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What is a Doctorate of Jurisprudence?

By S. Reynolds
Updated May 17, 2024
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A Doctorate of Jurisprudence is a degree held by lawyers. It is often abbreviated as "J.D." or called a "Juris Doctorate." The path to becoming a lawyer includes finishing four years of undergraduate schooling and three years of law school. Lawyers in the United States need a J.D. in order to legally practice law.

Getting an undergraduate degree in any subject is the first step to a Doctorate of Jurisprudence. Many students choose to major in subjects such as philosophy, English or history — subjects that encourage critical thinking. Other students choose to study subjects related to the field of law they want to go into. For example, business degrees are a good foundation for future corporate lawyers, while environmental science is a good degree for those who want to get into environmental law. Some schools offer "pre-law" degrees, which offer a broad array of studies with no particular focus.

After the undergraduate degree is earned, the student must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The test includes topics such as logical reasoning, analytical reasoning and reading comprehension. There is also an essay portion. Most of the exam is comprised of multiple choice questions.

The LSAT exam is heavily weighted in the law school admissions process. High scorers — those with a score of 170 or better — have a better chance of getting into the best law schools. Once enrolled in law school, the student must complete three years of studies in order to get a Doctorate of Jurisprudence. Law school tuition is often very expensive, but some students are eligible for reduced tuition or scholarships based on high LSAT scores.

The first two years of law school are usually devoted to learning the basics of law. Subjects include torts, constitutional law, civil procedure, criminal law, and legal writing. The final year is often spent in a clerkship, in which a student works for lawyers on a temporary basis. Government clerkships also are available, but they are very competitive; students usually must go through an interview and application process to get these positions.

A student is awarded the Doctorate of Jurisprudence once he or she finishes law school. With the degree in hand, a student is then eligible to sit for the bar exam, which tests students on the subjects they learned in law school. After passing the bar exam, a new lawyer may begin the process of job hunting.

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