What is an LLM and how is it different than a JD?

Understanding the Similarities and Differences of the LLM vs JD Degrees
Tags: LLM, JD, understanding jargon
Apr 2, 2023

Table of Contents

  1. Summary
  2. What is a JD
  3. What is an LLM
  4. What makes an LLM vs JD similar?
  5. What makes a JD vs LLM different?
  6. Length
  7. Order
  8. Benefit
  9. Focus
  10. Size

Summary of JD vs LLM:

Definition of JD vs LLM

JD: JD Stands for Juris Doctorate. The typical American law degree. Required to practice law as an attorney in the US.

LLM: LLM stands for Latin Legum Magister. An advanced degree to develop academic expertise in a specific area of law, or for foreign-educated lawyers seeking an education in U.S. law

Purpose of getting a JD vs getting an LLM

JD: To sit for a bar exam and practice law somewhere in the US

LLM: To focus in an area of law. Can help with career improvement/opportunities, and mobility.

Length of JD Program vs LLM Program

JD: Three years of study (full-time)

LLM: One year of study (full-time)

JD vs LLM Curriculum

JD: Broadly covers the U.S. legal system

LLM: Often focused on a specific area of U.S. law. General programs do exist. Most top-tier law schools with LLM programs have general LLM programs.

Admission Requirements of JD vs LLM

JD: A bachelor’s degree, LSAT score, letters of recommendation, and personal statement

LLM: A JD degree or equivalent for foreign-educated lawyers, letters of recommendation, personal statement, and proof of english competency. (You’re already a lawyer so no LSAT!!!)


Now with a little more detail

What is a Juris Doctorate?

In the US, a Juris Doctorate (JD) is the term used to describe what degree you get when you attend ‘Law School.’ Law school is a three year program that ends with you graduating with a JD. If you get your JD in the US from an ABA accredited law school then you can take the Bar and practice law as an attorney in any state. 

What is an LLM?

LLM (often written as LL.M.) stands for Legum Magister, which is Latin for Master of Laws. An LLM is a one year degree program which you can pursue after receiving a JD (or international equivalent). An LLM serves two primary purposes. First, the LLM allows you to focus your studies on a single aspect of the law. Second, if you completed your JD (or equivalent) outside of the U.S. then completing your LLM at an ABA approved program allows you to take the Bar in the U.S. and practice law as an attorney.  

What makes an LLM vs JD similar?

Both an LLM and JD are law school based post undergraduate degrees that focus on the study of the law. LLMs and JDs usually have access to the same course catalog and professors at a law school. For most classes, LLMs will be in class next to students pursuing their JD. Both LLM and JD programs accept international (meaning non-US citizen or permanent resident) students.

What makes a JD vs LLM different?

There are five main ways in which a JD is different from an LLM.

  1. Program Length
  2. Hierarchy of programs
  3. Main reason for attending
  4. Program focus
  5. Program size

1. Program length of LLM vs JD:

Getting a JD takes 3 years and getting an LLM takes 1 year. When people in the US talk about going to law school they mean getting a JD.

Nearly all LLM programs also require you to write a thesis to complete your program while JD programs usually just have finals for grades. 

2. Program Order or Hierarchy of the Programs:

In order to pursue an LLM you already have to have gone to law school and received a JD, or a JD equivalent from a foreign country. 

This means that the LLM is actually a more advanced degree than a JD. For many this order is confusing because the JD is often considered a final degree. Additionally, in the American university system, a doctorate (as in JD) is often considered superior to a Masters. However, in this case the M in LLM stands for the latin word, Magister, and is not a Master’s degree like an MBA.


3. Main Reason for attending

About 75% of LLM Students in the US are international students who received their JD outside of the US. 

For international lawyers who received their JD outside the US, there are two main reasons to get an LLM. 

  1. If you get an LLM from an ABA approved program, then you can attempt to take the Bar in the U.S. and practice as an attorney. 
  2. Getting an LLM from a prestigious US Law School is a great way to set yourself apart as a lawyer around the world. Getting an LLM can show employers specialization, help build your US networks, and prove that you’re able to complete legal business in English. 

