Legal Education In The US Essay
Legal Education In The USThere is no undergraduate law degree in the United States; thus, students cannotexpect to study law without first completing an undergraduate degree. Basicadmissions requirements for American law schools are a Bachelor’s degree in anyfield and the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). The American law degree iscalled the Juris Doctor (JD) and usually requires three years of study. The JDprogram involves courses in American common and statute law as well asinternational and business law. Overseas students who are considering anAmerican JD should note that this program focuses on preparation for US legalpractice.
Undergraduate Preparation for Law SchoolNo particular subject or major field of study is required at the undergraduatelevel. Law schools are concerned that applicants have taken courses whichdevelop communication and analytical skills, and that they have exposedthemselves to a variety of disciplines. The Prelaw Handbook (Association ofAmerican Law Schools) suggests students study some or most of the followingfields but stresses that “well-developed academic ability” is preferable tointense specialization in any one field: economics, social sciences (sociology,psychology, anthropology, political science), computers, accounting, and thesciences.
Most pre-law students earn their undergraduate degrees in one of thesocial sciences, rounding out their general preparation with courses from otherdisciplines. All these subjects may be studied at virtually any university. Lawschools in the US do not require that students complete their Bachelor’s degreein America, but because of fierce competition for places in law schools, fewstudents are accepted from overseas universities. At the beginning of the finalyear of undergraduate study, JD applicants should take the LSAT. No knowledge oflaw is needed to do well on this exam; it is a standardized test of academicaptitude in the areas of reading comprehension and analytical and logicalreasoning. Legal EducationStudents thinking of law study soon discover that the programs of most lawschools have a great deal in common. The choice of one school over another isnot easily made on the basis of catalog descriptions of the teaching methods,course offerings, and formal requirements. The similarity is natural, since mostAmerican law schools share the aim of educating lawyers for careers that maytake many paths and that will frequently not be limited to any particular stateor region. Although many lawyers eventually find themselves practicing withinsome special branch of the law, American legal education is still fundamentallyan education for generalists. It emphasizes the acquisition of broad and basicknowledge of law, understanding of the functioning of the legal system, anddevelopment of analytical abilities of a high order. This common emphasisreflects the conviction that such an education is the best kind of preparationfor the diverse roles that law school graduates occupy in American life and forthe changing nature of the problems any individual lawyer is likely to encounterover a long career. Within this tradition some schools combine an emphasis ontechnical legal knowledge and professional skills with a concern forilluminating the connections between law and the social forces with which itinteracts. To promote the first, schools provide students with opportunities forthe application of formal knowledge to specific professional tasks, such asintensive instruction in legal research and writing during the first year,clinical education, and courses or seminars focusing on concrete problems ofcounseling, drafting, and litigation. The second concern is reflected incurricular offerings that devote substantial attention to relevant aspects ofeconomics, legal history, philosophy, comparative law, psychiatry, statistics,and other disciplines. Almost all law schools offer students the opportunity towork on law reviews that are published by them but are student run and edited.
The law reviews, of varying quality and influence, publish scholarly work aswell as work done by law students. Most schools have a moot court program thatuses simulated cases for training in brief writing and advocacy. Prudentapplicants should consider the quality of a school’s faculty and student bodyand how a school’s view of legal education and its course offerings relate totheir own interests and future plans (as to course offerings, more is notnecessarily better). Also important are: the character of the school, formal andinformal opportunities for joint degrees if the law school is part of auniversity, library facilities, and placement record. All of these elements, inaddition to individual preferences, should be carefully weighed, but no singlefactor should ever be considered decisive.
Graduate Legal EducationTo find opportunities for in-depth specialization or comparative legal study,foreign-trained lawyers should look to US graduate law programs. Short-termtraining programs offered by US law schools can also provide appropriate optionsfor international lawyers and advanced law students. About one-third of the lawschools approved by the American Bar Association offer graduate degree programs.
