Getting Your JD Degree: What to Expect from Law School

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn more about the law fields you can study in a JD program and what you can do with the degree.

[Featured image] A JD degree candidate wearing glasses and a suit jacket stands in front of a building with pillars, holding a notebook.

A JD degree—or Juris Doctor—is a professional degree for anyone interested in pursuing a law career. A JD degree is considered a terminal degree, meaning that it’s the highest achievable degree in a professional discipline. While some students go on to earn their Doctor of Juridical Science (JSD), they typically do so to teach at law schools. For those interested in becoming a practicing lawyer or attorney, a JD degree is more common. 

In this article, we’ll go over key facts about the JD degree, popular pre-law majors and fields of law, and how the JD compares to other advanced law degrees. 

JD degree: Costs and time

In terms of tuition, the average cost to attend law school is $45,844 per year, with living expenses and other materials adding to the overall price. The average total cost is $205,744, according to the Education Data Initiative [1]. 

Law school takes three years to complete when you’re able to attend full-time. However, certain undergraduate programs offer combined bachelor’s and JD degrees, thereby reducing the overall time from seven years to six. 

Popular law school majors

Law school admissions can be incredibly competitive. Of the top 50 schools in the US, the average acceptance rate ranges between 6.9 percent and 35.3 percent [2]. 

While law schools do not typically require students to major in any specific subject, there are certain majors that may be more beneficial if you plan on attending law school. Majors that emphasize critical thinking, writing, reading, and problem-solving can help you develop useful skills to succeed in law school. 

Popular majors for future law school students include: 

  • Communications

  • Economics

  • English

  • Philosophy

  • Political science

  • Psychology 

  • Sociology

Learn more about what you can expect from each year of law school.

JD degree options

Once you’re enrolled in a JD degree program, you may have the option to concentrate in a field of law or participate in various extracurricular activities intended to strengthen your resume. 

JD degree concentrations

Enrolling in a JD degree program will introduce you to the basic concepts of law, which you’ll learn by taking several required courses outlined in your program. But you may also have an opportunity to focus your studies on a specific field of law. Popular concentrations include: 

  • Advocacy law

  • Business law

  • Constitutional law

  • Criminal law

  • Entertainment (or media) law

  • Environmental law

  • General practice law

  • Intellectual property law

  • Maritime law

When you choose a concentration, you can expect to complete a portion of your required coursework in classes that deepen your knowledge of your selected area and prepare you to practice law in that field. Not every school offers every concentration, so it can help narrow down your options by researching the programs available in your area of interest. 

5 JD degree extracurriculars

Extracurricular programs can bolster your resume. Beyond completing your studies, participating in various activities can show prospective employers that you gained additional legal experience, skills, and knowledge while attending law school. 

1. Law review

Law reviews are scholarly journals that law students oversee. Law reviews regularly publish articles by legal professionals, such as lawyers and judges, that add to the current understanding and practice of law. Working as part of a law review is a prestigious credential, but you must first be invited—and invitations are typically reserved for honors students. 

2. Moot court

You can gain valuable appellate court experience by being a member of a moot court, where you’ll work with a team of fellow students to research and write briefs, and eventually argue a case before a panel of judges. While moot courts do not require invitations, they typically have a selection process that may include auditioning.  

3. Mock trial 

You can gain important valuable trial experience by participating in a mock trial, which will help you develop your litigation skills. Mock trials tend to involve two teams, which review the assigned case and argue one side. Unlike moot court, you’ll present your case before a jury, including interviewing witnesses. 

4. Clerking

Many students “clerk” for a lawyer or judge as part of their time in law school. Clerking is another term for working, and allows you to apply what you’ve learned in a professional setting. A position clerking can add to your resume and help you make powerful connections. 

4. Student bar association

If you enjoy having a say in the way things are run, you may enjoy participating in the Student Bar Association (SBA), which is the law school version of student government. By joining an SBA, you can gain leadership experience, and work with your peers outside of the classroom. 

JD degree vs. other advanced law degrees

While a JD degree is the most common type of law degree, you can earn other advanced law degrees. Each one is intended to support specific career outcomes and may require prerequisites, such as first earning your JD degree. 

  • Master of Law (LLM): LLM degrees advance your law knowledge and are available to earn after you’ve completed your JD degree. Pursuing an LLM means specializing in some area of law and furthering your subject knowledge. Programs typically take one year to complete.  

  • Master’s degree in legal studies (MSLS): If you’re a business professional whose work requires knowledge of regulation, compliance, or contracts, an MSLS can elevate your legal understanding. MSLS programs tend to take less than two years to finish on a part-time basis and are designed for working professionals. 

  • Doctor of Juridical Science (JSD/SJD): The highest legal academic degree available to earn, the JSD (sometimes called the SJD) prepares you to work in academia as a legal scholar. Programs require you to do research, teach, and publish original work.    

What can you do with a JD degree?

Many law school graduates go on to practice law, either as a lawyer or attorney, but there are other careers you may want to consider after earning your JD degree. Though not every job listed below requires a JD degree, earning one may elevate your understanding of the work involved and qualify you for higher salaries. 

  • Legal writers take the technical knowledge of law and develop written materials for use in the legal industry.  

  • Compliance officers ensure that companies and other entities adhere to legal standards and any internal policies.  

  • Mediators work with parties of two or more to enable clear and effective communication. Mediators are often called in to help parties resolve a dispute. 

  • Legal marketing associates offer businesses legal expertise when it comes to understanding what they can and cannot say in their marketing efforts. They work on marketing teams, reviewing copy, assets, and more to verify that a company is acting responsibly and legally.   

Next steps 

You’ll find a number of law courses available from leading universities on Coursera. Gain a strong foundation with An Introduction to American Law or elevate your knowledge with Intellectual Property Law, both from the University of Pennsylvania. Or if you’re interested in preparing for law school, consider enrolling in A Law Student’s Toolkit from Yale University, which covers the basics to help aspiring and advanced law students succeed in their studies.

You are Currently on slide 1

Related articles

Article sources

1. Education Data Initiative. “Average Cost of Law School, https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-law-school.” Accessed July 12, 2022. 

2. Public Legal. “2020 Raw Data Law School Rankings, https://www.ilrg.com/rankings/law/index/1/asc/Accept.” Accessed July 12, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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.

Learn without limits