What is a Juris Doctor?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

A Juris Doctor is a type of degree a person may pursue in law school. This professional law degree is typically granted in the United States, though schools in other countries may grant a similar type of degree. In order to become a lawyer in most parts of the United States, a person must usually earn a Juris Doctor and pass a lawyer licensing exam referred to as the bar exam. In most cases, a person studies for a Juris Doctor degree for about three years after earning a bachelor’s degree.

Law schools in the United States grant a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree.
Law schools in the United States grant a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree.

In just about every jurisdiction of the United States, a person must attend law school and earn a Juris Doctor in order to become a lawyer. A Juris Doctor program usually lasts about three years and introduces the student to a wide variety of laws, procedures, and legal concepts. In law school, a person may study criminal and civil law, tort law, and contract law. He may also take courses in both property and constitutional law. Additionally, a person who pursues a Juris Doctor degree may have an opportunity to choose law school electives that allow him to prepare for work in a specific legal field once he becomes a lawyer.

Though a person enrolls in a Juris Doctor program to prepare for a legal career, he cannot expect to learn everything there is to know about the law and becoming a lawyer from law school. Law is a vast subject with a large range of courses a person could study. Instead, a Juris Doctor program provides a foundation of legal knowledge a person can use once he becomes a practicing lawyer. This program also teaches an aspiring lawyer to think in legal terms.

Interestingly, aspiring lawyers did not always have to attend law school to become lawyers. In the early part of the 1900s, a person could become a lawyer in the United States by completing an apprenticeship program under an experienced lawyer. After working for a lawyer as an apprentice for a specific duration, which varied from state to state, a person could then obtain a license to practice law. Eventually, lawmakers established laws that required aspiring lawyers to obtain a degree in order to ensure that all lawyers had a standard education. In California, however, a person may still become licensed without earning this degree by studying law through a legal office’s or judge’s program.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


@Mutsy - That is great. I wanted to add that even after you get your juris doctorate degree you still have to pass the bar exam of the state in which you intend to practice.

They do offer bar exam prep classes, but it is best to go to law school in the state in which you intend to practice because it will make the bar exam easier for you. I know that some states are more competitive than others.

For example, it is not uncommon for people taking the bar exam in New York or California to have to retake it because they did not pass it the first time. A lot of people have to take it more than once which must be a little disheartening. This happened to a friend of mine and she was a mess until she passed it the second time.


I just wanted to say that before you can apply to law school to get a juris doctorate degree, you first have to take the LSAT which is the law school entrance exam which is sort of like the SAT’s.

My sister took it and she said it was hard, but she was able to do well enough to get into a good law school. I remember that she told me that when she started law school they told her that the first year of law school was going to be so intense that they don’t recommend anyone working that year.

My sister said that law school was hard, but all she ever wanted to be was a lawyer so for her there was no other choice. I think it is great when you have your mind made up so young to do something like this for the rest of your life.

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