To qualify as a lawyer in the US, you will need a JD, which stands for Juris Doctor and is the highest law degree in the US. It’s important to note that it does not run parallel to the UK’s LLB. To be enrolled on an LLB in the UK, you need to have achieved a prescribed number of A-Levels at specific grades and apply through UCAS straight from sixth form or college. In contrast, you can’t do a JD directly after finishing high school in the US. You may have heard some US university students talking about taking pre-law courses as part of their undergraduate degree. This is because to enrol on a JD, you need to have an undergraduate bachelor’s degree already.
A JD is a three-year-long full-time graduate degree which prepares students for a legal career. As well as an undergraduate bachelor’s degree, students applying for a JD must also have taken and obtained their LSAT scores – the admissions test for law schools.
Despite its name, the JD is not the equivalent of a PhD in law. This is referred to as a JSD (Doctorate of Juridical Science). Both the JD and LLB focus on the English Common Law system of courts. The core content of both is quite similar. On both courses, students will study contract law, property law, tort law, criminal law, aspects of legal writing and both will learn an equivalent of public law (with JD students taking constitutional law courses).
After you have achieved your JD, you can then go on to take the bar exam, which is an examination that lawyers must take before they are legally allowed to practise law in that jurisdiction. There is a bar exam for every US state.
It is also possible to study a law Master’s in the US. Typically, students from the USA would carry out an LLM post-completion of their JD. However, for international students such as students from the UK, an undergraduate LLB is sufficient. The bonus is you do not need to have taken the LSAT to apply for an LLM.
An LLM is a nine-month to a year-long programme focused on research and/or analytical study of the law. In comparison to the JD, an LLM is much narrower in its scope.
As well as its length, another benefit of a US LLM to foreign applicants is that for some jurisdictions, you can take the bar exam without a JD if you have obtained a recognised LLM.
If you are considering a JD or an LLM, then choosing the right law school for you is crucial. It’s useful to talk to graduates, take virtual tours of the campus and check out the website of the university. Also, don’t forget to consider other factors such as ease of travel, living costs, weather and temperature and sometimes even politics (if that’s something which may affect or worry you).
If you wish to study the JD or a US LLM, then it might be best to try and obtain these in the same state you want to take your bar exam in. Although some time will stand between you and the bar exam when you begin either programme, looking to the future is the most efficient step here.
Foreign Graduates are welcome to take the bar exam in certain jurisdictions; however, their admissions criteria vary and therefore, it is vital to research the jurisdiction you wish to apply to. For example, two more lenient states when it comes to foreign applications are New York State and California.
Graduates from foreign law schools are eligible for the New York Bar Exam. However, their foreign legal education must be equivalent to that of a US Law School and they must also have additional academic experience at an American Bar Association (ABA)-approved law school (for example a US LLM). If the graduate has a US LLM, then they are eligible to sit the NY Bar on that basis alone.
Graduates from Foreign Law Schools are also eligible to take the California Bar Exam. However, their foreign legal education must be equivalent to that of a US Law School, they must have additional academic experience at an ABA-approved law school. However, similarly to NY, if they have obtained a US LLM from an ABA-approved law school, then they are eligible to take the bar on that basis alone.
Words: Alicia Gibson
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