Do I Need A Master’s Degree To Be A Lawyer?
A master’s degree is not necessary for you to become a lawyer. If you want to become a practicing lawyer, the professional degree called the juris doctor (JD) degree is the educational program that you should strive for. This is typically a three-year program that prepares you to work as an attorney where you can represent clients, make legal documents and advise individual and corporate clients on legal matters. To qualify for a juris doctor program requires finishing an undergraduate bachelor’s degree program or prelaw studies.
With experience and consistent exemplary performance at work, a lawyer can even advance and become a partner even without a master’s degree. Obtaining a juris doctor degree and passing the state bar are the main requirements to enter this profession. Strictly speaking, a master’s degree is optional if you are only concerned with practicing as an attorney.
However, if you want to do more than just practice law, a master’s degree would be needed. For example, if you intend to work in the academe and teach other aspiring lawyers, a master of laws (LL.M) degree is going to get your foot in the door. Admission to these postgraduate programs will require a juris doctor degree and in some cases, even work experience.
A master of laws degree might also be necessary for those lawyers who have obtained their juris doctor degrees from schools outside of the United States but want to be eligible to take the bar exams in certain states so they can be licensed to practice there. For example, states like California, Alabama and Texas allow foreign legal graduates to take the bar exams for as long as they have a master of laws degree from a school that has been approved by the American Bar Association. States like Florida, Georgia and North Carolina only allow lawyers who have taken their juris doctor degrees from accredited schools in the United States to sit for the bar exams. If you are in this situation, be sure to ask the state where you intend to practice about their requirements for the bar exams since taking a master of laws degree in an ABA-accredited institution is not always going to guarantee that you will qualify.
Some schools offer a master’s of studies in law or a master of legal studies program. It’s important to understand that these programs will not prepare you for a career as a lawyer. Only a juris doctor degree will get you there. These kinds of postgraduate programs in legal studies are best suited for those who work with lawyers or deal with many legal issues in their jobs that they would need an understanding of various legal concepts and practices to be able to perform their responsibilities more effectively. The courses in these programs are similar to that given in a juris doctor degree coursework but they won’t qualify you to sit for the bar.
Some master’s degree programs help current lawyers understand their specializations in a more in-depth manner. For example, US attorneys who work with international organizations that promote human rights in different countries around the globe will benefit from taking a master’s degree in international law or international human rights law.