How Long Is Law School: What to Expect as a Law Student

Written by Coursera • Updated on

You can expect to spend about three years of full-time study in law school, but there are many factors that could influence how long it takes you to earn your law degree.

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Graduating from law school is an impressive achievement for many aspiring lawyers. As a law student, you can expect to spend at least three years in law school. Full-time students typically complete their studies within three years, while part-time students take up to five years. 

However, there are several factors that can shorten or lengthen this timeline, such as the time it takes to study for and pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which is generally a requirement for entering law school.

Types of law programs and their completion times

To pursue your interest in law, you can take a few different paths. If you'd like to become a lawyer, you’ll need to earn a Juris Doctor (JD) degree, and if you want to specialize in a field, pursue a Master of Laws (LLM) degree. If you're interested in law but don't intend to be an attorney, you could earn a master's degree in law or a law certificate. Each of these paths take different lengths of time.

Read more: Your Guide to Law Degrees

Juris Doctor (JD) degree

Completion time: 7 years (4 years for bachelor's degree + 3 years for JD)

In the United States, lawyers must earn a JD degree—the most common law degree—before they can practice law. It’s also a graduate degree, which means that law students must first earn a bachelor's degree. Earning a bachelor's degree typically takes four years when you attend full-time. Add three years to earn your JD, and you can typically finish law school after seven years of schooling. The American Bar Association (ABA) approves JD programs and maintains a list of accredited programs throughout the US.

Master of Laws (LLM) degree

Completion time: 8 years (4 years for bachelor's + 3 years for JD + 1 year for LLM)

Some lawyers decide to extend their studies and earn a Master of Laws (LLM) degree. This degree gives you an opportunity to explore and expand your knowledge in a specialized area of law. Lawyers who have gone to law school in another country may also pursue an LLM to earn the necessary qualifications to practice law in the United States. Lawyers from the United States and abroad must have a JD degree from an ABA-approved law school before seeking an LLM. Earning an LLM usually takes an additional year after earning your JD when you attend full-time.

Master's degree in law

Completion time: 6 years (4 years for bachelor's + 2 years for master's)

Individuals who want to learn more about law but don't want to be an attorney may want to earn a master's degree, such as a Master of Science in Laws (MSL), a Master of Legal Students (MLS), or a Juris Master (JM). Earning a master's degree typically takes two years after earning your bachelor's. 

Legal certificate

Completion time: 4+ years (4 years for bachelor's + over 3 months for certificate)

Earning a legal certificate allows you to learn a specialized law topic in a short amount of time and without making the commitment of earning a graduate degree. JD or master's degree holders can also pursue legal certificates to strengthen their skill sets. Legal certificates can take from three months to three semesters to complete, and most require a bachelor's degree as a prerequisite. 

People who aspire to be court reporters, paralegals, or legal administrative assistants often pursue legal certificates. Likewise, those who want to specialize in a certain area, such as cybersecurity, entertainment law, health care compliance, or bank regulations can benefit from earning a certificate. 

Full-time vs. part-time law school

Although most law students attend school full-time, some choose a part-time program with evening or weekend classes. The decision to attend full-time or part-time is a personal one that depends on several factors. As you debate which type of program to attend, consider the benefits of each:

You can finish in as little as three years.You can study at your own pace while continuing to work full-time.
You may have access to more scholarships to help pay for law school.You can spread out the cost of law school over more years.
You’ll typically have more access to programs like clinics, externships, and on-campus interviews that can lead to jobs with law firms.You'll have the flexibility to choose a less intensive courseload to help manage other life obligations.

Accelerated law school programs

It's possible to reduce the time it takes to earn a JD to three years by choosing an accelerated law school program. Although you’ll typically complete the same amount of credits, you’ll take advantage of summer terms to graduate within two years instead of three. 

An accelerated JD may be beneficial for those who have the time to devote to studying full-time and wish to start practicing as soon as possible. Depending on the program you choose, you’ll still participate in essential law school experiences, such as trial teams and law reviews. 

Some schools offer a variation of the two-year JD by allowing you to apply your first year of law school credits to the last year of your bachelor's. This creates a six-year program—three years are dedicated to your bachelor's program and three years to law school. This is often called a 3+3 program.

Taking the bar exam

If you want to practice law, you have to take the bar exam offered through the Board of Bar Examiners in the state where you want to practice. This usually requires you to apply for and take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), apply for and take the state bar exam, and complete the character review process and additional requirements for the state.

Create a goal to study through your degree program. Formal study for the exam generally begins the final semester of your third year of law school, but if you're working full-time or have other obligations outside of law school, it can begin earlier. Aim to study 400 to 600 hours for the bar exam. This can take 10 to 16 40-hour weeks of studying. Alternatively, if you can only study 10 hours a week for the bar exam, you might need to devote 10 months to a year.

Each state has different requirements for licensing attorneys. Some states accept bar exams from other states, while others (like California and Florida) require all attorneys to take their state exam. Additionally, some states accept the Multistate Bar Exam or the Uniform Bar Exam. You also should be prepared to demonstrate you have good moral character and to consent to a background check. 

Get started

If you want to go to law school, you first need a bachelor's degree. Students who enter law school may have an undergraduate degree in criminal justice, economics, English, political science, psychology, or any degree program with coursework that requires critical thinking and reasoning skills. Get started today by exploring degree programs available from top universities on Coursera.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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