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JD, LLM, JSD in USA explained.

Updated: May 9, 2021

As newbies in law, we won't understand these abbreviations (unless you've heard it from your parents or did some research on your own). As it appears in this Law School 202 category, we can reasonably infer that it has something to deal with a degree; but what exactly is the difference? I will explain it here.

There might be a misconception: The higher the degree the better. But no, you should obtain a degree(s) that is suitable for your own circumstance.

You can think of these degrees (according to their explicit order from the title) as a pyramid/cone/triangle/or whatever:

JD - Juris Doctor

As you can see from the image, JD is like the fundamental base of studying law.

It will take you about 3 years to complete the course in the USA. It is so-called a professional degree. After taking JD, you will take a state bar examination in order to be qualified to practice law in that state.

🚨 If you want to practice law in another state, you will have to take that state's bar exam!

If your aim is to immediately go to a law firm to work, JD will be sufficient to qualify.

🚨🚨Be careful not to mix up JD with LLB (which is an undergrad law degree in the UK but it's not admitted in the US)!

LLM - Masters of Law

This is a degree that you take after JD and advance and specialize in a specific area of law (e.g. Tax, Environmental Law, Human Rights Law, etc.) LLM is all over the world - so many foreign lawyers, who want to work in the US, will take an LLM after LLB.

It will take you about 1 year (full-time) to complete the course.


+ looks good on your resume

+ specialize

+ gain qualification of global legal practice


- costly

- not really needed if you already have JD and you want to immediately get into a law firm

- many would argue that LLM worths less weight than JD in America

JSD/SJD - Doctor of Science of Law

This is now up to another level if you are interested in more of academia of the law. So it is equivalent to a Ph.D.

It will take you about 3-5 years to complete it as it involves coursework and independent research (supervised by a faculty member). It is suited for anyone who wants to become a law professor or work delve into research.

Soooooo, now you have a better idea of the different law degrees, you can surprise your parents and friends with what you've just had learned!!


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