If you’re serious about becoming a lawyer, a Juris Doctor is the law degree that gives you the best opportunities to pursue a legal career. The Juris Doctor, commonly referred to as the J.D., is a graduate level degree designed to prepare students for legal careers in the United States. It is considered the highest level of legal study in the United States before the Doctor of Juridical Science.
The Juris Doctor is one of the oldest and most recognized legal degrees in the United States, first awarded in the early 20th Century and standardized by the 1970s. The degree has the academic standing of a professional doctorate, and in most states, earning a Juris Doctor is a necessary step before taking the bar exam. Obtaining a J.D. proves an analytical understanding of the law, allowing you to better represent and advise clients inside and outside a courtroom environment.
Here is everything you need to know about the Juris Doctor Law Degree.
What are the prerequisites to be eligible for a Juris Doctor Law Degree?
Before one can apply to a J.D. program, you must first have successfully graduated from a bachelor’s degree program. Your bachelor’s degree does not necessarily need to be law-related; as an example, those with business aspirations may decide to study business during their undergrad years before entering law school. Another example of this could be someone who would like a J.D. but has political ambitions; they may choose to study political science as an undergrad before applying to law school. However, most students get a degree in law or legal science. If questions linger about the best undergrad program for your desired law school, it may be helpful to get in touch with your law school of choice to discuss which undergraduate degree would best prepare you for your future course of study.
In extremely rare cases, the requirement for a bachelor’s degree may be waived. Exceptions of this nature are treated on a case-by-case basis and must be organized with the school.
Once a bachelor’s degree has been obtained, you must then take an LSAT exam in order to be placed into a law school. This is an essential step, though it should be noted that a limited number of schools are also moving to accept GRE scores in lieu of the LSAT. While only 23 law schools currently accept GRE scores in place of LSAT scores, the number is growing with notable additions like Harvard and Georgetown Law School. On very rare occasions, some schools will require no such test, instead determining acceptance on a variety of factors including undergraduate GPA and other proprietary admissions tests. However, to ensure that you are adequately prepared for application, it is best to reference your chosen school to see precisely which test they prefer; this information can almost always be found on their website.
Depending on the university, there may be a grade requirement from your undergraduate studies.
Applications frequently require other content, such as a personal statement, resumé/CV, letters of recommendation, and application fee. For foreign students, an English language competency test is requested, often in the form of a TOEFL score, though exceptions can often be made for those with bachelor’s degrees from schools where English is the primary language of instruction.
What courses and topics are covered under the Juris Doctor Law Degree?
As a Juris Doctor is one of the highest law degrees available to those who entering law school, the coursework available to students is intended to give them a comprehensive, informed view of the legal system and the laws by which it is governed.
Students in J.D. programs have often already completed fundamental coursework in a variety of legal areas. Consequently, courses offered to J.D. students tend to be of a higher level and begin further along than students beginning undergraduate programs. However, entry-level courses are still available to those who feel the need to further their knowledge of or do not presently have a familiarity with certain fields.
Here are some examples of courses a student participating in a J.D. program will have the option to take.
Civil Procedure courses concern the theory and application of civil litigation. Studying civil procedure means looking at the statutes and rules dictating the operations of the court system, as well as how those rules differ between state and federal courts. Some topics covered may include pre-trial discovery, the reach of due process, claim and issue preclusion, and post-trial procedure. As studies in this area continue, students will develop a more thorough awareness and understanding of procedure. These continued studies may feature comparative studies of civil procedure, increased attention paid to litigation with multiple parties and claims, and a greater focus on the appellate process. While civil procedure studies are primarily geared toward those who intend to become litigators, students in other areas can benefit from civil procedure studies, as a multitude of other aspects of the legal system are affected by the same rules that form civil procedure.
Coursework in criminal law is developed to give students an understanding of the criminal justice system, its intricacies, and how to work within it. Policing, jury decision making, plea bargaining, drug policy – all of these areas will typically be covered during criminal law studies. The ideological underpinnings of these ideas will be explored, in addition to questions of criminal responsibility, intent, punishment, and more.
Modern-day graduates of J.D. programs face a different world than the generations preceding them. The contemporary world is global, and confronting local problems often requires a worldwide perspective. International law studies provide such a perspective, investigating issues of international crime, human rights, intellectual property, and more. These studies may also go into in-depth analysis about terrorism and its legal implications, as well as how the growing transnational business environment has shaped contemporary legal structure.
A university may also require students to take some form of internship or work experience position. Universities believe it is advantageous for students to have some hands-on, in the field experience during their time at university, as it better allows them to apply their education in the real world and alter their current course if they find their tested work environment to be unsatisfactory.
How long does the course last?
Studies to receive a Juris Doctor in the United States generally take three years of full-time study. This is the standard across the U.S., though some schools have moved to form two-year accelerated tracts for students who wish to obtain their degree in less time. These tracts are labor-intensive and often require work outside of the school’s standard semester periods. Other schools may offer a 3+3 JD program, where a student will spend three years earning a bachelor’s degree (as opposed to the usual four) and then continue directly into J.D. studies. This is advantageous to the student as they end up spending less time in school and can more quickly enter their desired position in the workforce.
Since 1997, J.D. programs have been offered outside of the United States. Programs outside of the U.S. do not follow an identical time structure, though the resultant doctoral status is the same. In some countries, the course of study can be completed in two years, while in others, receiving a J.D. is a four-year process. In most cases, degrees acquired outside of the United States require additional training before one can receive a license to practice law.
What careers can I pursue with a Juris Doctor Law Degree?
The primary career sought by those who have recently completed their Juris Doctor studies is as a lawyer. It should be noted that before one can practice law in the United States, they must first pass a bar examination given by the bar association within the jurisdiction in which one wishes to eventually practice law; as an example, passing the bar exam in California does not mean one is allowed to practice law in North Carolina. Furthermore, additional testing must occur, including the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), and a background check, sometimes referred to as a “Moral Character Determination.” Once all of this testing has been completed, lawyers have the opportunity to work in a range of capacities, including civil law, criminal justice, and more.
Judges typically hold J.D. degrees. Judges normally work in a courtroom environment and are responsible for applying and interpreting the law as it regards a diversity of cases. Before one may become a judge, it is customary to have been practicing law for several years, though this is not always the case.
Another career often pursued by those with J.D. degrees is compliance management. Workers in this role ensure that their company or employer follows all regulatory statues, laws, and policies; as such, having a legal background is a desired trait for those seeking to hire a compliance manager. Application of compliance management stretches across a multiplicity of fields, including professional licensing, production standard compliance, service compliance, and more.
Other careers exist for J.D. holders, including positions in academia and as consultants. Law school advisors can assist in best preparing a student for their desired career, so establishing a strong line of communication with them can prove beneficial.
What’s the annual income as a Juris Doctor Law graduate?
Average annual income for J.D. recipients varies depending on the pursued career after graduation. If, as many do, one goes to work as a lawyer, they can expect an average income of around $70,000 for the first years following graduation, with expected wages increasing with years of experience. However, this is dependent on many factors.
If one plans to use their J.D. to eventually become a judge, they can expect to earn about $95k annually if they work as a hearing officer or administrative law judge, or about $130k if they find work as a magistrate or judge.
Those with a J.D. also have the opportunity to enter academia. Law professors earn a median salary of approximately $105k, according to a study conducted in 2017. This is also dependent on the university and the exact nature of the professorship.
As a compliance manager, J.D. students have the opportunity to earn a median income of around $105,000, according to a 2017 study.
These are just a selection of wage levels for the available careers J.D. holders are qualified to pursue. Many other career paths exist, and wages for each of these career paths vary considerably.