What Is a Juris Doctor (JD)?

The American law degree, called a Juris Doctor (JD), is a three-year professional degree. Until the latter half of the 20th century, the degree was called a Bachelor of Laws (LLB). However, due to the length of study required in the United States to attain a law degree, the name was changed to reflect its status as a professional degree. A J.D. degree confers recognition that the holder has a professional degree in law.

Key Takeaways

  • The American law degree, called a Juris Doctor (JD), is a three-year professional degree.
  • Law school applicants must already have a bachelor's degree.
  • It typically takes three years to complete the J.D. degree, after which the graduate must pass the bar exam to practice law.
  • Drexel, Rutgers, Columbia, and Fordham are among the schools that offer a two-year J.D. degree option.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2020 median pay for a lawyer was $126,930.

Understanding Juris Doctor (JD)

Some schools offer a joint J.D. and MBA degree so that 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. degree, after which the graduate must pass the bar exam to practice law. Each state and the District of Columbia has its own bar exam.

History of the JD Degree

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 the 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. degree. 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.

Requirements for a JD Degree

In order to get into law school, you must have an undergraduate degree, have passed the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), request your official transcripts from your undergraduate institution(s), obtain letters of recommendation, and write a personal statement.

Complete a Bachelor's Degree

While many graduate programs require the completion of certain prerequisite courses, there are no such requirements for prospective law students. However, you must have earned (or be on track to earn) an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. Your undergraduate grade point average (GPA) is a key indicator law schools consider when evaluating applicants.

Take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

You'll also need to take the LSAT. The basic fee for the LSAT during the 2020-21 academic year is $200, although this cost increases for each law school you apply to. Most people end up paying $500 or more in total LSAT fees. The score you receive on your LSAT is the most important factor in determining your admission into law school.

It is generally recommended that you spend at least three months studying for the exam, although many people dedicate up to a year studying for the exam. There are many resources online to help you study for the LSAT, including free resources. Organized prep courses that guide you through the different components of the LSAT can be quite expensive. Some individuals opt to hire a private tutor to help them prepare for the LSAT.

Request Your Official Transcripts

Law schools require official transcripts from all undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs. Each copy of your official transcript can cost between $10 and $20, so depending on how many schools you apply to, this amount can add up. The process of requesting your transcript and then getting them sent to the appropriate institution can take several days, so make sure that you give yourself adequate time.

Write a Personal Statement

A personal statement is your opportunity to reveal your personality to the admissions committee. It's a good idea if your personal statement covers your career goals and academic achievements, although there are many different approaches. Some schools may have specific prompts they want you to address in your personal statement.

Obtain Letters of Recommendation

Most law schools will require at least one letter of recommendation. Your letters of recommendation can be from undergraduate professors or former employers that can speak to various elements of your success.

Future lawyers who attended a public, ABA-approved school in their state paid an average of $28,186 in tuition and fees in 2019, while out-of-state students paid an average of $41,628. Those who attended private law schools paid an average of $49,312.

Two-Year JD Degrees

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

Job Prospects for JD Degrees

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2020 median pay for a lawyer was $126,930. In 2019, there were 813,900 jobs in this field. The projected percent change in employment from 2019 to 2029 for this profession is 4%, which is average. (The average growth rate for all occupations is 4%.)

JD Degree FAQs

What Is a JD Degree Equivalent To?

A J.D. degree, the American law degree, is a three-year professional degree. A J.D. is the minimum educational level for lawyers. The J.D. is considered a professional doctorate. The United States Department of Education and the National Science Foundation do not consider a J.D. degree equivalent to a research doctorate, which would confer the recipient the title of "Doctor."

Is a JD a Lawyer?

To become a lawyer, you'll need to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Once you graduate, you are entitled to take the bar exam and begin the practice of law. Obtaining a J.D. degree alone does not permit you to practice law. You must also pass the bar exam. Every state (and the District of Columbia) has its own bar exam.

Is a JD Higher Than a Masters?

While the J.D. is the only degree necessary to become a professor of law or to obtain a license to practice law, it is not a research degree. However, there are two types of research degrees available to individuals who are interested in studying law. These are the Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree, which typically requires a J.D. as a prerequisite before pursuing study, and the Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D./J.S.D.) degree, which typically requires a Master of Laws as a prerequisite.

Is Someone With a JD a Doctor?

It is not customary in the U.S. to address individuals that hold a J.D. as a "Doctor." In the late 1960s, the Canons of Professional Ethics issued a full ethics opinion regarding whether lawyers could ethically use the title "Doctor." The organization came down against this usage, with some exceptions. It is permissible for lawyers to use the title "Doctor" when dealing with countries where the use of "Doctor" by lawyers is standard practice. In addition, lawyers are allowed the use of the title in academia as long as the school of graduation considers the J.D. degree a doctorate degree.

How Many Years Is a JD Degree?

A traditional, full-time J.D. program lasts three years. There are some accelerated programs that allow individuals to complete their degrees in just two years. Part-time J.D. programs usually take four years (or more) to finish.