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  • Jonathan Lai

Programs: JD, LLM, and beyond

1. Programs: JD, LLM, and beyond

Legal education in the US is one of the world's most highly regarded educational pursuits. Law schools primarily offer two common degrees, the Juris Doctor (JD) and the Master of Laws (LLM). However, US law schools offer several other options, including Advanced Standing (JD in two years, JD/LLM Transfer), Joined Programs (JD/MBA, JD/MA, JD/MS), Transfer, Visiting and Study Abroad options for J.D. candidates, Study Abroad programs, Master of Legal Studies (M.S.L.), Doctor of Juridical Science (J.S.D).

Moreover, in some jurisdictions (e.g., NYC), candidates might choose to pursue alternative paths to their legal education such as law office study or foreign legal education in common-law countries (e.g., Canada and UK).


The JD is a professional degree that allows individuals to practice law in the US upon admission to the bar. In most cases, it is a three-year, full-time program that covers a range of subjects including “core subjects” such as criminal law, civil procedure, property law, and constitutional law. Some law schools might offer two-year and four-year programs based on the candidates’ backgrounds and needs. The JD program includes specific legal writing and research training. Graduates of a JD program can sit for the bar exam and practice law in virtually any state in the US. No previous legal training is needed.

Key advantages: comprehensive legal training; access to law journals, OCI; more chances of Big Law and other prestigious high-paying jobs

Key disadvantages: high costs, substantial time and effort commitment, competitive nature


The LLM degree is available to individuals who have already completed a JD or equivalent law degree, including a foreign law degree. It is typically a one-year, full-time program that allows individuals to specialize in a particular area of law. Students can choose from a range of different classes like intellectual property law, environmental law, tax, and international law. LLM programs are designed to provide greater depth and understanding in a specific field of law and are often used to advance an individual's career, including an international legal career, or pursue an academic career in law. LLM degree may allow students to sit for the bar exam in some US jurisdictions based on the foreign law degree.

Key advantages: flexibility, specialized training in a particular area, less time, sources, and effort than JD, no need for standardized tests

Key disadvantages: limited career perspectives in comparison with JD; no comprehensive bar exam preparation; no access to many careers.

Advanced Standing (JD in two years, JD/LLM Transfer) An Advanced Standing program allows students who have already completed a law degree in another country and/or hold an LLM degree in the US to earn a J.D. degree in a shorter amount of time, usually in two years.

To be eligible for an advanced standing program, students usually must meet the regular JD admission requirements of the law school they are applying to. This includes the GPA and LSAT/GRE requirements. However, some law schools do not require LSAT/GRE for Advanced Standing applicants who previously completed an LLM degree in an accredited US law school. In certain law schools, Advanced Standing is available only for current LLM students who might want to continue their legal education as J.D. students.

Students who participate in an advanced standing program typically take the same courses as regular J.D. students. Students who complete an advanced standing program are eligible to take the bar exam in any state.

Key advantages: more flexibility regarding the choice of classes, advantages of JD program, opportunity to graduate earlier

Key disadvantages: limited choice of programs, LLM degree from the same law school might be needed to apply, participation in career fairs, and OCI might be limited.

List of Law Schools Offering Advanced Standing:

Master of Legal Studies (M.S.L.)

MSL degree is designed for students who want to learn about the law but do not want to become lawyers. It helps students to become experts in legal issues within their own industries and advance their careers in business, government, or other fields.

MSL programs typically last one year and cover a wide range of legal topics, such as contracts, property, torts, and criminal law. Some MSL programs also offer specializations in areas such as environmental law, intellectual property law, or healthcare law.

Key advantages: flexibility, usually less demanding and expensive than JD

Key disadvantages: limited opportunities to practice law, might be expensive and demanding

Doctor of Juridical Science (J.S.D)

The J.S.D. is a doctoral degree in law. It is a research-based degree that is designed to prepare students for a career in legal academia. J.S.D. programs typically require students to complete a dissertation on a topic of their choice in 3-5 years.

The requirements for J.S.D. programs vary from school to school. However, most programs require students to have a JD and/or LLM degree from an accredited law school. In addition to academic requirements, J.S.D. programs also require students to have strong research and writing skills.

Key advantages: ideal for career at academia, independent research, institutional funding might be available

Key disadvantages: limited applicability, usually not less than three years, might be demanding

2. Law School Admission Requirements


LLM & Other Programs


GPA (Undergraduate or Foreign)

Applicants need to aim for at least a 3.5 GPA (from 4.0). For the Top-14, the average undergraduate GPA is 3.9.

In most cases, there are no strict numerical requirements. However, GPA is considered an important factor.

Standardized Tests (LSAT or GRE)

For most law schools, good LSAT scores are starting at 160 (80th percentile of all test-takers); GRE scores (80th percentile scores)

N/A (Applicants do not need to take LSAT or GRE but law schools might require them to disclose test scores if they have them)

*English Language for International Students (TOEFL/IELTS)

TOEFL scores in the range of 100-120; IELTS scores in the range 7.5-9.

TOEFL scores at least 70-80; IELTS scores at least 7.

*GPA (additional graduate degrees)

If applicable, scores are considered.


Application Questionnaire (via LSAC)

Set of questions depending on law school (e.g., personal information, background, etc.)

Official transcripts (undergraduate & equivalent degrees)

Letters of recommendation (two-three letters from professors or other professionals who can attest to your academic ability and potential for success in law school)

Personal Statement

A concise essay containing a compelling and personal overview of your background, your reasons for wanting to attend a particular law school, and your goals for the future

Diversity Statement (optional)

A concise essay detailing your experience with diversity, personally and professionally, and your approach to your career.

Graduate coursework (not required but will be taken into consideration)

*For some LLM and other programs such as J.S.D. there are writing requirements for admission e.g., thesis)

3. Crafting Law School Application

  • Resume

  • Personal Statement

  • Diversity Statement

  • Letters of Recommendation

4. Nailing Standardized Tests

  • LSAT

  • GRE

  • English Proficiency Tests for International Candidates

5. Financing Your Legal Education

  • Scholarships

    • Merit / Need-Based Scholarships

    • Internal/Outside Scholarships

  • Grants

    • Internal/Outside Grants

  • Loans

    • Federal Loans

    • Institutional Loans

    • Private Loans

6. Law School Curriculum

  • 1L Courses

  • Upper-level courses

  • Clinics, Societies and Clubs

  • Law Journals

  • Externships

7. International Candidates Beware

  • English language requirements (TOEFL/IELTS)

  • Visas

  • Immigration

  • Taxes

8. Bar exam and Admission to the Bar

  • UBE

  • State Requirements

  • MPRE

  • Character and Fitness Application

9. OCI, Job Interviews, and Career Planning

10. Experiences and Testimonials

[real-life stories of our couches, students and independent contributors – TBD]

+Links and Sources: LSAC Guide and Supplemental Sources

US Law School Numbers (JD programs) Welcome to | Law School Numbers

Separate Section – “Law School Rankings”

Global Ranking of Law Schools (2023)

US News Law School Rankings (2023)

Ranking of UK law schools

Ranking of EU Law Schools

The Best Law Schools For Getting A Biglaw Job (2022)

Best Law Schools for specific programs (e.g., International Law, Intellectual Property, Taxation)

International Law

Intellectual Property

Rankings are not everything:


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