This is a part of a series on Higher Education in Law. This article is contributed by Mr. Mahmudul Hasan, who is currently pursuing an LL.M in Energy and Environmental Law at the George Washington University Law School, at Washington D.C.
This is a very basic overview of the US legal education. You are encouraged to leave comments for your queries, which will be used in our dynamic platform (currently on development stage).
By Mahmudul Hasan
So you have decided your mind to pursue a US law degree, or still considering to give it a shot. Either way, congratulations on making a bold move, and a great intellectual life is waiting for you.
But think twice before you put yourself on the pipeline of the application procedure, admission, pre-arrival and post-arrival activities. A lot of challenges are ahead. Once you put yourself on the steam, the backspace button is no longer easy.
Traditionally, law students from South Asia end up mostly in the United Kingdom (and in many cases, Australia and Canada) for their higher studies. The US law schools don’t really get the flow of students from South Asia. Apart from the issue that UK, Australia, and Canada have the common law framework same as ours, a number of realities that exist for US law schools dictate their choice. Some of the unique predicaments of the US Law schools are –
(1) Expense: Law schools in the US are highly expensive and hardly offer any substantial financial assistance – a great concern for the people from developing countries. Even if you are provided with a full tuition scholarship, you may need to spend a huge amount of money, typically 15,000 to 25,000 USD, for your accommodation, meals, books, insurance and so forth. Keep in mind that in the US international students are not permitted to work outside the campus. Law schools don’t offer any teaching assistantship (TA) for LLM students. They offer a limited number of research assistantship (RA) occasionally but those position don’t pay the sufficient amount of money for your living. More will be discussed in Part II of this composition.
(2) Entrance: Law schools in the US are time-consuming because only you can get into a Juris Doctor (JD) program if you are already graduated with a bachelor’s degree from another discipline. People often come to law schools here with some post-tertiary-level experience. Nevertheless, passing the LSAT remains a big challenge. LSAT is often referred to like a few times harder than other standardized tests such as SAT, GRE, GMAT etc. Given the myriad of applicants for law schools, if you are not placed in the upper curve of the LSAT score, your chance to get into a tier 1 US law school substantially decreases.
- At law school, typically you need to shoulder overstress to pass the exams, papers and plenty of tight-scheduled assignments.
- After school, the career in law not easy here. A lot of Americans study law and you need to be the top of the tops to make a way out in the legal profession.
- Foreign-nationals are permitted to practice law in some particular states only and only three states, if not more, allow a foreign-trained lawyer to sit in state bar with an LLM degree. Moreover, passing the bar is not easy. A lot of American students with a three-year JD degree and work experience fail in their first attempt to pass the bar entrance exam. With a nine-month LLM, you may not be well-prepared to pass the bar exam. Keep in mind that not all LLM programs are approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
Still, if you are ready to take the challenge, then this composition is for you. I assume that after your study you plan to become an US Attorney, so this composition is prepared to guide to become anaS Attorney. In addition to that, you will also find some valuable information on the research programs/degrees in the US law schools.
If you are interested in becoming a U.S. lawyer/ Attorney, you should:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in any subject.
- Take and pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
- Attend law school and acquire a Juris Doctor (JD) or some U.S. states such as New York, California etc. allow foreign-trained lawyers to become an Attorney with an LL.M./M.C.L. degree from a American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school.
- Complete a clerkship at a local law firm to gain experience (optional).
- Take and pass your state Bar Examination.
- Apply to become a lawyer at an established law firm (or start a private practice).
- Be interviewed.
- Get hired as a lawyer.
Programs in the US
(1) Juris Doctor (J.D.): In the United States, Law is not offered as an undergraduate field of study. Students complete a four-year bachelor’s degree before applying to law schools. At the undergraduate level, future law students may major in any subject. “Prelaw” concentrations exist at some institutions, but the majority of students who enter law schools have earned a degree in some area of the humanities, social sciences, or behavioral sciences. U.S. law schools seek analytic thinking and writing skills rather than preexisting knowledge of law.
