Becoming a lawyer does not happen overnight, where any potential candidate must first complete years of college and sit for the bar exam. Typically, earning a law degree takes most students three years or longer based on the particular path.
However, the length of time could be shorter or longer, depending on the individual’s career path. Before taking the bar examination, you will need to obtain a Juris Doctor (JD) degree at an accredited law school, which typically takes three years to complete.
Obtaining a Law Degree
Nearly all accredited law schools require enrollees to have a bachelor’s degree in nearly any subject. A bachelor’s degree is typically obtained after four years of full-time studying at least 40 college courses, earning at least 120 credits.
A few American Bar Association-approved law schools enroll “exceptional students” without a bachelor’s degree. However, most State Bar Associations do not allow any law school graduates to take the bar exam until they have obtained a bachelor’s degree.
Enrolling Law Students: Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) to Enter Law Schools
Potential candidates hoping to enter law school must pass the LSAT to enroll for a law degree. Many designated testing centers in the United States administer the half-day standardized LSAT (law school admission test) several times every year.
Before entering law school, most undergraduate students take the law school admissions test in the summer before their senior year at college. Others take the test in the months or years after graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree once they decide they want to attend law school.
The LSAT test reveals if the potential law school candidate has the reading comprehension, writing, critical thinking, and reasoning skills required for completing the first year of law school.
How Long is Law School? Various Law School Degrees
The length of time you will spend at law school will be based on the degree you want to obtain. Different law degrees have varying curriculums and credit requirements. The top six popular law degrees include:
- Juris Doctor – More law school students graduate with a JD degree than any other law degree for people wanting to work with a law license. A JD degree fills the ABA requirement to take the Bar Exam and use their certificate law specializations in numerous fields, including advocacy, tax law, elder law, civil litigation, and criminal procedure. Students typically obtain their Juris Doctor degree in 2 to 3 years.
- Master of Legal Studies – The graduate MLS degree provides law professionals advanced knowledge of constitutional, federal, and state laws. Many individuals with a Masters of Legal Studies degree do not practice law as a licensed attorney but may work as a paralegal, compliance director, court administrator, discovery specialist, or trial consultant. Some colleges do not require a potential candidate for law school to pass an LSAT exam to take courses for a Master of Legal Studies. Students typically obtain their MLS degree in 12 to 16 months of full-time courses.
- Master of Dispute Resolution – Many students obtain an MDR degree to advance their negotiation skills. Some practicing lawyers and non-attorneys learn how to solve conflicts by taking Master of Dispute Resolution courses. An MDR graduate might work in various occupations as an arbitrator, mediator, labor relations specialist, public policy facilitator, ombudsman, or financial services conciliator. Students typically obtain their MDR degree and 16 to 28 months based on 30-48 credits.
- Master of Laws – Many licensed attorneys get their advanced post-graduate LL.M degree, focusing on legal theory to specialize in different law fields, including family law, intellectual property, administrative law, environmental law, and immigration. A Master of Laws degree provides the attorney with an advanced credential. Students typically obtain their LL.M degree in 12 months following graduating with a Juris Doctor.
- Doctor of Juridical Science – The SJD is considered an intellectually challenging degree. SJD admission is reserved for individuals who’ve earned a Juris Doctor and Master of Laws degree already. This upper-level, practice-based degree is focused on training legal academics and scholars for teaching or writing. Students typically obtain their Juridical Science doctorate in 3 to 4 years, after completing up to 48 additional credits following a Juris Doctor degree.
- Doctor of Philosophy in Law – A Ph.D. in Law is an advanced law school degree based on research methodologies. A graduate can use their Ph.D. degree to prepare dissertations and review jurisprudence in different occupations, including as a professor, consultant, legal researcher, patent lawyer, or other. Students typically obtain their Ph.D. in Law degree in 48 years, after attaining 90 to 100 credits and finishing their dissertation.
Obtaining a Law Degree
The American Bar Association requires every law student to complete at least 83 credit hours to graduate in an accredited law school. Typically, 64 credit hours must be acquired through direct faculty instruction or by attending regularly scheduled classroom sessions.
The 83 credit hours to obtain a law degree cannot be completed any earlier than 24 months unless there are extraordinary circumstances. All courses must be completed within 84 months after the student began taking law school classes.
Typically, law students obtain their Juris Doctor degree within 2 to 7 years or about three years on average. It might take some students the full 84 months to obtain their degree when attending part-time programs.
Some students choose to get joint degrees (two degrees), including a Juris Doctor (JD) and MBA (Master of Business Administration) that focuses on administration and investment management. The dual degree offers many opportunities during the student’s third year to work in numerous fields after becoming a lawyer.
Passing the Bar Exam
Typically, the better law student does in classes, and the higher the grade point average, the easier it is to pass the bar exam. Hard work pays off, providing better internship opportunities, law school opportunities, and job opportunities. Higher GPAs typically provide better scholarship opportunities and increase the chance of passing the bar exam.
