What are the Different Types of Law School Degrees?


If you’re thinking about earning a law school degree, there are a few different options you can consider. A law school education provides transferable skills in analyzing complex issues, understanding legal protocols, and interpreting regulations. This knowledge can be invaluable for careers beyond just being an attorney. Some law school programs specifically train students to become practicing lawyers. Others cater to those interested in related fields that apply legal expertise in different settings.

Should I go to law school? If you are considering pursuing a law school degree, keep an open mind about non-traditional applications. This article will cover different career alternatives for using a law degree, types of law school degrees, and how legal skills can transfer to jobs outside of practicing law. The goal is to showcase the diversity of opportunities available with a law school education.

Newly Graduated People Wearing Black Academy Gowns Throwing Hats Up in the Air- Law School Degree

Different Types of Law Degrees from Law School

What degree do you get in law school? Depending on your preferred law school degree, the kind of degree you obtain upon graduating from law school differs. To engage in the legal profession in the United States, it is necessary to possess a professional graduate degree in law school.

Juris Doctor

For those asking how to become a lawyer, the traditional approach is to obtain a Juris Doctor (JD). This enables you to take the bar test and become a professional attorney or judge. Completing a JD typically takes 3 years full-time or 4-5 years for a law school part-time option. Some universities offer JD programs jointly with other degrees, also taking 4-5 years.

In the first year, core topics like criminal law, civil procedure, and international law are studied. The second and third years can be customized by choosing electives that match personal interests. For example, business and tax classes may be taken to focus on those legal areas. 

Given the rigorous curriculum, law school outlines are essential tools for students to organize vast amounts of legal material, making complex concepts easier to understand and recall, especially for exams. They help in developing critical legal analysis skills by synthesizing case laws, statutes, and theories into a structured format. 

A bachelor’s degree is required before enrolling in law school in pursuit of a Juris Doctor degree. Other admission requirements include high LSAT or GRE scores, a resume, letters of recommendation, and law school personal statements.

Master of Laws

What to do after law school is a common question. Some graduates work after earning their JD degree, while others pursue another type of law to study in law school, which is LLM, for further specialization.

While a Master of Laws builds upon a finished JD degree, most master’s degrees represent the entry level of graduate study in a given field. Completing an LLM degree usually requires a year of full-time legal education. Legal specialization is available to students in fields such as technology law, taxation, human rights, and environmental law.

There are many concentrations available within LLM programs, so curricula vary between them. For example, enrolling in a tax LLM entails a focused study of US tax laws and policy. This develops an advanced understanding of the intricate tax system.

An LLM can greatly benefit international lawyers seeking to legally practice in the United States by gaining localized legal expertise. The degree also appeals to American lawyers wanting to delve deeper into a particular legal specialty or prepare for a Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD).

Doctor of Juridical Science 

Within the United States, the highest law school degree offered is the Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD). Completing an SJD program requires three years of full-time law school study.

The primary goal of an SJD is to prepare graduates to work in academic institutions as law teachers. Students must clearly define their research interests before applying for this degree because it is heavily research-driven.

A doctoral student’s time is mostly devoted to creating, composing, and presenting a comprehensive dissertation. This lengthy article adds something new to the body of knowledge on academic law.

In the first year, students begin the dissertation proposal process and collaborate closely with an advisor to define certain course needs. Applicants must possess a Master of Laws (LLM) or a Juris Doctor (JD) degree to be eligible for SJD programs.

Certain law schools have preferences for the kind of previous legal degree that applicants should possess. Most programs expect dissertation proposals to be submitted upfront when applying to assess research capability. The typical candidate also has significant legal work experience, often several years working as a lawyer or judge.

Master of Dispute Resolution

A Master of Dispute Resolution (MDR) is another law school option that teaches mediation, negotiation, and conflict resolution skills. This specialist degree prepares graduates for employment in human resources, labor relations, and company management that requires negotiating conflicts.

The MDR coursework focuses on areas like mediation theory, negotiation tactics, arbitration processes, and conflict management frameworks. A bachelor’s degree is required to enroll in an MDR program. Common admission requirements also include letters of recommendation from past employers or mentors, admissions interviews, and personal statements explaining one’s interest in the degree.

An MDR provides legal knowledge and alternative dispute resolution qualifications for law school graduates interested in more administrative or business-oriented roles managing interpersonal conflicts in organizations. It opens up a wider range of law school options to apply legal expertise outside the courtroom or law office settings.

