There are quite a few different law degrees students can earn in the U.S. Some of the degree names differ slightly from school to school, but the degrees generally fall into one of the six categories below. While it is important to remember that the only degree path for students wishing to become licensed attorneys is the Juris Doctorate (JD) degree, students should also keep an open mind and explore all the new law degrees that have emerged. A non-JD law degree can still be a great career choice with less commitment.
- certificate programs for legal assistants (associates, bachelors, or masters level)
- academic bachelor’s degrees in law for non-lawyers or prelaw students
- academic masters degrees in law for non-lawyers
- post-J.D. law degrees for practicing lawyers
- the Juris Doctorate professional doctorate degree for aspiring attorneys
- doctorate level law degrees, academic and research based
What is a Juris Doctorate (J.D.)?
The Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree is accepted as the terminal degree for the practice of law and is required for students who plan to become attorneys. The JD is a professional doctorate designed to train future attorneys and is the degree path that allows individuals to sit for a state’s bar exam to become a licensed attorney. The JD is only law degree recognized by all 50 states as being the prerequisite for taking any state bar exam. Because students must pass a state bar exam to be licensed to practice law, the JD programs are accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA scope of accrediting authority does not permit it to accredit any non-J.D. degree programs. For an alphabetical list of ABA accredited and approved law schools visit the American Bar Association. Most traditional J.D. degree programs consist three years of full-time coursework on a school campus, and some schools offer programs with weekend and evening classes for working students. Because of accreditation guidelines, no schools that offer entirely online programs can be accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). However, this policy is beginning to change. The American Bar Association has granted Syracuse University College of Law a variance in the ABA 306 policy and in January 2019 will begin its first cohort of the first ABA accredited Live Online J.D. Program in the US.
What is a Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies (BSLS)?
A Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies (BSLS) prepares students for law school or for work in several legal environments such as business, government, or health care. The degrees focus on general legal knowledge and skills, ethical issues, and processes of American lawmaking systems, legal analysis, writing, research, and computer competence.
What is a Master of Science in Law (MSL)?
There are many academic master’s level law degrees for non-lawyers, including the Juris Masters (J.M.), the Master of Jurisprudence (M.J.), the Master of Science (M.S.) or Master of Studies, the Master of Professional Studies (M.P.S) and the Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S). Master of Science in Law (M.S.L.). These master’s degrees are geared towards individuals that work in fields that often intersects with the law and are designed to enhance existing knowledge from a person’s current profession. Some professions that may benefit from this degree include auditors, CPAs, government employees or those whose jobs deal with laws and legal constraints, such as a child welfare worker or healthcare administrator. These degrees do not prepare students for careers as attorneys or the practice of law.
What is a Master of Laws (LL.M.)?
This degree is perhaps the most confusing to individuals unfamiliar with law degrees. Unlike most master’s degree programs which are considered to be the first level of graduate degrees, the Master of Laws is the second professional law degree after the Juris Doctor. It is similar to earning a concentration in a specific area of the law and includes degrees in human rights law, taxation, environmental law, technology law, and many more. Master of Laws (LLM) is an advanced post-graduate degree program that generally takes one year full-time to complete and involves very little classroom time. A Master of Comparative Law (MCL) is similar to the LL.M.
What is a Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.S.D.)?
Doctorate level research and academic-based degrees, such as J.S.D. Doctor of Jurisprudence, also called an S.J.D. Doctor of Judicial Science, or a D.C.L. Doctor of Comparative Law are terminal degrees. Students are required to have a J.D. or a masters level law degree before pursuing one of these degrees. Doctor of Comparative Law (DCL), Doctor of Judicial Science (SJD). The DCL and SJD doctorates are research and academic based and are comparable to a Ph.D.
Which Law Degrees can I get Online?
All of these law degrees, except the Juris Doctorate (J.D.), can be obtained online. The JD can be obtained online but the process to becoming a licensed attorney is much more complicated. The primary barrier to getting a Juris Doctorate law degree online is the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA accredits schools that have Juris Doctorate programs and the ABA Standard 306 on Distance Education limits the number of online classes any JD program can offer. The ABA will not accredit any JD program that includes more than 15 hours of distance or online education. To sit for a state bar exam and get a license to practice law, students in 49 states have to graduate from an ABA accredited program. One state, California, allows individuals to sit for the bar exam after graduating from a non-accredited program. Passing the bar exam in California means individuals must practice law in California or in some cases, only federal court. Students interested attending an online JD program to become an attorney, should check with their state to determine the specific requirements before spending any money on an online JD degree. It is possible, but the process is long and complicated.
Need help choosing the best Law program? Check out our Top 25 Best Online Law Programs for 2018.