What is a Law Degree?

Thinking about going to law school? Many people pursue this degree because they love watching Law & Order. But although it can be an exciting field, real-world law is almost nothing like what you see on TV.

Law students explore a wide range of topics during their degree. They learn about economics, politics, business, and international trade. They dive into environmental issues and human rights topics. They also cover subjects like contract, criminal, and family law.

The degree itself is a mix of practical training and legal instruction. Students take part in lectures and seminars. They do group work, research projects, class debates, and presentations. They also practice their legal skills in real courtroom settings.

If you’re interested in the law, you’re in luck. This degree can open lots of doors, both personally and professionally. It’s up to you to decide where it will take you.

Program Options

How to Choose a Law Degree
When it comes to choosing a law degree, there are lots of factors to consider:

Where do you want to study?
It’s a good idea to go to school in the same area you’d like to work in one day. You’ll end up with better connections and a stronger support network.

What kind of job do you want?
For top corporate law jobs and other high-paid positions, you’ll need to graduate from a top-ranking law school. Great grades and impressive extracurriculars can help too.

What kind of law do you want to practice?
Some schools are known for health law, some for environmental. Choose the program that suits your professional interests.

Generally speaking, there are three different kinds of law degrees you can earn in the United States:

Juris Doctor (JD)
This three-year graduate program is the basic training needed to become a lawyer. To get into the program, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and a great score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

Master of Laws (LLM)
This two-year program can be completed after a JD. It allows students to specialize in a single area, like technology law or human rights law.

Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD)
This three-year program is the highest law education available in the US. This research-intensive degree trains students to work as law professors in universities and other academic settings.

International Law Degrees
The US has the world’s lengthiest law school process. All lawyers need at least two degrees to practice, and spend a minimum of seven years in school. Students also need to take a BAR exam to become practicing lawyers.

The process is much shorter in other countries. In the UK, you can become a practicing lawyer in just three years. In Australia and New Zealand, you can graduate in four.

But remember that where you study is important. US law schools are recognized around the world as top-tier institutions. A local degree might not be the fastest way to become a lawyer, but it can make job-hunting easier.

Degrees Similar to Law

Some future students struggle between law and a related degree. For example:

Paralegal programs offer similar training. They provide students with skills in legal research, case management, and more. However, they don’t dive as deeply into legal matters as law degrees do. Plus, they’re usually a couple years shorter.

Court reporter programs are another option to consider. They offer specialized training in court reporting, including skills like transcription and record keeping. Again, they’re usually shorter and less expensive than law degree programs.

Finally, it can be hard to know the difference between law and criminal justice. Like law programs, criminal justice degree programs focus on criminality and the justice system. But they look at these issues from the perspective of prevention and rehabilitation. Law degrees, on the other hand, examine laws, courtroom procedures, and other legal issues.

Skills You’ll Learn

What do you learn in a law degree? Of course, students gain valuable knowledge about laws, court procedures, and the legal system. But they also develop some important transferrable skills, such as:

Critical Thinking and Analytical Reasoning
Law degrees teach you to spot patterns, make connections, identify gaps in others’ reasoning, and more.

Performance Under Pressure
Law school is competitive and fast-paced. Students learn to buckle down, work hard, and succeed.

Public Speaking and Communication
Law students practice presenting to clients, judges, witnesses, and others. They know how to craft persuasive arguments in written and oral form.

Law graduates are masters of information. They know how to perform legal research, review complex documents, and evaluate evidence.

What Can You Do with a Law Degree?

With these valuable transferrable skills, graduates find success in a wide range of industries—both in law and beyond.

Legal Careers
The legal field is growing, with lots of job opportunities to consider. It’s also well-paid! Lawyers earn salaries of more than $100,000—well above the national average. But lawyer isn’t the only legal career open to a law graduate. Many law careers are mentally stimulating and financially rewarding.

Some common legal careers include:

  • Litigator, Prosecutor, Solicitor
  • Research Lawyer
  • In-House Counsel
  • Legal Secretary
  • Paralegal
  • Judge
  • Compliance Specialist
  • Conflicts Analyst
  • Legal Recruiter

However, law school doesn’t have to lead to a legal job. The skills students learn during their degree are in demand across industries. Here are a few of the most common career areas:

Conflict Resolution
Arbitration, negotiation, and mediation are becoming more popular. This industry is all about resolving conflicts peacefully and fairly. Arbitrators and mediators work in hospitals, labor unions, schools, and other organizations.

Nonprofit Work and Advocacy
Almost any non-governmental organization (NGO) can use the help of a lawyer. Especially for those that work in foreign countries, legal knowledge can be key to fulfilling their mandate.

Government and Politics
From Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, many politicians have a legal background. But President isn’t the only political job a law graduate can pursue. It’s also possible to work as a policy analyst, lobbyist, speech writer, or campaign manager.

Banking and Finance
Interested in tax or corporate law? If so, a career in banking and finance could be for you. There are lots of options open to a law graduate. Trust officer, risk manager, and estate planning advisor are just a few common examples.

Business and Entrepreneurship
Law graduates understand the ins and outs of contracts, incorporation, and tax laws. They’re also hardworking, possess great communications skills, and know how to negotiate. These qualities are ideally suited to upper management positions, like CFO or COO.

Law students who complete a doctoral degree can thrive in the academic world. Some become professors, teaching law to aspiring lawyers. Others perform research, investigating ways to improve the legal system. Still others end up in administrative positions, overseeing other academics and educators.

Legal Consulting
Consulting is a broad field. Legal consultants can work with law offices, helping them improve their client development or marketing efforts. Others work in information technology or the medical sector. The direction you choose will depend on your skills, experience, and interests.

Writing and Publishing
Finally, some law graduates end up in publishing. They edit legal publications, write law books, or craft booklets on topics like tenancy law. Others leave the legal world behind entirely. They use their strong research and communication skills to become bloggers, copywriters, or content managers.

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