As someone considering a law degree, you may be overwhelmed by all of the options you have to consider before applying to law school. While requirements change from university to university, many things remain consistent across all of the best law schools. Here is an overview of everything you must consider before applying to the U.S.’s top law schools.
What types of Law degrees exist in the U.S?
In the United States, students are able to pursue an array of law degrees; these degrees differ in the topics covered, length of study, and what one can do with the degree upon completion of study. They also differ in what is required before a person may be admitted into one of these programs.
Law degrees: Juris Doctor
A Juris Doctor (J.D.) is required if one wishes to practice law following their time at law school. J.D. programs interrogate all aspects of U.S. law, preparing students for a career involving research, litigation, and more. Studies can include criminal law, contract law, property law, and other themes related to law. This program also contains preparation for the bar examination, which one must take if they want to practice as an attorney in their chosen state.
Law degrees: Master of Laws
If one already has a law degree, they may choose to pursue a Master of Laws, or L.L.M. This degree is meant for people who wish to specialize in a certain type or area of law, such as intellectual property law, human rights, or another field. As holding a law degree is a prerequisite for entering an L.L.M. program, coursework tends to be more advanced, doing in-depth into topics students may have already covered during their previous studies. These topics can include international law, health law, and a range of other specializations.
Law degrees: Doctor of Juridical Science
Someone with a Doctor of Juridical Science degree holds the highest law degree possible. The S.J.D., as it is referred to, is designed for people who want to further their understanding of the law beyond their initial J.D. and L.L.M. studies; both degrees are prerequisites for entry into S.J.D. programs. For this reason, S.J.D. degree holders frequently become legal scholars or professors following graduation.
Law degrees: Master of Studies in Law
A Master of Studies in Law is the opposite end of the spectrum from an S.J.D., designed for those who want a deeper understanding of law but do not wish to practice as an attorney following graduation. Obtaining a Master of Studies in Law, or M.S.L., is typically done by individuals who intend to pursue a career where they interact with the law or legal concepts on an ongoing basis, but may not be involved with it directly. Concepts in this program include business law, regulatory compliance, and contract law.
What are the prerequisites to get into Law school in the U.S.?
Before applying to Law School, filling all of the prerequisites for application is an absolute must. To begin, you must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university recognized by the law school. Current students can apply while completing bachelor degree studies so long as they are on track to have completed their degree by the presumed date of admission. For most undergraduates, the law school application process begins at some point during their senior year, typically late fall. Majors undertaken by undergraduates tend to be unimportant; what is instead more interesting to the law school are the courses taken by the prospective student, as well as the rigor of their course load. However, most undergraduate students applying to law school do so while on a pre-law tract, with a considerable percentage pursuing degree in political science or international studies.
Next, you must have a high GPA. Your transcript from your undergraduate studies is of great importance to the law school application team, and as such, it will be examined in-depth, with careful attention paid to classes taken and grades received. Most law schools have minimum GPAs, with the average law school refusing to admit anyone with a GPA under 3.5. While there are cases of people under a school’s average GPA being accepted, it is wise to ensure your GPA is several tenths of a point higher than the listed minimum. Exact GPA requirements will be listed on your desired school’s admissions page.
Before one may be admitted to a law school, they must first take the LSAT or GRE. The LSAT is the standard for most law schools, and tests are administered around the world six times yearly. Scoring highly on this test is critical for entry into law school, and a student may take the test several times before getting a satisfactory score. After limitations of were relaxed in 2017, one may now take the LSAT as many times as they desire before submitting to their law school. However, a school is able to see scores from all attempts at the test, as well as one score that averages the results from all attempts. The GRE is primarily used for other graduate school applications, but law schools are slowly accepting GRE scores in lieu of LSATs. While only 23 law schools currently accept GRE scores, the number is rising with notable additions like Northwestern University of Law and Columbia Law School.
Depending on the university, other documents may be required. These documents tend to speak to your desire to go a particular school, and usually include a personal statement and several letters of recommendation. The personal statement is not to be discounted; law schools like to see personality in their applicants, and with your personal statement, you can weave a narrative through your previous studies to demonstrate why you are the best fit for this school.
If you are unsure of a law school’s requirements for entry, look up their admissions page or contact the admissions office directly.
What different specializations in Law exist in the U.S.?
As one earns a law degree, they have the opportunity to specialize in a variety of areas. For example, one may choose to focus on business law, a focus dealing with everything commerce related. Business law studies can feature subjects from small business law to corporate law, considering topics from taxes to trademarking.
Other specializations include health care law, where a student will investigate the law’s place when it comes to issues of public health and healthcare. Topics included in this specialization include patients’ rights, medical ethics, and medical malpractice.
Another specialization is environmental law. This is a fairly recently specialization, largely developed in reaction to the interest sparked in environmental causes in America during the 1970’s. Environmental law scholars look at actions, both public and private, and see how these actions affect and are affected by laws and policy.
Many other specializations are available to those pursuing law degrees, with different universities having subject specializations of their own.
What legal careers can I pursue with a Law degree?
Depending on the law degree, job opportunities for those with law degrees are both wide-reaching and expanding. While most people think law degrees only prepare one to become an attorney, there are many options for those who have completed a course of law study, including roles as law professors or as legal historians. Law school graduates have also been known to pursue careers as general counsel, legal consultants, judges, and much more.
There are a multitude of careers for those with legal degrees who desire a job outside of law directly. Law school provides students with the ability to think critically, speak publicly, and work with others. For this reason, many law school graduates have found success in non-law related fields. As an example, 46 Fortune 500 CEOs hold legal degrees.
What’s the annual income as a law graduate?
Depending on the degree earned, law school graduates entering the private sector can earn anywhere from $70k to $180k upon leaving law school. The expected salary for those entering the private sector is around $85k, according to a study released in 2016. Public sector workers earn less, with a median starting salary of around $54k.