What is 'Juris Doctor - JD'?

A Juris Doctor degree is the highest law degree in the United States and was originally a replacement to the Bachelor of Laws degree. A Juris Doctor or Juris Doctorate degree represents professional recognition that the holder has a doctoral degree in law. Due to the length of study required in the United States to attain a law degree, the name change reflected its status as a professional degree.

BREAKING DOWN 'Juris Doctor - JD'

Some schools offer a joint J.D. and MBA so students can complete both degrees in less time than it would take to complete each separately. Other combined graduate degrees include public policy, medicine and bioengineering.

Law school applicants must already have a bachelor's degree. It typically takes three years to complete the J.D., after which the graduate must pass the bar exam to practice law. Each state and the District of Columbia has its own bar exam.

Legal Degrees in the United States

The first lawyers trained in the United States underwent an apprenticeship and training with a lawyer who served as a mentor. Required studies, interpretation of the law and practical experience varied sharply. The first formal law degree granted in the country was a Bachelor of Law from the College of William and Mary in 1793. Harvard University changed the name of the degree to the Latin "Legum Baccalaureus," known as the LL.B., and led a 19th century movement for a scientific study of law. The LL.B. remains the standard degree in most of the British Commonwealth.

The faculty of Harvard Law School first suggested changing the degree from LL.B. to J.D. in 1902 to reflect the professional nature of the degree. In 1903, the University of Chicago, which was one of only five law schools that required students to have a bachelor's degree before enrollment, granted the first J.D. Many law schools offered both an LL.B. to students who entered without a bachelor's degree and a J.D. to students entering with a bachelor's degree.

By the early 1960s, most students entered law school with a bachelor's degree. In 1965, the American Bar Association recommended the standard law degree be the J.D., and that decree took effect by the end of the decade.

The Master of Law program is an advanced degree usually undertaken by a specialist in tax or patent law. A foreign lawyer who wishes to qualify to take the bar exam in the United States can also pursue the Master of Law.

Two-year J.D. Degrees

Job prospects for lawyers fell sharply following the 2008 financial market collapse, and law school enrollment dropped by 24 percent from 2010 to 2013. With tuition continuing to rise, some schools have looked at shortening the program. Brooklyn Law School, Drexel and Pepperdine are among the schools that offer a two-year J.D. option. A few universities allow students to start their first year of law school after completing the third year of college.

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