Legal Education and Degrees

Choosing to follow an educational path that leads to legal practice involves self-reflection during your time at Brown and beyond.  Several types of academic programs lead to careers in law. The Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree is the credential you need if you wish to practice as an attorney. This is followed by passing a state Bar exam.  Awareness of the degrees you could pursue will enable you to make an informed choice before deciding on a particular path to legal practice.

Juris Doctor (J.D.)

The Juris Doctor degree is required for law practice in the US. The LSAT is required for admission to all J.D. programs, which generally involve three years of full-time study beyond the Bachelor's degree.

The typical J.D. program involves courses in criminal law, international law, or civil procedure in the first year. The second and third years offer students the opportunity to customize their course work.  In order to practice, J.D. graduates must successfully complete licensure by passing a state Bar exam. The exam varies from state to state.  Several states have local Bar Associations, but the great majority of law schools are certified with the American Bar Association (A.B.A.)  

Master of Laws (L.L.M.)

The Master of Laws degree requires one year of full-time study beyond the Juris Doctor. The degree is designed to strengthen J.D. graduates' knowledge of a particular area of law; program curricula vary according to specialty. Foreign-born lawyers complete the L.L.M. to familiarize themselves with the U.S. legal system. Some J.D. programs offer a direct path into an L.L.M. after the completion of the Doctoral program, and may offer a shorter timeline for graduation with a joint degree.

Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.)

The S.J.D. is the highest US academic credential in the legal field.  This research-intensive degree typically requires a J.D., substantial legal practice, and sometimes an L.L.M.  The S.J.D. is usually a three-year course of study that involves the completion and defense of a dissertation based on a proposal submitted during the program application process.  The S.J.D. may be of greatest value to law professionals interested in academic employment as law professors. There is a small number of programs that offer this degree and a similarly small number of applicants. 

Paralegal

Paralegals assist lawyers with case preparation and court documentation and may interact with potential and retained clients to gather information essential for a case to be presented by a supervising lawyer. Requirements for working as a paralegal vary by state.  

Most paralegal educational programs issue an Associate Degree in legal studies, though there are some Bachelor-level programs in legal studies that involve more rigorous academic training. Recipients of Bachelor degrees in any area may complete a certification program to be eligible to practice as paralegals. Some states have Grandfather clauses that allow assistants in law offices to become certified as Paralegals after a number of years on the job and a certification from a credential agency. 

Joint Degrees

Many universities offer combination degree programs that allow students to pursue a law degree alongside another professional degree, such as business, medicine, public health, or public policy. Joint degree programs allow students to complete both degrees in a shorter period of time than if they pursued the degrees sequentially. Application procedures for join programs vary by institution. Before you commit to a joint degree program, critically assess the value that it will bring to your career development and the associated costs of time, energy, and finances.