Pathways to a Legal Career

A legal education can open up new and interesting career opportunities. Law schools offer a variety of degrees or certificates to match your goals, and your schedule.

Learn more about the types of law degrees

JD/Bar—Lawyer

A Juris Doctorate (JD) degree is—in most cases—required for anyone interested in becoming a lawyer in the United States or Canada. American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited law schools generally require three years of full-time study to earn the JD degree, and schools with part-time programs usually require four years of part-time study to complete the degree. Graduates must then take and pass the state bar exam to be licensed to practice law in a particular state.

Learn more about the fields of law that a lawyer can practice

JD-Advantage Careers

You can obtain a degree from law school and work in an area that involves legal matters but does not require taking the bar exam. These are often referred to as JD-Advantage or JD-Preferred careers. They focus on areas that often benefit from legal knowledge, such as compliance, human resources, regulatory, corporate contracts, dispute resolution, and business consulting, to name a few. Many small business owners also find it useful to have a degree in law.

LLM Degree

In today’s global environment, lawyers from around the world are finding that the Master of Laws (LLM) degree from a US or Canadian law school is useful as certification for career advancement and international credibility. The LLM curriculum varies depending on the program. Many programs provide a broad curriculum in American law, the US or Canadian legal system, international law, and comparative law. Others provide more specialized courses in subfields such as taxation, intellectual property, human rights law, or international environmental law. Typically, the LLM is a one-year course of full-time study or two years of part-time study. A first degree in law is required, and most schools require applicants to submit an English proficiency exam score if English is not the applicant’s native language. Not all schools offer LLM programs, so check with individual law schools for information and policies that affect students from countries outside the United States.

Other Law Programs

Many law schools offer various master's programs and certificates for non-attorneys who wish to obtain specialized knowledge of law and policy. These post-baccalaureate degree programs are ideal for recent college graduates or working professionals who deal with legal-related matters and can benefit from further in-depth knowledge of a particular area of the law, such as mediation, health care compliance, or child and family law. Law schools often offer part-time and online options for these degrees and certificates.

Master's degrees for non-lawyers include:

  • Juris Master (JM)
  • Master of Jurisprudence (MJ)
  • Master of Science or Master of Studies (MS)
  • Master of Professional Studies (MPS)
  • Master of Legal Studies (MLS)

Programs vary by law school, so be sure to check with specific schools on their offerings.