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Law - Overview


Law programs prepare people to become lawyers. Students learn the theories and processes of the legal system. They also learn about civil and criminal laws.

Cloned barnyard animals. Multiple babies conceived in a petri dish. Books published solely online. Every day our world is changing, and the law must keep up with it. As a practitioner of the law, you may be called on to answer questions that haven't been asked before in areas such as intellectual property and bioethics. New programs and concentrations are developing to study legal questions emerging daily.

Although each law school is different, you learn fundamental legal concepts no matter which school you attend. You learn about the history of the law, how to research and write legal documents, and how to think analytically. Once you master these skills (usually during your first year), you take advanced courses in specific areas of the law.

Different schools have different concentrations in areas of the law, such as environmental, business, family, tax, criminal, and property law. Larger schools most likely will offer several different concentrations. Some schools are better known because many students decide to specialize in an area of the law. However, you don't have to specialize and can graduate with a general law degree. Many students do this and decide later on a specialty after they've practiced law for a few years.

Law school has a reputation for being tough, and that's true. As a law student, you work very hard, taking between four and five classes each semester. But contrary to popular belief, most law students at the approximately 185 law schools in the U.S. are happy, well-fed, and get enough sleep (except around exam time).

You can graduate from law school after three years of full-time study. This comes after completion of your undergraduate degree. If you want to finish law school as fast as possible, it's possible to graduate after two and a half years of study if you take summer school courses. Some law schools offer a part-time option, and if you decide to go this route, you can graduate in about four years. However, most schools offer full-time programs only.

After you graduate from law school, you take a state exam. This is the dreaded bar exam. It takes two to three days and you must pass it to practice law. Although some private attorneys make a lot of money, you don't have to become a private practice lawyer who works at a large law firm. You can become a law professor, or work as a public defender or a policy analyst.

A few law school graduates continue for another year of study where they earn a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree. If you opt to pursue an LL.M., it is usually because you want to pursue the study of law as a professor rather than practice law. Typically, you study jurisprudence, which is the study of legal theory. Some schools may offer a M.C.J., or a Master of Comparative Jurisprudence.

At many schools, LL.M. programs are designed for attorneys trained outside the U.S. The goal is for these students to learn about the American legal system and, after graduation, to practice law in the U.S. In other programs, the expectation is that you learn a specialized field of law and become an academic in your home country.

Sometimes students pursue an LL.M. to become highly specialized in one area of the law.
Both LL.M. and M.C.J. specializations vary widely. They can include the study of corporate law, constitutional law, criminal law, and international legal studies. Trade regulation, feminist law, and taxation are some other common areas of study. LL.M. and M.C.J. programs typically take between one and two years to complete.

The J.S.D., or Doctor of Jurisprudence, and the S.J.D., or Doctor of Juridical Science, are the most advanced degrees you can receive in law. They are much like receiving a Ph.D. in another field. If you want to study jurisprudence further and enjoy researching and writing about a particular aspect of the law, you can apply to J.S.D. or S.J.D. programs after you finish your LL.M. You develop your own specialization and work closely with a faculty member who shares your interests. Like Ph.D. programs, you usually take oral or written exams. Then you write a dissertation, which is a book-length work describing your original research. A J.S.D. or S.J.D. takes about five years to complete.

Source: Illinois Career Information System (CIS) brought to you by Illinois Department of Employment Security.
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