Studying for a graduate Law degree in the USA is an incredibly popular ambition for students around the world. A Law degree obtained in the USA is generally perceived as being an extremely high quality and prestigious qualification which will propel your legal career to the highest levels. We explore a few of the details you will need to know if you are considering taking Law in the states.
Within the USA most Law Schools sit within universities. There are plenty to choose from, with over 200 Law Schools in the country and with over 140,000 Law students, you won’t feel alone over the next year/three years of your postgraduate education in the USA!
There are three different types of Law degrees offered in America, with the LLM being the most popular. The other two are the JD and the SJD course. Below, I will explain each course in detail:
LLM – Master of Laws
- Requires previous Law experience – most often an undergraduate degree in the subject
- Lasts 1 year
- Allows student to specialise in one aspect of Law
- More popular with international students as it complements the prior knowledge already obtained from a student’s international Law degree.
JD – Juris Doctor
- Post-bachelors – meaning that this course is most suited to those who have undergraduate degrees in areas other than Law
- Lasts 3 years
- Allows students to practice any type of law upon graduation
SJD/JSD – Doctor of Jurisprudence
- Undertaken after an LLM
- Lasts 3-5 years
- PhD equivalent
There are some unofficial requirements that potential international students are expected to meet in order to ensure a successful application. One must be certain that their academic background matches that of the academic strength of the institution they wish to apply to, in terms of their alma mater and general knowledge. However, it is not just their academic background that must be of a certain standard, but also the student’s proficiency in the English language. One way in which universities will test one’s English skills will be through TOEFL. This will largely be because the lectures and seminars will be taught in English and will also require a great deal of participation and independent reading. In addition to the above, students must have financial resources that will last the duration of their time at Law School. More information on this can be found later on in the article. Lastly, it is not unwise to be sure of the career goals one wants to reach by the time they attend Law School to ensure that their course and the modules chosen are reflective of those goals.
Once the end of Law School approaches, the idea of the sitting for the bar comes to mind. The way in which the bar works in the USA is as follows: unlike most countries, America has 50 bars, one for each state. For JD graduates, every state will allow them to sit the exam for the bar, but for LLM graduates, it is slightly different. There is a list of states that will allow the graduates to sit the exam and therefore practice in that state. It must be noted that it is not mandatory for students to attend the school in the state where one plans to sit and practice at the bar, but the state in which students choose to sit the bar exam is the only state in which they are able to practice the legal profession. If a student were to move to another state, they would be required to take the bar exam of that state.
The cost of undertaking an LLM ranges between $35-45,000 per year, but living expenses will drive up the cost to about $60,000 a year to cover not only the tuition fees but also own expenses over the academic year.
There is financial aid available, despite it being more limited for LLM students than for others. Scholarships, loans and work study are available to Law students, although they will not cover the full amount. It is important to distinguish the different types of aid available, from merit-based to needs-based to Fulbright scholarships.
Merit and needs-based scholarships consist of what one gains through their academic and/or sporting achievements/alma mater and the income of their family, respectively. Fulbright scholarships are awarded to UK students wishing to study in the USA. They cover all types of postgraduate subjects and, depending on how much one is liable to get, can cover at least the first years’ worth of tuition and living fees.
It is important to consider all aspects, from the purpose of one’s graduate study to the geographical location of the Law School in mind when applying. Cost of living, deciding between a public or a private college and scrutinising the quality of the faculty will ensure a well-deliberated, well-chosen postgraduate study for the year(s) to come.
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