bachelor degree doesn’t have to be related to law. Many students who have prior education in another field like politics or business can study in such program.

Although documents required to be enrolled in a JD program may differ a bit, in general, these are the documents you will need when applying:

  • A bachelor degree
  • LSAT scores
  • Grade transcripts
  • A Curriculum Vitae
  • References

However, some universities in some particular states like California, New York, Virginia Washington may require you a self-study law document and experience in practicing law under the supervision of an attorney, instead of a bachelor degree. But, we don’t suggest you do this because the rate of those who pass the bar state examination with only a self-study law and experience is way lower.

What courses can you attend in a JD program?

During the first year as a JD student, you’ll get to learn about core concepts around the law like Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law,  Property, Torts and Lawyering skills. In the second and the third one, you can shift your courses schedule concentrating in some of the areas you are interested more.

Here are some of the courses a JD student is expected to attend:

  • Civil Procedures
  • Criminal Law
  • Property
  • Torts
  • Courtroom procedures
  • International Law
  • Business law
  • Family law practice
  • Remedies

How long does it take to get a JD degree?

Usually, a full-time JD degree program lasts up to three years of study. But, universities offer different JD programs which may last more or less. Part-time programs known as Extended JD Programs last longer, up to 4 years and more, depending on students’ obligations and in any possible restrictions universities can put.

Be aware that JD programs do not offer online programs. There may have exemptions for particular courses, but overall universities don’t prefer having an online JD program at all because students are often required to improvise court situations, which they can’t do online.

In addition, there are also shorter programs known as “accelerated studying” that can take up to two years. Obviously, these programs have a denser schedule compared to traditional and extended programs. You’ll have to attend courses during summer break, admissions period or winter short breaks.

Getting Licensed

Taking a JD degree is an unavoidable route to officially take the license as a lawyer within the US. You’ll have to accomplish it and after that pass a state bar examination, a national test dedicated to proving you fulfill all requirements of the legal system. All states in the US require a JD to take the state bar examination. There may be particular states who have exemptions to this. California is the case. Instead of a JD degree, you’ll have to prove you have experience in practicing the job of an attorney. They call it  “law study office”.

Where is the difference between a JD and LLM degree?

It is very important to know that these two degrees are not the same thing. Very often students don’t seem to comprehend the difference between them, leading them to undesirable selection.

In most countries in the world, you can seek to obtain a Bachelor degree in law after you finish your secondary school. But not in the US. They pay a great importance to the justice system and to become a lawyer you have to be well examined.

That is why you can’t seek a Bachelor degree in law only with a secondary school qualification. You’ll have first to take a bachelor in any field then apply for a JD degree or an extended period of practicing your job as a lawyer. It can be equivalent to a bachelor law degree in another country. In JD courses you’ll cover core concepts and not focus on a particular area which is the case in the LLM.  The LLM degree is dedicated to those who are interested in a particular area of the US law or the international law.

Basically, they are not the same in their application and purpose, but the difference goes further, in the curriculum, in admission or length program.

Difference Between JD and LLM Degrees:

By definition

JD is a minimum degree to practice law

LLM is an advanced study in a particular area of the US law or international law

Requirement

JD: A bachelor degree and LSAT score

LLM: A JD degree or an equivalent first degree is taken in another country

Also, to seek an LLM degree there is no need to show your English proficiency if you’re not an English native speaker.

Curriculum

JD: A broad important aspects of law

LLM: A specific area of study

Length

JD: Three-year full-time study

LLM: One-year full-time study

Is going to law school worth it?

Becoming a lawyer take years of commitment and hard work. But a career full of opportunities and well-paid jobs makes it definitely worthwhile. What is even better is that you can land another job instead of an attorney one.

With such degree and a state bar examination test surpassed you can work in education, in public administration, in the corporates and can even help you start a political career.

On the other hand, money won’t be an issue. Along with a lot of responsibilities it carries, working as a lawyer will definitely reward you with financial peace of mind. Referred to the statistics of the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the US as of May 2016 the median salary for a lawyer was 118,160 £$ per annum or 56.81 $ per hour.

The median salary for lawyers working in the federal government was the highest in this group at 139,460$ per year. As this bureau states the number of lawyers employed in 2016 was 792,500 and it will grow up to 9  percent to 2026. So, if you’re looking for a challenging and a well-paid job, a JD degree will offer it to you.