International attorneys considering a law-related career in the United States (or one overseas involving areas of U.S. law) have several options for degree programs. Although most international attorneys ultimately decide between an LL.M. degree or a J.D., it’s important to first understand all law degrees available and the benefits of each. Some programs lead to careers as practicing attorneys (LL.M. or J.D.), while others lead to academia (J.D., LL.M., or S.J.D.) or law-related careers in demanding but non-professional settings (M.L.S., M.S.L., J.M.).
The seven most common legal degrees are:
- Juris Doctor (J.D.)
- Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.)
- Master of Laws (LL.M.)
- Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.)
- Juris Master (J.M.)
- Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.)
- Master of Studies in Law (M.S.L.)
The right choice depends on the student’s career objectives,, the amount of legal education the student currently possesses, and where within the United States the student desires to work. Because the United States legal market spans 51 separate jurisdictions, degree requirements for practicing attorneys will vary depending on locale.
Juris Doctor (J.D.)
A Juris Doctor (J.D.) is a professional graduate degree awarded by law schools in the United States. It is the first degree in law for U.S. students interested in practicing law. Students pursuing a J.D. must successfully complete three years of study in core legal subjects such as constitutional law, contract law, criminal law, civil procedure, property law, negligence & products liability (torts), and legal research and writing. Students also take optional, specialized courses in advanced legal topics such as legal ethics, intellectual property law, antitrust & competition law, securities regulation, taxation law, and laws regulating the conduct of business entities.
Some law schools offer coursework in subjects specifically related to the practice of law, such as negotiation, trial & appellate advocacy, and legal technology. They also offer clinical and experiential learning opportunities.
Possession of a J.D. degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association is a requirement for practicing law in most states within the United States.
Prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree from a U.S. or foreign undergraduate program; test result from Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE); letters of recommendation.
Length of time to acquire: Two-three years
Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.)
The Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) is an undergraduate law degree offered at universities throughout the world and is considered the first degree in law in many countries. The LL.B. is not offered at universities in the United States, having been eliminated in favor of the Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree.
In limited cases, international students who have completed LL.B. degree programs outside the United States may be eligible to take the bar exam in certain jurisdictions in the United States. Successful completion of an LL.M. program, as described in the next section, significantly expands bar eligibility options. This is especially true for recent law school graduates and/or graduates from civil law jurisdictions.
Prerequisites: Completion of degree requirements at an accredited secondary school.
Length of time to acquire: Three to Five years
Master of Laws (LL.M.)
The Master of Laws (LL.M.) is a post-graduate law degree offering students an opportunity to obtain advanced legal education in specialized areas of law. For students with J.D. degrees from a U.S. law school, the LL.M. degree is often a path to an academic career or to further a career in law practice areas that demand high levels of expertise such as antitrust, taxation, or environmental law.
For international students who already have an LL.B. degree, acquiring an LL.M. degree in U.S. or transnational law is often pursued as a means to practice law in the United States or to counsel clients (overseas) on U.S. laws. Some LL.M. programs—such as the online LL.M. in American and Transnational Law offered by the University of Dayton—are specifically designed with a bar-oriented curriculum to align with requirements for specific state bar exams. Additionally, asynchronous online LL.M. programs, such as UD’s, offer flexibility for students to complete the program from anywhere in the world on the days and times that work best for them.
In some instances, attorneys interested in legal scholarship and careers in academia, will continue their graduate law studies by pursuing a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) degree. This is a research doctorate.
Prerequisites: J.D. or LL.B. degree
Length of time to acquire: One year
Juris Master (J.M.), Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.), Master of Studies in Law (M.S.L.)
The Juris Master (J.M.), Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.), and Master of Studies in Law (M.S.L.) degrees provide students with a comprehensive grounding in fundamental legal principles, sometimes with a focus on a particular field such as national security or government contracting. Coursework for these degrees can be completed in one year.
These degrees do not prepare students for the practice of law, but are intended to advance careers in areas where legal knowledge is necessary to accomplish business objectives.
Prerequisites: Undergraduate degree
Length of time to acquire: One year
LLM vs. JD: Which Degree Is Right for Me?
If your objective is to practice law in the United States—and you have no prior legal education—you must get a J.D. degree from an ABA-accredited law school. Very few states allow students to take a bar exam without this credential.
International students who possess an LL.B. degree and want to practice law in the United States or advise clients (internationally) on areas of U.S. law have a shorter path to a law license in the United States. In many jurisdictions, with an LL.M. degree, they can acquire the academic credentials they need to take the bar exam in as little as one year. Of course, they can also apply for admission to a J.D. program, but that will require them to take the LSAT (or, in some cases, the GRE) first and then complete a two-to-three-year course of study.
International students desiring to further their legal education are encouraged to explore the programs offered by the University of Dayton School of Law, an accredited university located in the heart of the United States. The school’s wide array of online study opportunities, scholarships, and access to university resources & support make the University of Dayton School of Law one of the most efficient ways for qualified international students to gain a deeper understanding of U.S. law, bar exam eligibility, and eventual entry into the practice of law in the United States.