Most law schools will consider admitting graduate applicants who have earned theequivalent of a JD in countries other than the United States, though someprograms with a specific focus on US systems do not. Many others requireknowledge of a system that is based in English common law (also known as civillaw). In the US, graduate law degrees are various permutations of the LLM, theMCL and the JSD. These degrees are post graduate to the JD which is after theundergraduate degree. The LLM is a one-year Master’s degree for American lawyersand for foreign lawyers and/or law graduates from common law countries. The MCLis a one-year Master’s degree for civil law lawyers and graduates. The JSD is adoctoral degree, and generally law schools will only consider candidates for aJSD if they already have an LLM degree from that same law school. The mostappropriate programs for foreign lawyers are the Master of Comparative Law (MCL)and the Master of Comparative Jurisprudence (MCJ). Recognizing that legalsystems in many other countries differ from common law as practiced in the US,these programs acquaint lawyers from other countries with US legal institutionsand relevant specialties of US law. Another possibility is the Master of Laws(LLM). During the period of study, foreign lawyers receive opportunities toobserve courts and governmental agencies in the United States. Law schoolsarrange for foreign lawyers entering graduate study to attend an orientation toAmerican law given by:The International Law InstituteIn general, higher graduate law students are qualified lawyers with severalyears experience. Some law schools will not consider applicants who do not havea law degree, even though they may be qualified to practice law in their owncountry. Other American universities do not require a law degree as long as theapplicant is qualified to practice in a common law country and, in some cases,has a few years of post-qualification experience. American law schools do notusually give financial aid to foreign students for post-graduate study. AMaster’s degree in law requires one academic year of course work and usually athesis. Courses are normally selected from the curriculum leading to the firstAmerican law degree, the JD, with additional seminars designed for advancedgraduate students only. Students may specialize in any area of law in which theuniversity provides courses, or they may choose not to specialize. Some areas ofspecialization are energy law, environmental law, banking and finance law,intellectual property law, and maritime law. Generally, but not always, the LLMis geared towards students with a Common Law background, while the MCJ or MCL isintended for students with a Civil Law background. Students are urged to consultlaw school catalogs for complete information on the programs offered at eachinstitution. Doctoral programs in law are generally intended to preparegraduates for academic careers. They most commonly award the Doctor ofJuridicial Science (SJD) or Doctor of the Science of Law (JSD). There is nodifference between the courses of study required for these two degree titles. Itis difficult for a foreign-educated lawyer to gain direct admission to a USdoctoral law program. Some schools admit only those students who have alreadycompleted that particular school’s master’s program in law. All are likely toexpect the equivalent of a master’s degree in law to have been completedsomewhere. Exceptionally strong academic and professional work are required. Theminimum residence requirement for doctoral programs in law is usually oneacademic year. The remainder of the program involves independent researchworking toward the dissertation, which may take one to three more years. Mostprograms also require an oral examination. There are also short-term programs,usually about 30 days in length, which provide visits to US legal institutions.
For information about these programs, contact the United States InformationAgency (USIA) or the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Degree AbbreviationsLLM = Master of LawsMCJ = Master of Comparative JurisprudenceMLS = Master of Legal StudiesMCL = Master of Comparative LawJSM = Master of the Science of LawJM = Master of JurisprudenceSJD/JSD/DJS = Doctor of the Science of LawDCL = Doctor of Comparative LawQualifying to Practice Law in the U.S.
Permission to practice law in the US is granted by the courts of each of thevarious states. A summary publication “Law Schools and Bar ExaminationsRequirements” can be obtained from the American Bar Association. For precisedetails on state bar admissions requirements, the candidate must contact the lawexaminers in a given state. Many states require bar exam candidates to have anundergraduate degree in any field and an American JD. Graduation with a JD froman American Bar Association approved law school and the bar exam are bothnecessary for admission to the bar (i.e. license to practice) in most states.
Students wanting information about the practice of law in the US should contactthe individual State Bar Associations; addresses may be obtained from: Even ifadmitted to the bar, it is not likely that a non-US trained lawyer will succeedon the bar examinations. Not only is a knowledge of state law necessary, but USlaw relies on precedent rather than strictly on legal code as law does in mostother countries, thus increasing the amount of material with which one must befamiliar.
Qualification for Foreign Lawyers and Law GraduatesSome US legal study at an ABA-approved law school is required for a candidatewith foreign credentials to sit the bar exam in most states; the exact amountwill be expressed by the state bar examiners in terms of credit hours. Admissionto a JD program would be the most straightforward route towards gaining thiscredit, and some universities may award partial credit, “advanced standing”,towards the JD if the student has an undergraduate degree in law. Basicallystate bar examiners require evidence of three qualities in exam candidates:sufficient US legal education gained from an ABA-approved law school, sufficientgeneral education, and sufficient knowledge of local bar requirements. While abar review course prior to the bar exam is recommended, it is not required. Barreview courses are usually only about four weeks long and are designed as”crammers” for candidates who have an American law degree. Every American lawschool’s career office will have information on state bar requirements, andanyone wanting to qualify to practice law in the US should obtain completeinformation from the state bar association to which he or she will apply.
Successful completion of the bar exam does not guarantee one employment, andthere is no central body in the US which handles placements for foreign lawyers.
Source:Information received at IIE’s international conference for studentadvisers in Eastern Europe, Prague 1993; “Studying US Law” printed by AMIDEASTin Washington, DC, and information available at the Moscow EIC.
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