A Juris Doctor, or JD, which is a doctoral degree, typically takes three years. A student in an accredited J.D. program must complete at least eighty-four semester hours of study, the equivalent of three academic years. These years provide a generalist education, designed to teach legal thinking rather than details of the legal code. In their first year, all students take classes in property law, contracts, and torts (personal injury law). Other courses may vary somewhat from school to school–some combination of criminal law, constitutional law (the study of the U.S. Constitution), civil procedure, and introduction to legal systems are usually taught. For the second and third year, the curriculum may also be closely defined, or students may be permitted to choose electives, depending on the law school.
Courses are taught using the case method. Students read a series of assigned cases. In class, the professor calls on students, often at random, to answer questions on the cases and defend the reasoning behind their answers. Reading assignments are heavy. Grades are often based only on semester- or year-end examinations. Learn more about J.D. at: https://www.lsac.org/jd-applicants
J.D. Admission Requirements: Admission in J.D. is quite competitive. Law schools generally require a bachelor’s degree for admission, however, many do not require a specific major. While political science, pre-law, and liberal arts degrees are all common choices for aspiring law students, they are not required. See more about the admission procedure in the J.D. program here at: https://www.lsac.org/jd-applicants/steps-apply-jd-programs.
Prospective law students must take – and earn acceptable scores on – the Law School Admission Test, most commonly referred to as the LSAT. The LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, is the official exam of law schools throughout the United States and is required in order to apply for law schools. The LSAT is used to test applicants in a number of different areas such as reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and verbal reasoning skills. The test is administered by the Law School Admissions Council. The LSAT is one of the most important facets of a law school application; LSAT scores carry the most weight in the eyes of admissions boards. Getting high scores can be the difference between being accepted into a top school or a low tier school. Lear more about LSAT at: https://www.lsac.org/lsat/taking-lsat.
(2) Master of Laws (LL.M.)/ Master of Jurisprudence/ Master of Comparative Law: The amount of material covered in a J.D. program does not allow for concentration in a particular area of interest. To find opportunities for in-depth specialization or comparative legal study, foreign-trained lawyers generally look to U.S. graduate law programs such as Master of Laws (LL.M.)/ Master of Jurisprudence, Master of Comparative Law: Most law schools consider admitting LL.M. applicants who have earned the equivalent of a J.D. (bachelor’s degree in law such as LL.B.) in countries other than the United States, though some programs with a specific focus on U.S. systems (such as taxation law programs) may not, and many other programs require knowledge of a system that is based in English common law. See details about English common law system at: https://www.law.berkeley.edu/library/robbins/CommonLawCivilLawTraditions.html.
LL.M. programs in specific areas are designed for lawyers interested in becoming specialists in that area. The curriculum is likely to be more structured than in the general LL.M., M.C.L., M.C.J., and M.L.I. programs, with more courses required in the area of specialization. Programs generally last one academic year or three semesters and require a thesis. A few of the areas of LL.M. specialization available in U.S. law schools include energy law, environmental law, banking and finance law, intellectual property law, and maritime law. Find your specific area: https://www.lsac.org/choosing-law-school/find-law-school/llm-and-other-law-programs-us-canada.
Some schools offer individually designed or general LL.M. programs in which students tailor course work to meet their own needs. Those who want to become specialists in a particular area of law should look at these programs as well as those announcing that they offer the particular specialization desired. The method of study for LL.M. is typically similar to that of J.D. (please see the last paragraph of J.D. description) except some law school may require LL.M. students to write a thesis paper.
LL.M. Admission Requirements: To be considered for a U.S. LL.M. program, an applicant must have a J.D. (Juris Doctor) from an accredited U.S. law school or a LL.B. (or the equivalent) from a foreign law school. Generally, you should have a degree in law that allows you to practice law in your home country. A degree in a field other than law, even if followed by a master’s degree in law, generally does not suffice for admission. Applicants who have earned a law degree by correspondence course work or distance learning are not generally eligible for admission. See the eligibility requirement for a U.S. LL.M. at : https://www.lsac.org/llm-other-law-program-applicants/application-process-llm-other-law-programs/information-llm.
