LL.M.: Law Degrees in the United States
Prospective LL.M. students (both U.S. and international) are often understandably confused about the law degrees offered in the United States. The typical hierarchy of U.S. degrees is as follows:
1. B.A. or B.S. (Bachelor of Arts or Science) degree. U.S. universities do not offer the LL.B. (Bachelor of Laws) degree. Our non-law bachelor's degree requires four years of study, and is a prerequisite for law school.
2. J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree. This is the degree required for practicing law in the U.S. Generally speaking, none of the other degrees (including the S.J.D.) qualifies a graduate to take the bar exam, which is a prerequisite for practicing law in every state in the U.S. The J.D. degree normally takes 3 years to complete. A bachelor's degree is a prerequisite for the J.D. degree, although upon special petition to the dean of students, international students who have earned honors in our LL.M. program may transfer their LL.M. credits into our J.D. degree program.
3. LL.M. (Master of Laws) degree. The LL.M. degree can take between 1 year and 2-1/2 years. The J.D. (or LL.B., or equivalent, from non-U.S. countries) is a prerequisite for the LL.M. degree.
4. S.J.D. (Doctor of Juridical Studies) degree. Very few U.S. law schools offer this degree, and very few people obtain it, as it is very rarely required even for law professorships in the United States. However, if you must obtain a Ph.D.-level degree in order to become a professor or for other professional reasons, this is the degree for you. The time period to obtain an S.J.D. varies widely but it usually takes 3-4 years. The S.J.D. degree is generally reserved for truly exceptional students who have received exemplary grades throughout their academic career. At present, the only S.J.D. program in the U.S. that focuses on environmental law is at Pace University in New York. The J.D. or LL.B. is a minimum prerequisite for the S.J.D. degree but almost all law schools require an LL.M. as well.
The LL.D. (Doctor of Laws) degree is an honorary degree and is not obtained through study in a law school.