Many paths lead to an exciting and intellectually challenging career in legal affairs. Most attorneys hold a four-year bachelor’s degree, three-year Juris Doctor and a state license. Earning a graduate degree in law opens doors to specialized practice, teaching positions and research positions. Entry-level jobs require a paralegal certificate or associate degree, but paralegals cannot act as attorneys.

Tip

The most prevalent law degree is the Juris Doctor, or J.D. Graduates of a law school approved by the American Bar Association can sit for a state bar examination and apply for a license to practice law.

What Is a Law Course?

Laws are codified rules that regulate society. Legal statutes tend to be complex, multifaceted and subject to interpretation. Law courses acquaint students with federal, state and local laws, legal processes, constitutional protections and precedent-setting court cases. Students can choose from a long list of courses offered at comprehensive law schools.

Example:

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Paralegal Associate Degree and Certificates

Certificate programs and associate degrees put students on the fast track to an exciting career in the paralegal profession. Quality instructional courses are accredited by the American Bar Association. Paralegals assist attorneys with legal research, investigations, trial preparation and document review. Paralegals may also organize case files, manage a legal office and handle client billing.

Example:

Harper College offers a 60-credit Associate of Applied Science degree in Paralegal Studies. The program is approved by the American Bar Association. In addition to general education classes, students enroll in paralegal courses like litigation, family law, tort law, contract law and technical report writing. An internship experience is offered to give students real-world experience working in a legal setting.

Legal Studies Degree

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some employers prefer to hire paralegals with a bachelor’s degree along with a paralegal certificate. Students can have a competitive edge when landing a good job as a paralegal, and students may want to consider a bachelor of law degree. Students can also apply to law school, but the American Bar Association notes that one major is not preferred over another in law school admissions.

Example:

Hamline University offers a four-year legal studies degree. Students seeking to be paralegals may co-enroll in a 20-credit graduate paralegal certificate program after completing 16 credits in legal studies. Students take classes like U.S. legal systems, legal advocacy and policy, interviewing, tort law and rules of evidence. The graduate paralegal program covers foundations in law, civil jurisprudence, business contracts, government regulations, research and writing.

Graduates of this ABA-approved certificate program may earn a Master in the Study of Law degree by completing 14 more graduate credits at Hamline. The program is designed for nonlawyers seeking jobs that require knowledge of the legal profession. For example, students can go on to become litigation research assistants, social justice advocates and social policy analysts.

Attorney Degree (J.D.)

Virtually all states require attorneys to hold a law school degree known as the Juris Doctor. The law degree abbreviation is JD. Accredited programs typically entail three years of study. Law school training offers students a broad understanding of laws and legal processes.

Graduates of a law school approved by the American Bar Association are able to sit for the bar licensing examination. The rigor of a law school is reflected in the passing rate of its law school graduates. Law school graduates must pass the bar exam and obtain a state license before they can work as an attorney.

Example:

Yale University is one of the best law schools in the U.S. Law students at Yale spend their first term learning constitutional law, contracts, torts and legal procedures. Yale students can choose from nearly 200 courses in an array of specializations. Yale law school is unique in giving first-year students an opportunity to work with clients in legal centers. By the time Yale students graduate, they are well prepared to tackle tough cases.

Accelerated Juris Doctor Degree

Highly motivated students can find accelerated Juris Doctor programs that can be completed in just two years instead of the traditional three-year program. Programs must be at least two years in length to qualify for approval by the American Bar Association. Law students can save time and money if they are equipped to handle a fast-track plan of study.

Example:

Washburn University School of Law offers admitted students the option of completing their law studies in two years or three. Students in the accelerated program can complete the 90-hour curriculum in 24 months. Admission standards are the same, and both tracks are ABA accredited. Students must maintain a 2.6 GPA. Upon completion of the accelerated track, students may sit for the bar exam and launch their careers.

Master of Laws

Attorneys seeking to specialize in a particular facet of law can gain expertise by pursuing a Master of Laws degree, or LL.M. Completing a graduate degree is especially desirable for those seeking to work in a highly technical or tightly regulated field like copyright law, tax law, international law or environmental law. Students study both the theory and practice of law.

An LL.M. requires one year of full-time study. Students develop proficiency in their respective area, which can be a competitive edge in the job market. Employers may be more willing to look past an unimpressive GPA in law school if the graduate GPA shows improvement, which is another reason law school graduates may pursue another degree. Types of law degrees offered at the graduate level include programs like the LL.M. in corporate law, LL.M. in energy law and LL.M. in international studies.

Example:

The New York University School of Law offers a Master of Laws degree in many areas of specialization. Applicants must have a law school degree from an institution approved by the American Bar Association. Classes are taught by high-powered attorneys and policymakers. The flexible curriculum is convenient for practicing attorneys, and some programs like the Executive LL.M. in Taxation can be completed online on a part-time basis.

J.D./MBA Degrees

Attorneys seeking to work in business and industry may find it helpful to earn a Master of Business Administration, or MBA, along with a J.D. Completing an MBA can deepen a lawyer’s understanding of organizational operations and actions that may result in risk exposure and litigation.

Many types of MBA programs are available, including completely online degrees. The length of MBA programs can vary from one to three years. Some law schools offer a dual degree. Working on two degrees at once is doable with stamina and dedication.

Example:

Columbia University offers a joint J.D./MBA degree that can be completed in three years. The program prepares students to handle business contracts, mergers, bankruptcies and acquisitions in the U.S. and abroad. Classes are taught in the Columbia Business School and the Columbia Law School.

Doctor of the Science of Law

The Doctor of the Science of Law (J.S.D.) attracts scholars aspiring to positions in legal research and college teaching. The program is similar to a Ph.D. in focus and intensity. Doctoral students become experts in their chosen area of specialization through coursework and writing a dissertation.

Example:

The highest law degree offered at Stanford Law School is the Doctor of the Science of Law (J.S.D.). Admission is limited to exceptional students who graduated from the Stanford Program in International Legal Studies. According to the Stanford Law School website, the J.S.D. is equivalent to a Ph.D.

About the Author

Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students whose job includes student conduct, leading the behavioral consultation team, crisis response, retention and the working with the veterans resource center. She enjoys helping parents and students solve problems through advising, teaching and writing online articles that appear on many sites. Dr. Dowd also contributes to scholarly books and journal articles.