For lawyers who received their JD from a bar accredited law school in the US, the main reason to get an LLM is to specialize in a specific type of law. For example, tax law is a common type of LLM for those with US JDs who choose to pursue an LLM.

4. Program Focus

JD programs are broad introductions to the law and prepare law school students by providing them a broad range of courses. The first year at all law school programs are nearly identical with students taking primarily black letter law classes such as Civil Procedure, Contracts, Torts, Real Property, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, and Legal Research and Writing.

LLM programs are often more focused. In a focused LLM program you will take classes for a full year on a specific topic. LLM program types include: Advocacy, Air and Space Law, Animal Law, and many others. Some law schools have ‘general’ LLM programs. When enrolled in these ‘general’ programs students’ schedules are more flexible, but they are still expected to focus their studies on a more narrow topic than a JD program. 


5. Program Size

Each JD and LLM program is different, but in general LLM programs are smaller than JD programs. Some LLM programs, such as Harvard's, can be as large as 150 people. However, that is substantially smaller than the JD program which is about 1500 people total, or 500 per class.  

Windsor MIT '22, Harvard College Advisor

I am the half of LSD that didn't take the LSAT, or go to law school (Sorry about that). But I did go to MIT business school while surrounded by law students and lawyers, so I am somewhat qualified to talk about the intricacies of law school apps and finances.

Windsor (the dog) didn't write this but he WAS a Resident Tutor and career advisor at Harvard College with me, so deserves some credit.


General chat about the legal profession.
👍 Chat vibe: 0 👎
Help us make LSD better!
Tell us what's important to you
@trox99: my friend who is a 1L at washu law had to wait about a month for scholarship info :/
[] trox99
I’m ED and word on the street was that we would get them back today
fingers crossed!
What is the timeline to submit apps early/in cycle for Duke?
[] trox99
Hopefully guess we shall see, thank you
if anyone needs ideas for hobbies to work on while handling this cycle, i am in the process of writing a freaking dnd campaign
i'm in the same boat -- i'm trying to start running more and playing the new starfield game
@EmptyGoat: have you played Baldur's gate 3 at all?
@ClerkHopeful: I have not! I’m waiting for it to come out on Xbox! Have you?
does having a MA increase your chances in admissions?
[] WhisperingWillingBoar
Popcornlover81 - Almost not at all, but no one can really say for sure.
along the same vein, I understand admissions are hyperfocused on LSAT scores, but about gpa - would it make a diff that my GPA was higher in grad school (MA) vs. my undergrad GPA?
[] trox99
No not really
[] trox99
Undergrad GPA is what gets reported for their stats
Ok, that makes sense
Hey, so my CAS transcript evaluation shows my GPA as Superior (because Im a foreign applicant). Does anybody know what superior means in GPA terms? Like a 3.9 or 4?
[] trox99
I’m not sure if you can really put a number on an international GPA
[] trox99
I think it basically means you are effectively a median GPA candidate since you don’t hurt their stats.
[] trox99
In other words, there becomes a ton of emphasis on the LSAT, so you better be above median
But i have heard that the CAS evaluation for international transcripts is categorised into 3: Superior, above average and below average.
So, considering it is superior it would be some kind of a boost right. Cus atm I'm a super splitter.
@trox99 doesn’t know anything more then the rest of us. Contact the admissions office and ask lol
@EmptyGoat: I have been wanting to get into dnd for years at this point
[] trox99
Just from the research I’ve done and things I’ve read… of course I could be wrong🤷🏼‍♂️
[] trox99
Superior is obviously the best but I still think that the LSAT is far more important and is going to be what ultimately gets you either accepted or denied
[] ararara
Happy Saturday LSD! Hope everyone is healthy and killing it out there!
[] ararara
LSD+ is ad-free, with DMs, discounts, case briefs & more.