Home Blog LL.M. Vs. J.D. Degrees: 4 Key Differences

LL.M. Vs. J.D. Degrees: 4 Key Differences

December 09, 2020
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Finding the right path for your legal career can be challenging. There are many different types of organizations, specialities and roles a lawyer can fit into. With all of that in mind, navigating the differences between an LL.M. vs. J.D. can just add to the confusion.

Deciding which is right for you comes down to where you are in your career and what you want. First, it’s important to ask yourself what your goals are right now. Are they the same goals you had when you first started your law education or has something changed?

From there, you can start mapping out the best law career path for yourself. For many applicants, a J.D. is what they earn before their LL.M., but that’s not exclusively true for everyone. To help give you an idea of what you can achieve with each of these degrees, we’ve outlined the four key differences between the two degree programs.

1. The Bar Exam

What is the next step in your career? Those planning on taking their state’s bar exam need to know that each region can have very different education requirements to be eligible, and their backgrounds will determine which law credential is necessary. For those based in the United States, earning your J.D. is often a prerequisite for being able to take your state’s bar examination.

However, many international lawyers do not possess a J.D. Instead they have an LLB or another first law degree. By attending an LL.M. program at institutions such as Cardozo School of Law, international students can start building a deep understanding of the U.S. legal system. In addition to providing a critical foundation for international lawyers who want to pursue a career in the United States, earning an LL.M. degree can help them meet the eligibility requirements to sit for a bar exam in many states

2. Areas and Length of Study

Your J.D. program will give you a broad understanding of the law. This standard requirement to practice can take between two to four years to complete, depending on whether you pursue a part-time or full-time courseload. Note that in addition to traditional classwork, many law schools require J.D. students to complete a certain number of pro bono hours as well.

In an LL.M. program, students focus on studying a specialization or gaining a deeper understanding of the law. For many, this type of program gives them the opportunity to focus exclusively on one area of law, getting a better understanding of its complexities and practice. These areas can include criminal law, business law, family law, tax law, and intellectual property law. Because this can be such a specialized program, LL.M. programs take roughly one to two years to complete, depending on whether you are taking a part-time or full-time courseload.

3. Application Process

When applying to either a J.D. or LL.M. program, be prepared to provide an up-to-date resume and official transcripts from all undergraduate, graduate, and law schools you have attended. In addition, both degree programs may require letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and in some cases an interview with a faculty member, alum, or administrator.

J.D. applicants will need to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Usually, you do not need a specific education background to apply, meaning applicants could have earned their undergrad in any discipline: political science, business administration, history, psychology, criminal justice, or philosophy among others.

An LL.M. requires a J.D. to apply. Normally, applicants already have a knowledge of the law and work experience practicing it. During the application process, your admissions documents are critical. Your resume, letter of recommendation and personal statement are important to showcasing your interest and commitment.

4. Career Opportunities

In a J.D. program, you will be preparing yourself to start your legal career. Through your law coursework, hands-on experience and extracurricular activities, you will walk away with a strong understanding of the U.S. law and its practice—and be setting yourself up for a long and fruitful career as a lawyer.

With an LL.M., you will open up new doors in your career, whether it is within your current firm or on a different route entirely. With the added expertise and the additional knowledge, you will have the specialty to decide where you want your career to head next.

Define Your Law Career

Choosing where you earn your J.D. or LL.M. is critical, especially if you are a working professional. Be sure to dedicate your time to a program that provides a meaningful and career-changing experience. At Cardozo School of Law, our intellectual property law program is ranked No. 13 in the country by U.S. News & World Report1 and is committed to preparing our graduates to enter an exciting and in-demand area of law.

Our online LL.M. in Intellectual Property brings that same dedication to academic excellence and combines it with the flexibility of an online program offering part-time and full-time course loads. Explore our LL.M. curriculum and learn about Cardozo’s online experience.

  1. Retrieved on July 8, 2020, from premium.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/yeshiva-university-03103