What Is a Juris Doctor?
Practicing law takes a lot of work. And getting a juris doctor degree will get you ahead of the industry. We break down the possibilities for you in this article: Pursuing a career in law is a great decision, because apart from being a highly reputable profession, it is necessary in every industry and it spans different professional fields. Everyone needs skilled legal interpreters to grow and protect their institutions, whether they are independent business, private corporations, international, governmental or political organizations.
If you are going to be a great lawyer, you need the right skillset to practice law responsibly. This is where a juris doctor degree will make the difference for you.
A JD is the highest graduate certification you can get as a lawyer, and it will allow you to practice law in your state once you have obtained it. Many students of law or related fields decide to go for the degree because it opens up many possibilities for practicing law in different fields.
You can also choose to specialize in your prefered area even further, but a juris doctor degree is a basic requirement if you want to be able to practice and start having clients as a lawyer, because its main purpose is to give you a well rounded knowledge of the functioning of the legal system.
Now that we are clear about what exactly a JD degree is, let’s talk about what you have to do to get one:
How to Become a Juris Doctor
1. Get a Bachelor Degree!
The first thing that you need to be aware of is that this is a graduate degree. This means that for applying to law school you should have already completed your bachelor studies.
The idea behind this is that law students should be familiarized with rigorous academic work by the time they enter law school, and they need to be able to prove commitment and interest to a specific area. You are going to be asked about your GPA, so if you already started your bachelor, make sure you keep it up!
If you are starting to think about a bachelor degree but have your sights set on law school, or if you are studying a bachelor that is not exactly related to law, don’t worry! The good news for you both is that degrees in economy, politics or public policy are perfectly accepted for juris doctor application. It is very common for students from these disciplines to continue their careers in law.
And from our perspective, it is even better to be educated in different disciplines, because a lawyer needs certain abilities and general knowledge that sometimes go beyond the pure study of the law. Having a bachelor in economics or international relations and pursuing a juris doctor degree will prepare you for practicing corporate or international law in a well rounded way.
2. Take the LSAT
This is the test that will get you into law school (literally, the Law School Admission Test).
Most of the law schools certified by the American Bar Association (ABA) ask for it as an essential part of their application process. There are some schools that have started to accept the GRE, but the LSAT is still the most popular test for law school admissions. Make sure to check which one is requested at the school you apply to!
This test is designed specifically for law school applicants because it intends to measure basic skills needed by anyone who wants to become a lawyer: reading and organizing information, thinking critically, analyzing situations and being able to make reasonable inferences from them, being able to understand complex tests and evaluate other’s opinions.
You can find a lot of information online on the LSAT, like registration procedures, test taking centers, practice tests and exams and answers to any specific questions you may have.
Make sure you prepare well and good luck!
3. Take the Bar Exam
Let’s imagine for moment that you already took and passed the LSAT, got accepted into law school and are now at the end of your studies.
The only thing standing between you as a student and you as a practicing lawyer is the bar exam. This is a test administered by the American Bar Association and every law student that wants to practice has to take it. It generally lasts between two and three days and it has two parts: an essay section and a general answers section.
Know that the tests can be different depending on the state you’re in, and where you take and pass the exam is where you will be allowed to practice (it does not give you the permission to practice law everywhere in the United States). You should prepare extensively to take it, and a good strategy is to take bar review courses.
Make sure you know all about the bar exam before registering, and once again, good luck!
These are the three main requirements you need to fulfill if you want to earn your juris doctor degree. It is a lot of hard work but there are many rewards at the end of the road.
Now let’s talk about the job market and what you can do once you are a juris doctor:
What Fields Can You Work On As a Juris Doctor?
Practicing law is not a narrow professional field. It’s the complete opposite! These are only some of the industries and sectors where a legal certification is very useful:
1. Public Administration
State planning involves different stakeholders and the relationships are always complex.
As a juris doctor, you will be able to interpret the law to design social policies, and your role could be at the level of a managerial position or project supervisor. Knowing the law of the state is necessary to design public policies and a lawyer in this area will probably never be short of work.
2. Higher Education
A juris doctor degree qualifies you to teach advanced courses on the legal field of your preference, but you can also consider administrative positions on higher education institutions. These will also require a trained legal practitioner to design curriculum in accordance with state laws, create and develop partnerships and supervise staff responsibilities.
For those who prefer to keep a distance from the competition of the corporate or political world, this is a great alternative to consider.
Finally, legal practitioners in the field of politics will still be applying the law, even if it’s not in the traditional courtroom - case scenario.
In politics, the most important ability you need is to be able to create dispute resolution strategies while securing a certain outcome. Law school should have trained you pretty well for that, and in an industry where knowledge of the legal system is absolutely necessary for succeeding, you will find a challenge and a rewarding experience.
These are only some of the industries where you can set your sights on after getting your juris doctor degree. The possibilities are really endless, because law school gives you a strong skill set that you can use even in fields that are not related to law.
And finally, because we know that by now you are probably wondering, let’s look at some numbers:
How Much Can a Juris Doctor Earn?
This will of course depend on the type of industry you work at, your specific duties and your level of experience.
There are many websites that can calculate an average salary for your profession in the US at a yearly or a monthly rate. You can also talk to other people in your field, and if you are in law school already, some of your professors or assistants will probably be able to give you a good estimate.
In average, a juris doctor with medium level experience could earn annually around 87K. (this number can still go up or down!)
You should also keep in mind that rates change depending on the city you are living in. Some of the most popular for juris doctor practitioners are New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.
The biggest two industries for lawyer practices in the U.S. are legal and government services. An interesting find by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that some of the highest earning lawyers work alongside the medical industry, specifically physicians, by practicing in doctor’s offices.
This goes to show that law is a very broad career path and opportunities will always be there for you, if you work hard and keep a flexible mind.
Getting a Juris Doctor Degree Is a Great Decision
It will definitely advance your career in law and open up possibilities in almost any industry. Keep in mind that you need to complete your bachelor before applying for a JD degree, but don’t let this be a discouragement! There are very useful accreditations you can get while doing your bachelor that will get you ahead in the race for being accepted into a juris doctor program.