What is a JD Degree?

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Juris doctorThe Juris Doctor (JD) is a professional degree program that prepares students to become lawyers, and most law students complete their JD degree programs in two or three years. The study of law is one of the oldest and most respected professions in the world in spite of the negative press given to the group in recent times. The results of their work ideally help to uncover and highlight evidence that is needed to acquit innocent persons or prosecute those who have done wrong. The role of lawyer is so integral to justice system that most people would not consider going to trial without being represented by one. Here is a description of typical law degree programs, the expected course topics for the degree and details about the associated licensing exam.

Law Programs

Most law school JD programs expose students to all areas of the law that include torts, contracts, criminal law, constitutional law and civil procedures. Today's law schools also offer students experiential learning opportunities besides the typical case study based classroom exercises. For example, students perform internships and clerkships to gain real world perspectives on what they have learned in the classroom as they also make important contacts for future employment. While most students have two summers to accomplish internships when they take traditional three year law school programs, the popular two year JD programs only allow students one term for internships and clerkships. Most law schools do not require a specific undergraduate major for admissions into the JD program, but a candidate must have done well in their chosen major. A good score on the Law School Admission Test is needed to gain entrance into most law schools. Students who plan to pursue their JD degrees should choose schools whose programs are accredited by the American Bar Association.

Common Course Topics

Besides the previous listed law topics, students must demonstrate the ability to effectively communicate case law and related arguments. As a result, law students take many written and verbal communication classes, and class discussions and special projects allow them to regularly practice their skills. A large part of a lawyer's duties involve applying logic to legal analysis, and course topics taken during law school help students to hone their critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Passing the Bar Exam

The bar examination is the standard used to determine whether a law student is ready to practice law, and U.S. bar exams are administered by licensing agencies within each state. The exam consists of essay questions that test applicants' knowledge of common law. Some states' exams include questions that reflect particular aspects of state law. While law school teaches the fundamental legal principles used by lawyers across the country, it is often not enough the pass the bar exam. Most students join bar exam study groups or hire tutors to prepare for the important test that is normally conducted over two days twice yearly. According to Above the Law, recent studies, states like California, Arkansas and Louisiana administer the toughest bar exams, and states such as South Dakota, Nebraska and Wisconsin have easier exams.

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While much of the legal research and administrative work is conducted by paralegals and legal assistants, lawyers who oversee their work are ultimately responsible for the results that impact their clients. The tough law school entrance requirements, rigorous course work and comprehensive bar exam help to ensure that JD degree graduates have all of the tools that they need to meet the challenges of their profession.