Is an LLM to JD Transfer for You?

So you’ve decided to advance your legal career and enroll in an LLM degree program in the U.S. But are you satisfied with the shorter and often more specialized course of study of the LLM degree, or do you find yourself secretly envious of your JD classmates, longing for the broader knowledge base and wider range of U.S. opportunities their degree affords? If the latter is the case, an LLM to JD transfer may present a solution to your troubles.

Several LLM programs offer international lawyers the opportunity to transfer into the JD program towards the end of the LLM sequence of study. The way an LLM to JD transfer works is that you apply toward the end of the LLM program, between May and July, depending on the specific program. If you are accepted, you complete the JD degree in two years instead of three. If you think that a JD to LLM degree might be in your future, it is best to plan ahead and research whether the schools you are applying to for your LLM program allow JD transfers, as law schools typically only allow LLM transfers within their own programs rather than from other schools’ programs. If you complete the transfer you do not receive both an LLM and a JD degree; you receive the JD degree in lieu of the LLM degree. Once you’ve completed the LLM degree, you can still apply to JD programs at other schools as part of the traditional pool of applicants.

Most programs allow all or nearly all credits earned in the LLM program to transfer to the JD program. The amount of credits which transfer depends on the LLM program curriculum; for example, courses which are specifically designed for the LLM program, such as Introduction to U.S. Law, are unlikely to transfer, but courses that cross-list with or are offered by the JD program, such as Constitutional Law or Torts, and which count toward the LLM degree will transfer easily. Admissions requirements vary by school. In most cases, students will have to apply for the program and complete all the necessary admissions requirements, with the exception of having to take the dreaded LSAT (Law School Admissions Test). The advantage of applying to a JD program as an LLM transfer student is that many schools (University of Chicago Law School among them) base their admissions process on the strength of faculty recommendations and grades earned in the LLM program in lieu of the LSAT. While this may be music to your ears for those of you who loathe standardized tests, the flip side of this potential advantage, however, is that admissions are intensely competitive, far more so than for the traditional LLM program. Typically, applicants will require a cumulative GPA above 3.3, or in some cases 3.7. Some schools, such as American University Washington College of Law, don’t let LLMs off easy and still require the LSAT as part of even transfer JD admissions.

So is an LLM to JD transfer for you? The answer to this question depends on your long-term career goals. Consider the differences between the degrees. If you intend to stay and practice law in the U.S., it is best to get the JD degree, as it is the cornerstone of U.S. law qualifications. If you want to return to your home country or practice law internationally, an LLM degree will better equip you for this than the JD, which is the predominant law degree only in the U.S. Many LLM programs prepare students to sit for the bar exam, or incorporate bar exam requirements into their programs (especially generalized LLM degrees in U.S. Law), but U.S. employers tend to prefer JD graduates, as JD graduates have three years of intensive study in the U.S. legal system as opposed to the usual one year length of a U.S. LLM program. A JD degree can also open you up to take the bar exam and practice in any state, while the LLM usually only qualifies you to sit for the bar exam in certain states, such as New York or California. However, a JD is primarily a practitioner’s degree. With an LLM degree, you may still find yourself qualified for positions in business, government, and academia.