The juris doctor is the degree earned at the completion of three years of full-time study in law school. Often abbreviated as JD, it is important to note that while many law students, lawyers and even some law schools may refer to the degree as a “juris doctorate,” this term is actually a misnomer. Earning a juris doctor degree is the basic credential for practicing law in America.
ABA Accreditation of Juris Doctor Programs
The American Bar Association is responsible for accrediting juris doctor programs throughout the nation. Programs that are not accredited by the ABA are available, but graduation from one of these programs may not be accepted for admittance to the bar in every state. Accordingly, it is recommended that students choose only ABA-accredited juris doctor programs when they are considering law schools.
Prerequisites for Entering a Juris Doctor Program
Candidates for law school must already hold a bachelor’s degree. Nearly any discipline is acceptable. However, preference may be given to prospective students who have completed a pre-law program or who focused their studies in a related area that will support their pursuit of a legal degree. This could include English literature because of its emphasis on writing as well as political science and social science programs.
In addition to holding a bachelor’s degree, law school candidates must also successfully complete the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT. The LSAT gauges the individual’s reading comprehension, analytical reasoning abilities and their logical reasoning skills, which are key indicators of success in law school. Most of the test is multiple-choice. However, students are required to complete a writing sample that is forwarded to all law schools to which they apply.
Common Courses in JD Programs
The first year of law school is dedicated to providing the student with a broad base of legal knowledge. Courses focus on civil procedure, criminal law, torts, contracts and property. Intensive work related to legal writing is typically included. Students are also introduced to the rudiments of legal research, something that will prove invaluable throughout their academic and legal career. It may be possible for students to fit in legal electives, but these are usually reserved for the second and third years of study when students choose an area of focus.
The second and third years of juris doctor programs allow students to explore their particular areas of interest. ABA-accredited programs offer a wide variety of electives concerning everything from wills and estates to the intricacies of advanced criminal law. In some programs, students can choose to take a wide variety of courses that will prepare them for general practice.
Qualifying for the Bar Exam and Licensure
Individuals who graduate from an ABA-accredited juris doctor program are fully prepared to take their state’s bar exam. Passing this test is the final hurdle to receiving a license and being able to begin practice. Each state’s bar exam is different, so it’s important to review rules and procedures well before the test date to ensure success.
Getting into law school and then succeeding in the midst of challenging coursework is a major accomplishment. People who have earned a juris doctor are typically well prepared to sit for the bar exam to prove that they are ready to practice law.