Master of Legal Studies

A Master of Legal Studies (MLS) is another law school degree that can provide the concepts required if you do not intend to practice law directly but need to have a solid legal understanding of your current positions. This specialized program is popular among labor relations specialists, human resources managers, compliance officers, and management analysts.

The MLS coursework covers topics like legal procedures, ethics, research approaches, legal writing styles, and overviews of legal frameworks. One must have a bachelor’s degree to apply to an MLS program. Personal essays outlining one’s motivations, admissions interviews, and reference letters are some more typical prerequisites for admittance.

An MLS equips non-lawyer professionals with a solid grasp of legal issues relevant to their roles in monitoring regulatory policies, overseeing disputes, or spearheading company compliance. It’s an applicable law degree for managerial careers at the intersection of business operations and legal landscapes.

Benefits of a Law School Degree

Is law school hard? Yes. However, getting a law school degree does provide a wide range of employment prospects. A law school curriculum provides graduates with transferable abilities useful across industries, in addition to preparing them to practice law.

  • Sharpened Analytical Abilities: Law school educates students to think critically, reason rationally, and examine situations from several angles. Mastering these strategies results in keen, analytical thinking, which is useful in any profession that requires strategic problem-solving.

  • Strong Research Capabilities: Lawyers must develop proficiency in gathering pertinent information, compiling evidence, and understanding contextual nuances. Law graduates gain expertise in conducting comprehensive research and constructing arguments.

  • Refined Communication Skills: Legal writing and oral advocacy are integral law school focuses. Students learn to articulate complex concepts clearly and persuasively to varying audiences. These communication abilities allow law graduates to influence key stakeholders effectively.

  • Expanded Network Connections: Law school facilitates mentorships, peer collaboration, and alumni relationships. This exposure to the legal community establishes industry contacts advancing career development and opportunity visibility.

Financial Aspects of Law School and Salary Outlooks for Graduates

You have to weigh the costs and benefits of pursuing a law school degree. One of the downsides is how expensive it is. Before even entering law school, budgeting and planning how to pay for law school becomes crucial given the average debt burden. However, the earning potential after graduating provides opportunities to pay off loans. Recent law graduates are seeing improved job prospects and rising salaries.

According to 2022 data, the overall median starting salary for law school graduates reached a record level of $85,000 – a 6.3% increase over the prior year. Salaries differ based on specific legal roles obtained after passing the bar exam.

The highest paying opportunities are at large law firms, where first-year associate salaries now average around $150,000. Public interest legal roles offer lower median pay at $62,000 but still saw increases.

On the cost side, paying for law school requires planning to limit debt. The average law school debt a graduate has over $100,000 in student loans upon completion. Scholarships, work-study programs, budgeting, and family support can defray some expenses.

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Careers for Law Degree Graduates

What comes after law school and how much do lawyers make out of law school? Salaries play a significant role in the decision-making process for graduates seeking jobs that are accessible to law graduates. The following salary details for positions employing law school graduates come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Legal Jobs with a Juris Doctor

Job Title Average Annual Salary
Immigration Lawyer $66,226
Attorney-at-Law $68,987
Personal Injury Lawyer $76,298
Judge $83,002
Adjunct Law Professor $93,312
Contract Attorney $93,437
Political Affairs Officer $100,091
Litigation Attorney $107,738
Corporate Counsel $124,788
Labor and Employment Lawyer $125,203
General Counsel $132,666
Patent Attorney $175,524

Other Legal Jobs

Job Title Average Annual Salary
Probation Officer $48,679
Paralegal $51,260
Law Enforcement Officer $51,876
Legislative Assistant $55,232
Mediator $63,355
Policy Analyst $77,242

Start your Law School Degree Journey with Thorough LSAT Preparation

The Law School Admission Test is the most crucial component of assembling a strong law school application. Performance on this standardized exam is the top predictor of admission prospects at ABA-approved law schools. With so much riding on one test, investing in quality LSAT prep is vital.

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Final Thoughts: What Degree Do You Get From Law School?

Law school offers much more than a single path to becoming an attorney. Juris doctorate programs lead to taking the bar exam and provide the core foundation for legal careers. However, specialized law master’s degrees enable more targeted preparation aligned to specific interests. 

An LLM allows delving deeper into niches like tax law or international relations. An MDR builds advanced alternative dispute resolution skills suiting human resources and management roles. For those needing legal knowledge without practicing law, an MLS supplies crossover understanding spanning law and business. Meanwhile, the JSD remains the pinnacle for pursuing legal academia. 

Each law school degree opens new realms of possibility, making the expansion of law programs a promising development for those desiring flexibility in how they apply legal skills. 

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