Law schools typically require Official Score Reports of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) ranging 85-105 or International English Language Testing System (IELTS) ranging 6.5 – 7.5 before admitting an applicant whose primary language is not English. Applicants whose primary language is English are generally waived upon submission of a waiver request. In some rare cases language test is waived if you earn a degree from a foreign university in which the sole language of instruction and examination is English. In that case, the law schools generally require your law degree official transcripts should contain information on the medium of instruction. The TOEFL or IELTS score requirement is different for different law schools. In some cases, law schools may require some practical experience for some concentration such as arbitration, taxation etc. Learn more about the language requirement at: https://www.lsac.org/llm-and-non-jd-applicants/llm-non-jd-application-process/application-requirements/english.
Please note that LSAT score is not required for Admission in graduate programs (LL.M./M.C.L./S.J.D.).
Alternative career tracks
Being an Attorney in the US with an LL.M./master’s degree in law for foreign-trained lawyers: As stated earlier, some U.S. states allow foreign-trained lawyers to become an Attorney with an LL.M./M.C.L. degree from a ABA accredited law school. Unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult for foreign-trained lawyers to sit the bar exam in the US. Completion of the LL.M. degree in itself does not guarantee eligibility to take the bar exam. Most states do require a J.D. degree for a US law school in order to sit for the bar exam. There are some states which do allow foreign law graduates to sit for the bar exam, including New York, California, New Hampshire, Alabama, and Virginia. In this case, however, foreign-educated lawyers must begin the process by getting their law degree reviewed and analyzed by the American Bar Association, and it can take up to a year to before the foreign law credentials are even assessed. Once reviewed, the application is either accepted or deferred. If accepted, foreign lawyers are allowed to sit for that state’s bar exam in much the same way a domestic applicant would. In New York, one of the jurisdictions most open to foreign lawyers, this would allow foreign lawyers to sit for the bar without being forced to complete any further law school study in the US. Learn more about the New York state bar admission requirements with an U.S. LL.M. at: https://www.nybarexam.org/foreign/foreignlegaleducation.htm.
Doctor of Science of Law (S.J.D.): Doctoral programs in law are offered by only a few law schools and are generally intended to prepare graduates for academic careers. They most commonly award the J.S.D. or S.J.D.— there is no difference between the courses of study required for these two degree titles. It is difficult for a foreign-educated lawyer to gain direct admission to a U.S. doctoral law program. Some schools admit only those students who have already completed that particular school’s master’s program in law such as Harvard, Yale etc. Applicants are generally expected to have an LL.M. degree from a ABA accredited law school. In some exceptional cases students with equivalent of a foreign master’s degree in law are accepted. Exceptionally strong academic and professional work are required.
The minimum residence requirement for doctoral programs in law is usually one academic year. The remainder of the program involves independent research toward the dissertation, which may take one to three more years. Most programs also require an oral examination. Because doctoral programs focus on independent research, the student generally determines the specialization that will be pursued. Again, faculty interests are important to examine in determining the appropriateness of a particular program. Learn more about SJD at: https://hls.harvard.edu/dept/graduate-program/sjd-program/. Lear from other top-15 law schools – Georgetown Law Center at: https://www.law.georgetown.edu/academics/graduate-programs/degrees/s-j-d-degree/ or George Washington University Law School at: https://www.law.gwu.edu/doctor-juridical-science.
At this stage, I believe that you have already understood where to submit your application for JD, LLM or SJD. It is the LSAC website. Please navigate the LSAC webpage before you read my instructions: https://www.lsac.org/llm-other-law-program-applicants/application-process-llm-other-law-programs/steps-apply-llm-other.
Some law schools simultaneously allow LL.M. or S.J.D. application directly from law school webpage but LSAC is the most common and, in some cases, ethe xclusive platform for US law school application.
STEP ONE: Find your LL.M. program at: https://www.lsac.org/choosing-law-school/find-law-school/llm-and-other-law-programs-us-canada. In addition to LSAC program search, please consult also the webpage of the law school you end up searching to understand the specific requirement of the program, if any. Law school webpage link is given with each program description in the LSAC webpage. N.B. For S.J.D. applicants, please consult the faculty directory webpage to find the specific expertise of your prospective research supervisor. Please note that generally you don’t need to send an email to your prospective supervisor for his consent. The school admission committee will attach you with a serving professor having a focus on your proposed field of research. You just need to know whether any professor of the school has a focus on your proposed area of interest.
