With so many abbreviations and periods, it can be hard to know which law degree is which.
Here we walk you through the differences between an LL.B. and LL.M., a J.D. and a J.M., and an S.J.D. and J.S.D.
FIRST LAW DEGREE PROGRAMS
Juris Doctor (J.D.)
In the US, those with a bachelor’s degree are able to apply for a Juris Doctor degree program. Prospective students don’t need any previous law study under their belts to apply – this is where it all begins.
In the U.S. a J.D. typically takes three years, and is considered a professional doctorate.
However, increasingly, law schools are offering two-year, accelerated J.D. programs, some of which are aimed at international students who already have a background or previous degree in law.
In other countries a J.D. program can be 2-4 years and is regarded as, for example, a bachelor’s degree in Canada and a master’s degree in Australia.
J.D. graduates typically need to pass the bar exam and then they can begin practicing law.
Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.)
The Bachelor of Laws – or LL.B. – is an undergraduate law program undertaken in many commonwealth countries like the UK and New Zealand. In Australia and Canada students increasingly have the choice between beginning their study of law with a J.D. or an LL.B., depending on which school of law they apply to. The LL.B. can sometimes be completed at an accelerated pace as a graduate program if the student has a bachelor’s degree from a different faculty.
In jurisdictions where an LL.B. is the norm, it is after completing this program that graduates work towards the bar exam in order to become practicing lawyers.
What’s the difference between a J.D. and an LL.B.?
Both are the degree undertaken as a basis for practicing law in their respective jurisdictions; and in many cases can be directly followed by the bar exam.
The difference is that you can only apply to a J.D. program after graduating from another bachelor program (unless you’re in Canada – see above), whereas an LL.B. is open to undergraduates.
SECOND LAW DEGREE PROGRAMS
Master of Laws (LL.M.)
The LL.M., also called the Master of Laws, is the second professional law degree after the J.D. or the LL.B. Although students may have gained an insight into specific areas of law during their first degree, the LL.M. allows students to specialize.
Many law schools offer LL.M. concentrations such as Taxation, Commercial Law, Human Rights Law, Environmental Law and Public International Law, among others.
Students opting for an LL.M. are generally heading back to law school after gaining some practical experience, or they are graduates from another field seeking specialist knowledge of an area of law. An LL.M. allows lawyers—as well as some non-lawyers—to hone in on a particular area of law and gain expertise that they can then take back to their job, following what is typically a one-year full-time program. Some schools allow LL.M. students to study part-time while continuing with their regular jobs.
There are also some two-year long LL.M. programs, which may include some additional training in legal English.
Juris Master (J.M.)
The Juris Master (J.M.) is designed for those who don’t intend on becoming practicing attorneys but who would like to add a study of law to their portfolio. It is a Master program, just like the LL.M.
What's the difference between an LL.M. and a Juris Master (J.M.)?
A J.M. is solely for students approaching the study of law for the first time, whereas an LL.M. program may accept both law and non-law graduates.
A J.M. program begins with an introduction to law, but students are often given a range of electives where they may attend classes with students from other law programs. In this way they are not entirely separate study paths.
All of these programs are the most advanced law degrees of their kind.
Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.)
The S.J.D. is aimed at highly qualified law scholars. This research-intensive program qualifies students to work in academia, for example as law professors. Students apply to the program with a specific research focus. The program typically takes three years.
What’s the difference between an S.J.D. and a J.S.D?
A J.S.D. is often called a Doctor of the Science of Law or Doctor of Jurisprudence in English. But the original Latin names of the J.S.D. and J.S.D. show there is very little difference between the two: Scientiae Juridicae Doctor or Juridicae Scientiae Doctor. Some schools simply prefer one name to the other.
For example, Harvard Law School offers a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) as its most advanced law degree, while Stanford’s equivalent is the Doctor of the Science of Law (J.S.D.). Some schools will only accept a student on to their advanced law program if they have completed an LL.M. at the same school.
These programs are primarily offered in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Law
A Ph.D. in Law is another doctoral-level law program. At some U.S.-based law schools, such as Yale, the Ph.D. is only open to candidates who have a J.D. from a U.S. law school (internationally-trained students can instead opt for the school’s J.S.D.) A Ph.D., like an S.J.D. or a J.S.D., is primarily a research-based degree and is often a terminal degree for many law students.
It’s always important to check what is most valuable to the employers, academics and industry in the country in which you wish your work after completing your studies.
Image: A floor of graduation caps by Raja Sambasivan CC BY 2.0 (cropped)