Extending your legal education beyond a J.D. degree


[ Makenzie Way, 3L at the University of Pennsylvania ]

For most, three years of law school is more than enough. By the time 3L rolls around we’re ready to kick down the educational door and begin our careers – or at least start making money, instead of just spending it.

But some want – or need – more than a “simple” JD. In which case, extending your legal education requires thoughtful consideration, after all, we can’t stay in school forever … can we?

The Business Path

Commonly, those seeking jobs in business require, or benefit from a combined JD/MBA program. If you’re a 1L you can likely apply for the joint MBA program through your school and graduate on time. However, if you’re a 2L or 3L you’ll have to stick around for at least an extra year if not two.

Thankfully, many firms that push for the joint degree are open to letting law students defer job offers for a year while they complete the program; just make sure to talk to someone in recruiting early.

Explore International Qualification

Did you know that U.S. qualified attorneys are eligible to qualify as a Solicitor in England and Wales? If you completed your JD in the USA, passed a bar exam and have the dream to work abroad, you can pursue dual qualification by taking the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) and become a Solicitor in less than a year!

The English legal profession is relatively open to international lawyers seeking to qualify as a solicitor and it does not impose restrictions to admission on grounds of nationality or residence. This might be a great opportunity to internationalize your career, broaden your options, and increase your employability in the U.S. market and abroad.

Note, however, that the QLTS will be replaced by the SQE in 2021. It doesn’t mean that U.S. qualified attorneys will not be able to pursue this path. Instead, the SQE will be a harder and longer exam.

Legal Specialties

Contrary to popular belief, LL.M. programs are not just for foreigners. Select universities offer targeted LL.M. programs that allow students to specialize in specific areas of the law. The most common area in this regard is tax law.

LL.M. aside, if you’re planning to work in an area of law that draws heavily on certain advance fields (i.e. accounting; biology; chemistry; engineering; etc.), and do not already have a degree in the area, then you may want to pursue a secondary bachelor’s degree, a master’s program, or a certificate program to ensure you have the required knowledge, and to appease employers.

If you’re interested in a niche area of the law you may want to reach out to mid-level associates and partners at your firm, or contact your student employment office to see if a specialty LL.M. program or secondary degree/certificate will benefit you.

Teaching Route

Finally, if you always loved school and want to make a career out of it – i.e. want to teach – then you’ll likely need to pursue a Ph.D. and fellowship. Notably, Ph.D. programs are often completed on a part-time basis, so you may be able to continue working throughout your studies. If you plan to teach in the legal field, then some experience in practice is likely beneficial anyway.

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