LLM vs JD: What’s the Difference?

The decision of whether to pursue an LLM (Master of Laws) in U.S. law or a JD (Juris Doctor) may be a difficult one for foreign attorneys, especially if their career goals are still taking shape. The purpose of this post is to help foreign practitioners understand the basic differences between the two degrees when considering whether to study for an LLM vs JD, and to highlight the potential advantages of obtaining an LLM in U.S. law that make it an attractive option for those who want to expand their practices internationally and begin professional dealings for which a knowledge of U.S. law would be beneficial.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a JD

  • Admission requirements are high. Admission to a JD program at a U.S. law school requires a bachelor’s degree or an acceptable equivalent. Applicants must also take the dreaded LSAT exam, and acceptance into a particular program is determined in great part by the resulting score.
  • Time and financial investment are high. Obtaining a JD degree takes three years of education, and program costs are generally higher than those for an LLM program, especially taking into account the longer time commitment.
  • Benefits. After having obtained a JD, graduates have a solid foundation to begin practicing U.S. law, and will generally be eligible to sit for the bar exam in any U.S. state of their choosing.

 Advantages and Disadvantages of an LLM

  • Investment is comparatively low. Though tuition per year for LLM vs JD programs are typically similar, an LLM can be obtained in one year of instruction, as opposed to three, and as such saves the costs these two additional years.
  • Convenience is high, especially with online LLM program options. Students can earn an LLM online through universities such as @WashULaw. They never have to leave their home countries, bear the disruption to their work and family lives and expense of traveling abroad for a year and can obtain their new credential with minimal inconvenience.
  • Partial drawback. Having an LLM does not qualify graduates to sit for the bar exam in every state. Attorneys should carefully research the requirements in their state of choice if they are expecting to work in the United States after graduation. Most LLM programs offer options to LLM students to tailor their academic track for bar preparation in major states, such as New York and California.

LLM vs JD – Which degree is right for me?

The answer to this question depends on what your career goals are. If you already practice law in your home country, and you intend to continue your practice there, the disruption and expense of obtaining a JD over the course of three years is a heavy cost to pay. In those situations, a one-year or online LLM is likely the better option. For those who wish to immigrate to the United States and practice law here on a long-term basis, however, a JD may be worth the investment (and may be required for taking the bar exam in your state of choice). Another option, if you are not sure which degree is right for you, is to start an LLM degree and then transfer to a JD program, as some LLM programs offer an LLM to JD transfer.

LLM or JD for bar exam?

For attorneys who can spare the time and money, a JD is generally better preparation for taking the bar exam in the United States. For other practitioners who intend to eventually return to their home countries, an LLM is the best option (and for those who hope to maintain ongoing careers and home lives while studying, however, an online LLM ). Keep in mind that in some cases, an LLM may be all that is needed in order to take the bar exam in a given state and obtain a license to practice in the United States.

In short, the answer to which degree is best for you depends on your own personal preferences, situation, geographical limitations and career goals.