College professors and law school graduates know that taking substantive classes can help the student prepare for the bar exam. The student will need to answer questions on varying subjects, including evidence, torts, real property, contracts, constitutional law, civil procedure, sales, and criminal justice and procedure.
Other subjects that may (or may not) appear on the bar examination include secured transactions, trusts & estates, business organizations/corporations, partnership & agency, and family law.
Learning comprehensive writing skills is a crucial component to passing the exam. Improving writing skills might require taking a legal writing class, or participating in a practical task internship could help, where the student learns to write briefs, letters, memos, and complaints.
Some law schools provide a bar prep course to gain an early start when taking the exam after graduation. Students can earn credits taking some of these classes. It may be necessary to study for taking the bar exam long before graduating.
Students who should consider studying for the exam include those who graduated at the bottom of the class or struggled in their first-year studies.
What to Expect at School
The American Bar Association does not provide a standard legal education curriculum. However, most law schools adhere to similarly structured courses divided by class year, including 1L, 2L, and 3L. Most classes follow a rigorous syllabus law program to ensure that the law student learns every aspect of practicing law.
Many first-year courses when entering law school focus on:
- Civil Procedure
- Constitutional Law
- Contract Law
- Criminal Justice
- Lawyering Skills
- Legal Analysis and Writing
- Property Law
- Criminal Law
- Tort Law
In addition to classroom course study, law students attending law school are provided other activities outside the classroom to hone lawyering skills and obtain the valuable experience needed for building a successful law career. Some extracurricular activities include:
- Law Journal or Law Review – Many schools publish a law school journal or review every year that provides some students the opportunity to obtain editorial experience in the law field.
- Mock trial – Many students hone their lawyering skills in a real-world setting to gain clinical experience. Some mock trial teams compete at national and local levels by conducting mock trials with large national organizations and other law schools.
- Moot court – Most venues offer a stimulating legal environment to obtain experience in trial advocacy, litigation, and dispute resolution.
- Externships – In addition to internships, some students interested in getting externships could work at law firms, government offices, the court system, and nonprofit organizations that might be in a different country or state.
Obtaining a Law Degree FAQs
How long does it take to get a law degree?
An ABA-approved law school typically provides a three-year program to earn a JD (Juris Doctor) degree through full-time study. There are four- and five-year law school programs based on part-time coursework based on the student’s own pace.
Obtaining a Juris Doctor degree usually requires 40 college courses and 120 credits in an ABA-approved law school after the student has earned a bachelor’s degree in nearly any field, including political science.
Can you finish law school in two years?
Some of the best law schools offer two-year Juris Doctor law programs that allow for faster graduation. However, these accelerated courses typically have limited internships, providing less experience with nearly the same financial burden.
Many of these courses provide learning in small classrooms with 30 students or less. However, the accelerated classes still require obtaining a bachelor’s degree at most institutions before the potential law student candidate can be admitted to the college.
How hard is it to get a law degree?
There is no overnight solution to obtaining a law degree. Nearly every law school requires potential law student candidates to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nearly any field before applying. The curriculum is often highly rigorous, requiring a heavy workload under high pressure in a fast-paced environment.
The student will gain experience through knowledge learned through internships, moot court, mock trials, classrooms, and possibly through externships in other states and countries. The student will develop negotiating skills and learn about every facet of law to work as an attorney at law firms or other occupations based on the law.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many aspiring lawyers can attend ABA-approved schools with financial aid.
Is law school harder than med school?
The difficulty of earning a degree in any field, including law and medicine, is based on the student’s aptitude and ability to learn challenging concepts. It is usually easier to get accepted to law school versus medical school due to the number of open slots available at most universities and colleges.
The potential college applicant hoping to enroll in a medical school will need a high school diploma, science field-related undergraduate degree, a 3.0 GPA or higher, and minimum MCAT Exam results.
Before entering law school, any potential college applicant hoping to enroll will need a high school diploma, an undergraduate degree in nearly any field, including political science, a 3.0 GPA or higher, minimum LSAT test scores, and a letter of recommendation.
How long is law school for a lawyer?
The length of time it takes to complete law school is based on the degree the potential student wants to earn. Traditionally, earning a Juris Doctor degree requires a three-year law program with full-time coursework in nearly any particular area.
However, the vast majority of accelerated law degree programs typically last two years. Lengthier programs for part-time students could require four years or more to complete.
After Law School Graduation
Once you graduate, you’ll need to dedicate yourself to prepare for the bar exam. Typically, graduated law students will take a bar review course in the days or weeks leading up to the examination to ensure the best outcome.
Often, a law firm will make the graduate pass the bar exam as a condition of receiving permanent employment. Other graduates can secure a job once they pass the bar and receive their license in the state or states they intend to work as an attorney.