What Is a JD Degree? (With Requirements to Complete One)

Updated December 3, 2022

Pursuing a career in law can involve several years of specialized education. One qualification that can prepare you for a degree as a lawyer is a Juris Doctor (JD), a two- to three-year undergraduate degree granted by a Canadian law school. Learning more about this degree and how you can pursue an education in law can help you determine whether this suits your long-term career goals. In this article, we define what a JD degree is, discuss its requirements, list steps on how to obtain one, and describe the career options available to graduates.

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What is a JD degree?

A Juris Doctor or JD degree is a qualification a student earns after completing law school and is one of the primary requirements to work as a lawyer. Students may also receive a Bachelor of Laws, or LLB degree, which is the same program and qualification as a JD, just with a different title. After graduation, aspiring lawyers pass a bar examination and complete a period of articling before they can practise law in their chosen province or territory.

A Juris Doctor program typically involves three years of study. It provides students with a strong foundation of all aspects of legal systems and procedures and prepares them for a career in law. In these programs, students develop critical analysis, research, and writing skills to help them in their future legal profession. They usually include coursework to simulate real-world practise and clinics. Some students may pursue externship opportunities to gain real legal experience or join advocacy programs that teach them how to think like lawyers.

Related: What Does a Lawyer Do? (With Benefits and Skills)

Juris Doctor degree requirements

Law schools typically accept candidates who have earned an undergraduate degree in any field. Choosing a program related to law can be an asset on your application, and earning a good score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) can also increase your eligibility. You can earn a JD degree after completing each stage of law school:

First-year law

During the first year in law school, students enroll in introductory courses, such as criminal, property, constitutional, and contracts law. The first-year program provides training in the fundamental areas of common law. It also involves coursework to develop legal research, writing, and reasoning skills.

Second-year law

In the second year, students take courses on civil procedure and torts. Some courses may encourage students to participate in mock trials where they can rehearse and argue fabricated cases against each other. In the summer after the second year, most students apply to work at a law firm or government department to conduct legal research. This experience helps them learn about the work environment and decide which particular type and field of law they want to practise in the future.

Third-year law

At this level, students take more specialized courses, such as administrative law, indigenous law, corporate law, critical perspectives, and legal ethics and professionalism. They also focus on taking the bar exam and securing employment after graduation. Some professors may offer seminars about their area of research, and students can take part in supervised advanced research papers. This option allows them to write an extensive paper under a professor's supervision and mentoring, which may also offer extra credit.

Some schools offer a capstone program that allows students to engage in an intensive faculty-supervised study with external experts. These capstone projects usually take the form of legal documents or scholarly articles for inclusion in law reviews. Some schools also offer an option for students who want to pursue the academic career track. They may enroll in an advanced workshop that includes educational skills training and take on original research and writing projects to encourage and support their goal of becoming future faculty members.

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How to get a Juris Doctor degree

Obtaining a Juris Doctor degree usually requires full-time study because of the demands of the program. Here are some steps you may consider helping you with your Juris Doctor degree journey:

1. Earn an undergraduate degree

Candidates typically apply for law school after completing an undergraduate degree. While you may choose any degree that interests you, it may help to complete a program that prepares you for a legal profession and helps you develop communication and analytical skills. Some preparatory programs for an undergraduate degree include legal studies, political science, English, and communication studies. Law schools don't require that you take your pre-law course at the same institution.

Related: Analytical Skills: Essential for Every Job

2. Take the Law School Admission Test

After finishing your undergraduate degree, you can take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The Law School Admission Council, an independent nonprofit organization based in the United States, administers this standardized test up to eight times throughout the year in the months of June, August to November, and January to April. Because almost all law schools require the LSAT, it's generally recommended to take it.

The LSAT includes three key test areas: reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and analytical reasoning. It contains multiple-choice questions and a brief essay portion. While you may take it more than once, it's important to check the requirements of your preferred law school because they may assess LSAT scores differently. Some universities may take the average of all your test results, while others may only consider the highest score.

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3. Apply to law school and earn your Juris Doctor degree

You can choose from 18 common law schools in the country. When choosing the right school to suit your interests, it may be helpful to consider the size of the school, its location, tuition fees, its philosophy, and the type of law in which it specializes. Law school application requirements typically include academic transcripts, a good LSAT score, recommendation letters, and personal statements.

After admission, you can start working on completing the program requirements. You may concentrate on a particular subset of law that you find interesting, such as environmental or family law. It may take you three or four years to earn your Juris Doctor degree depending on whether you study full- or part-time.

Related: How to Get into Law School (A Complete Guide)

4. Take and pass the bar exam

After obtaining a Juris Doctor degree, many students proceed to the bar admissions course and articling. Articling is the last step in your formal legal education and involves working under the supervision of a licensed and qualified lawyer for a period of nine to 12 months. This period provides excellent exposure and training in the different areas of law before becoming licensed.

After completing the bar admissions course and articling period, you can take the provincial bar examination. Once you pass that test, you can become a member of your province or territory's law society and legally practise law.

Related: How Many Years Does It Take to Become a Lawyer?

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Career opportunities for Juris Doctor graduates

Lawyers provide legal services through different market segments that include solo practice, small and medium-sized firms, national firms, multi-jurisdictional firms, and services for corporate, government, and nonprofit organizations. There are many fields of law you can choose from, but they're usually divided into three categories: public interest law, private practice, and government.

If you decide not to continue as a practising lawyer, you can choose from a wide range of professions. Law school equips you with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in many professions in various fields, including business and journalism. Here are some sectors you may explore with your Juris Doctor degree:

  • Education: Students with a Juris Doctor degree may teach in colleges and universities. They may also choose non-teaching positions in the law school admission department, alumni relations, and law libraries.

  • Banking and finance: Students with experience in taxation, banking law, or securities may find a career opportunity in this sector. Some of the roles to choose from include financial planner, trust officer, risk manager, and estate planning advisor.

  • Conflict resolution: Arbitration, mediation, and negotiation are growing fields in the industry. Labour unions, hospitals, universities, and some government agencies hire Juris Doctor graduates with strong communication and dispute-resolution skills.

  • Legal writing and publishing: Some graduates use their research and writing skills to work as freelance legal writers and editors. They may contribute articles for legal publications and write content for law firm websites and magazines.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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