STEP TWO: Create an LSAC account: https://llm.lsac.org/login/access.aspx. And fill in all required information on your previous studies. The LSAC instructions are self-explanatory.
STEP THREE: Send all the attested post-secondary such as LL.B., LL.M. (LL.M. if you are applying for SJD, only. Do not your SSC or HSC certificates and transcripts in anyway) official transcripts and certificates to LSAC LLM Credential Assembly Service. Instruction are given in the LSAC webpage. Documents should be attested by the issuing authority. For example, if you are graduated from the University of Dhaka, your official academic documents should be attested by the exam controller office of the University of Dhaka. Please consult your university’s exam controller office for specific instruction of their attestation procedure.
STEP FOUR: Pay the fee for LSAC document evaluation service. It is 215 USD and it is valid for five years.
STEP FIVE: Send your Letters of Recommendations (LORs) to LSAC. LORs are normally sent by professors directly from their email address to LSAC. This is an easy and dynamic procedure. Do not be panicked because LSAC designs the LORs in a way so that you can use same LOR for multiple applications.
STEP SIX: Select law schools you intend to apply. Research on different aspects of a law school, such as, school ranking, location, networking capacity of the law school, alumni networking, field of study, financial assistance, ABA approval, centers and clinics if you have any specific interest in these issues, faculty scholarship and so forth. If you have any question about the admission and financial assistance, email the admission officer. Most of the law schools have a graduate admission officer. As mentioned earlier, you don’t need to send an email to a professor for LLM or SJD admission and scholarship. Most of the decisions on the admission and scholarship in the US law schools are taken centrally by the admission committee. Prepare a list of law schools you believe those match your expectation and affordability comprising top, mediocre, comparatively law ranking so that you can increase your chance of getting accepted with a substantial assistance.
LAST STEP: Submit your applications, and wait for the responses.
LSAC website is self-descriptive and comprehensively designed to guide a prospective applicant. So, scroll the different sections of the LSAC webpage to be acquainted with different issues of admission. Don’t leave anything in the middle of the way because you don’t have sufficient information. Shoot your questions and concern to the admission officer of your school or LSAC Help Service. US law schools believe that you are passive because you are going to be an US Attorney.
To be noted, LLM admissions in the US law schools are comparatively easy but remember getting financial assistance is super tough. Part II will contain information about the financial assistance and scholarship in the US law schools. Till that you can find some information on the scholarship and financial assistance here at https://www.iefa.org/ or the following pages:
- Aga Khan Foundation International Scholarship
- Asian Heritage Law School Scholarship
- Taraknath Das Foundation
- Bridgat Scholarship Program
- Fulbright Foreign Student Sholarship
- IIE-Scholar Rescue Fund
- Heinrich Böll Foundation Scholarship
- Margaret McNamara Education Grant
- OPEC Fund for International Development
- Rotary Scholarships
Diversity & Inclusion
- American Association of Health and Disability Scholarship Program
- American Council of the Blind Scholarship
- Appelman Criminal Defense Law Scholarship
- Ashley Rose Honorary Diabetes Law Student Scholarship
- Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship for Autism
- “Business Plan” Scholarship for Students with Disabilities
- Fredrickson & Byron Foundation Minority Scholarship Program
- George H. Nofer Scholarship for Law and Public Policy
- Hispanic Scholarship Fund College Scholarship Program
- Japanese American Citizens League National Scholarship Program (open to active National JACL members. JACL membership is open to everyone of any ethnic background)
- Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund Law School Scholarship
- Nathaniel B. Preston Scholarship for Lyme Disease
- Point Foundation (The National LGBTQ Schoalrship Fund)
- Rehabmart Scholarship
- Roma Education Fund Scholarship Program
- American Association of University Women International Fellowship and Selected Professions Fellowship
- Canadian Federation of University Women Aboriginal Women’s Award
- Career Development Goals
- College Women’s Association of Japan
- Graduate Women International Fellowships & Grants
- Joint Japan/World Bank Graduate Scholarship Program
- Selected Professions Fellowships
- Yvonne A. M. Smith Charitable Trust Scholarship