If you’re planning to earn a law degree, you might consider becoming a lawyer—but there are plenty of other options for law school graduates.
What can you do with a law degree? Any professional whose career requires knowledge of the legal system, laws and regulations could find value in a law degree. Some law programs prepare students to become lawyers, and others cater to learners pursuing other types of careers that don’t involve practicing law.
This article discusses five types of law degrees and popular career options for graduates. Whether you plan to become a lawyer or work in another career requiring legal knowledge, consider one of these degrees to help you reach your goals.
If you don’t intend to work as a lawyer, but you want to build on your skills in mediation, conflict resolution or negotiation, consider earning a master of dispute resolution (MDR). People who earn MDRs often work in the fields of human resources, labor relations and business management.
If you earn an MDR, your coursework may include negotiation, arbitration, conflict management and mediation theory. You need a bachelor’s degree to earn an MDR. Additional requirements may include letters of recommendation, interviews and personal statements.
If you’ve already earned a law degree and want to specialize in a particular type of law—such as intellectual property or tax law—earning a master of laws (LLM) degree can help you do so.
Coursework for an LLM typically includes subject matter related to areas of legal specialization, such as taxes, copyrights, the environment and human rights. A bachelor’s degree is required to earn this degree. Universities may also set additional requirements, such as letters of recommendation, interviews or personal statements.
If you don’t intend to practice law, but your job requires you to be well-versed in legal concepts, earning a master of legal studies (MLS) degree can teach you what you need to know. This degree is a popular choice among labor relations specialists, human resources managers, compliance officers and management analysts.
The coursework in an MLS program may cover legal procedures, ethics, research, legal writing and legal strategies. A bachelor’s degree is required to pursue an MLS. Universities may also ask for letters of recommendation, interviews and personal essays.
If you’re wondering how to become a lawyer, a juris doctor (JD) is the traditional path for students who plan to take the bar exam and become attorneys or judges. Earning a JD typically takes three years of full-time study, or four to five years for part-time learners. Some universities offer their JD programs as part of a joint degree option, which can also take four to five years to complete.
Earning a JD typically involves coursework in contracts, torts, constitutional law, wills and trusts, criminal law and other legal issues. A bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite for earning a JD degree, though you can choose your undergraduate major. Additional requirements may include passing scores on the Law School Admission Test® or the Graduate Record Examination, letters of recommendation and/or law school personal statements.
A doctor of juridical science (SJD) degree serves those who plan to work in academia. You need both a JD and an LLM degree to earn your SJD, which is the highest degree awarded in the legal field. The timeframe for earning an SJD varies by university, but it typically requires at least two years of full-time study.
An SJD degree has no standard curriculum, so each university works with its students to customize their program. The path to an SJD usually involves seminars, research and one-on-one study with faculty. In addition to a JD and an LLM, SJD programs may also require letters of recommendation, research proposals or personal statements.
Median Annual Salary: The median annual salary for arbitrators, mediators and conciliators is $49,410.
Required Education: A bachelor’s degree is required to become an arbitrator, mediator or conciliator. Some organizations require an MBA, a law degree or another graduate degree.
Job Description: Arbitrators, mediators and conciliators serve as facilitators to solve disputes between two or more parties. These neutral figures work to reach settlements in all parties’ best interests.
Median Annual Salary: The median annual salary for journalists is $48,370.
Required Education: In most cases, a bachelor’s degree is required to become a journalist. Journalists who are experts in specific subject areas may have a graduate degree, such as a legal degree.
Job Description: Journalists research and gather information about current events and noteworthy happenings. They write news stories to inform the public. Journalists’ work may appear on television, online, in newspapers or in other forms of media.
Median Annual Salary: The median annual salary for judges is $128,710.
Required Education: A law degree is required to become a judge. A judge also needs to have experience working as a lawyer before becoming a judge.
Job Description: Judges preside over court hearings and oversee legal processes, such as resolving disputes and issuing decisions on legal matters. These professionals listen to and consider evidence and information from lawyers, witnesses and other parties as they reach judgments on cases or claims.
Median Annual Salary: The median annual salary for lawyers is $127,990.
Required Education: In most states, a law degree and passing scores on a state bar exam are required to become a lawyer. States set their own requirements, so make sure to check with yours for more information.
Job Description: Lawyers represent and advise their clients on many types of legal issues, both in and out of the courtroom. Their duties may include preparing and filing documents, researching and analyzing legal matters and arguing on their client’s behalf.
Median Annual Salary: The median annual salary for political scientists is $122,510.
Required Education: A master’s degree is required to become a political scientist.
Job Description: Political scientists research and analyze information on political trends, policies and government systems. This may include collecting data from public opinion polls, monitoring governmental policy decisions or creating political or economic forecasts.
Median Annual Salary: The median annual salary for postsecondary teachers (college professors) is $79,640.
Required Education: The educational requirements for postsecondary teachers vary according to their area of expertise and where they teach. Most college professors need doctoral degrees, but a master’s degree may suffice at some educational institutions.
Job Description: Postsecondary teachers educate students at colleges and universities. They may also help develop curricula, serve on committees and advise students.
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The type of law degree you choose should align with your career goals, your budget and how long you plan to continue your education.
If you intend to become a practicing attorney, earning a JD degree helps you do so. It provides you with the knowledge you need to practice law, and it qualifies you to take the bar exam.
If you have your JD degree and you’re ready to specialize in a specific type of law, earning an LLM may be the best option. This degree gives you a deeper understanding of particular types of law. As a lawyer with this specialized knowledge, your options for career advancement and earning power may increase.
If you’re a lawyer and you’re interested in working in academia, you may want to earn an SJD degree. This course of study broadens your knowledge and teaches you the skills you need to become a legal scholar and educate other aspiring lawyers in a university environment.
If you aren’t interested in becoming a lawyer, but you do plan to work in a career that requires dispute resolution skills, you may consider earning an MDR degree. This degree helps you understand the legal issues related to helping people resolve conflicts and disputes.
If you don’t plan to become a lawyer, but you do need to understand laws and regulations in your career, earning an MLS is a great way to help you reach your goals. This versatile degree can be useful for many career paths requiring legal knowledge.