What are the Different Types of Graduate Law Degrees?

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  • Written By: M. Rosario
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2019
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A career in law requires extensive education, and some law students continue their legal education beyond a basic law degree. There are three types of law degrees: a juris doctor (J.D) or bachelor of law degree (LL.B.), a masters of law (LL.M.), and a doctor of juridical science (S.J.D). In the United States, all law degrees are graduate law degrees, a bachelor's degree being a prerequisite to the study of law.

The J.D. and LL.B. are the first of the graduate law degrees. Depending on its laws, a country usually considers either a J.D. or an LL.B. to be the standard law degree. In the United States, the J.D. is the first law degree that law students must obtain before practicing law or pursuing a more advanced degree.

The average J.D. or LL.B. program takes three years. Law schools provide elective courses to give students a taste of various branches of law. Taking extra classes may require longer than the standard three years, but it helps the student to focus on a particular field of law. Most students, however, complete these programs in three years and may gain practical experience as interns in firms or law clinics.

There are several prerequisites for the initial degree in law. A bachelor's degree in some area of study and a law school entrance test are generally required to enter law school. After completing the program, the student must then pass the bar exam before being allowed to practice professionally.


The LL.M. degree is the next highest of graduate law degrees. It is a more advanced degree that is normally used to help lawyers specialize in a particular field of law like taxation, personal injury, or international law. Study is more focused, delving deeper into a particular area of law. An LL.M. can be pursued if the student has a J.D. or LL.B. Due to the level of study, most institutions require higher grades from students compared to those required for first tier law degrees.

An S.J.D. is the highest of the graduate law degrees and is comparable to Ph.D. As such, only a small number of lawyers pursue it. A prospective S.J.D. student will have completed a J.D. or LL.B. and an LL.M. before entering into an S.J.D. program. An S.J.D. program is an intensive research program and usually takes three years to complete. A doctor of juridical science often teaches law himself.



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