Students interested in law careers typically ask one question, “How long does it take to complete a law degree?” Individuals want to determine if they have enough time, energy, and money to finish law school. After all, the U.S. News & World Report found the average law school tuition for 2019-20 was $41,726 per year. The highest law degree price was $72,465. The overall cost is linked to how long is law school. Becoming a lawyer generally takes three years or 36 months in total. Time can vary depending on a person’s career goals and law degree type though. Becoming a legal scholar or consultant may require a longer amount of studies. Here’s some information on various law degrees and how long they take to complete.
Types of Law School Degrees
Determining how long is law school first requires picking a degree type. The time to graduation differs based on the curriculum length and requirements. The type of degree an individual wishes to pursue shortens or prolongs the time in law school. Let’s look at the six most common law degrees available.
- Juris Doctor – The Juris Doctor is the major original degree most people associate with law school. Juris Doctor degrees are intended for students who want to work as licensed lawyers. It fulfills the requirements for attorneys to take the Bar Exam. Most JD programs let students specialize in niches, such as civil litigation, elder law, tax law, and advocacy.
- Master of Legal Studies – The Master of Legal Studies (MLS) is a graduate degree for professionals who want a solid understanding of America’s laws. Unlike the Juris Doctor, MLS degrees don’t lead to licensed attorney jobs. Master of Legal Studies cohorts might not even have to take the LSAT Exam. Starting an MLS program could aid paralegals, court administrators, compliance directors, trial consultants, and e-discovery specialists.
- Master of Dispute Resolution – The Master of Dispute Resolution (MDR) is another non-JD graduate degree for students to sharpen their negotiation skills. Law schools offer MDR programs for licensed lawyers and non-lawyers to learn methods for solving conflicts. Graduates can work for various businesses as mediators, arbitrators, financial services conciliators, labor relations specialists, ombudspersons, and public policy facilitators.
- Master of Laws – The Master of Laws (LL. M) is a post-graduate degree for already licensed attorneys to get advanced training. LLM degrees focus heavily on legal theory for more understanding in law specializations. Concentrations, such as intellectual property, family law, immigration, and environmental law, are common. The Master of Laws is a wholly optional credential.
- Doctor of Juridical Science – The Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) is one of the highest and most intellectually challenging law school degrees. SJD admission is reserved for individuals who’ve earned a Juris Doctor and Master of Laws already. This upper-level, practice-based degree is focused on training legal academics and scholars for teaching or writing.
- Doctor of Philosophy in Law – The Doctor of Philosophy in Law is another high-level law school degree that’s rooted in research methodologies instead. Unlike SJD degrees, the Ph.D. uses a scientific standpoint to review jurisprudence and prepare a dissertation. Ph.D. in Law graduates excel as legal researchers, consultants, professors, patent lawyers, and more.
How Long to Complete Law Degrees
Determining how long does it take to complete a law degree is difficult. How long is law school varies based on the degree level one chooses. Keep in mind that all law degrees require entrants to already have a bachelor’s degree. Baccalaureates take four to five years to complete 120+ college credits. Beyond the bachelor’s degree, law students can expect the following timeframes.
- Juris Doctor – Getting a Juris Doctor requires three years full-time. Part-time JD programs typically last four to five years. Accelerated Juris Doctor options can be as little as two years. Some law schools have Dual 3+3 BA/JD tracks for two degrees in six years.
- Master of Legal Studies – Earning a Master of Legal Studies takes considerably less time. MLS cohorts can finish in just 12 to 16 months full-time. Part-time MLS majors finish in under three years. Joint degrees, such as the MSW/MLS or MSN/MLS, will take longer.
- Master of Dispute Resolution – Achieving a Master of Dispute Resolution takes 16 to 28 months depending on the level of commitment. Most MDR degrees consist of 30-48 credits beyond the bachelor’s level. Dual master’s, such as the MDR/MPP, take 3+ years.
- Master of Laws – Adding a Master of Laws degree requires another 12 months after three years of Juris Doctor training. Certain specialties, including constitutional law and criminal law, are more in-depth. Many LLM programs are finished 100 percent online within two years.
- Doctor of Juridical Science – Becoming a Doctor of Juridical Science graduate usually necessitates 40 to 48 credits beyond the JD. When taking full-time, the curriculum is finished in about 24 months. Part-time students tackle the SJD curriculum in 3.5 to four years.
- Doctor of Philosophy in Law – Reaching the Doctor of Philosophy level often requires 90 to 100 credits. A maximum of 30 credits can be transferred from a Master of Laws. Ph.D. candidates take anywhere from four to eight years. Finishing dissertation research is a difficult, time-consuming process.
Career Outlook for Law School Graduates
How long is law school ranges from 12 to 72 months depending on the degree type. Is attending law school worth it? The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there will be continued demand for lawyers to provide legal services. The 10-year outlook for lawyers shows a 6 percent growth from 2018 to 2028. The number of practicing lawyers will jump from 823,900 to 874,000. As of May 2020, lawyers earned a mean annual wage of $145,300, or $69.86 per hour. Lawyers reported median salaries ranging from $59,670 to $224,970. Legal students who have the highest degree levels generally earn the highest wages. Lawyers in Washington DC, California, and New York also make the most.
The majority of lawyers work in private and corporate legal offices. Some work for federal, local, and state governments. Most work full time and many work more than 40 hours a week.
-Bureau of Labor Statistics
Overall, a legal career involves a lot of education. Law school curriculum includes coursework, seminars, externships, and fellowships. Advanced law school degrees, such as the Doctor of Juridical Science, entail extensive research too. Attending law school will be a big, costly commitment. Despite how long it can take to complete a law degree, working as an attorney or similar legal professional can be exciting, challenging, and rewarding.