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Essay/Term paper: Legal education in the us

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Education

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Legal Education In The US

There is no undergraduate law degree in the United States; thus, students cannot
expect to study law without first completing an undergraduate degree. Basic
admissions requirements for American law schools are a Bachelor's degree in any
field and the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). The American law degree is
called the Juris Doctor (JD) and usually requires three years of study. The JD
program involves courses in American common and statute law as well as
international and business law. Overseas students who are considering an
American JD should note that this program focuses on preparation for US legal
practice. Undergraduate Preparation for Law School

No particular subject or major field of study is required at the undergraduate
level. Law schools are concerned that applicants have taken courses which
develop communication and analytical skills, and that they have exposed
themselves to a variety of disciplines. The Prelaw Handbook (Association of
American Law Schools) suggests students study some or most of the following
fields but stresses that "well-developed academic ability" is preferable to
intense specialization in any one field: economics, social sciences (sociology,
psychology, anthropology, political science), computers, accounting, and the
sciences. Most pre-law students earn their undergraduate degrees in one of the
social sciences, rounding out their general preparation with courses from other
disciplines. All these subjects may be studied at virtually any university. Law
schools in the US do not require that students complete their Bachelor's degree
in America, but because of fierce competition for places in law schools, few
students are accepted from overseas universities. At the beginning of the final
year of undergraduate study, JD applicants should take the LSAT. No knowledge of
law is needed to do well on this exam; it is a standardized test of academic
aptitude in the areas of reading comprehension and analytical and logical
reasoning. Legal Education

Students thinking of law study soon discover that the programs of most law
schools have a great deal in common. The choice of one school over another is
not easily made on the basis of catalog descriptions of the teaching methods,
course offerings, and formal requirements. The similarity is natural, since most
American law schools share the aim of educating lawyers for careers that may
take many paths and that will frequently not be limited to any particular state
or region. Although many lawyers eventually find themselves practicing within
some special branch of the law, American legal education is still fundamentally
an education for generalists. It emphasizes the acquisition of broad and basic
knowledge of law, understanding of the functioning of the legal system, and
development of analytical abilities of a high order. This common emphasis
reflects the conviction that such an education is the best kind of preparation
for the diverse roles that law school graduates occupy in American life and for
the changing nature of the problems any individual lawyer is likely to encounter
over a long career. Within this tradition some schools combine an emphasis on
technical legal knowledge and professional skills with a concern for
illuminating the connections between law and the social forces with which it
interacts. To promote the first, schools provide students with opportunities for
the application of formal knowledge to specific professional tasks, such as
intensive instruction in legal research and writing during the first year,
clinical education, and courses or seminars focusing on concrete problems of
counseling, drafting, and litigation. The second concern is reflected in
curricular offerings that devote substantial attention to relevant aspects of
economics, legal history, philosophy, comparative law, psychiatry, statistics,
and other disciplines. Almost all law schools offer students the opportunity to
work 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 as
well as work done by law students. Most schools have a moot court program that
uses simulated cases for training in brief writing and advocacy. Prudent
applicants should consider the quality of a school's faculty and student body
and how a school's view of legal education and its course offerings relate to
their own interests and future plans (as to course offerings, more is not
necessarily better). Also important are: the character of the school, formal and
informal opportunities for joint degrees if the law school is part of a
university, library facilities, and placement record. All of these elements, in
addition to individual preferences, should be carefully weighed, but no single
factor should ever be considered decisive.

Graduate Legal Education

To find opportunities for in-depth specialization or comparative legal study,
foreign-trained lawyers should look to US graduate law programs. Short-term
training programs offered by US law schools can also provide appropriate options
for international lawyers and advanced law students. About one-third of the law
schools approved by the American Bar Association offer graduate degree programs.
Most law schools will consider admitting graduate applicants who have earned the
equivalent of a JD in countries other than the United States, though some
programs with a specific focus on US systems do not. Many others require
knowledge of a system that is based in English common law (also known as civil
law). In the US, graduate law degrees are various permutations of the LLM, the
MCL and the JSD. These degrees are post graduate to the JD which is after the
undergraduate degree. The LLM is a one-year Master's degree for American lawyers
and for foreign lawyers and/or law graduates from common law countries. The MCL
is a one-year Master's degree for civil law lawyers and graduates. The JSD is a
doctoral degree, and generally law schools will only consider candidates for a
JSD if they already have an LLM degree from that same law school. The most
appropriate programs for foreign lawyers are the Master of Comparative Law (MCL)
and the Master of Comparative Jurisprudence (MCJ). Recognizing that legal
systems in many other countries differ from common law as practiced in the US,
these programs acquaint lawyers from other countries with US legal institutions
and relevant specialties of US law. Another possibility is the Master of Laws
(LLM). During the period of study, foreign lawyers receive opportunities to
observe courts and governmental agencies in the United States. Law schools
arrange for foreign lawyers entering graduate study to attend an orientation to
American law given by:

The International Law Institute

In general, higher graduate law students are qualified lawyers with several
years experience. Some law schools will not consider applicants who do not have
a law degree, even though they may be qualified to practice law in their own
country. Other American universities do not require a law degree as long as the
applicant 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 not
usually give financial aid to foreign students for post-graduate study. A
Master's degree in law requires one academic year of course work and usually a
thesis. Courses are normally selected from the curriculum leading to the first
American law degree, the JD, with additional seminars designed for advanced
graduate students only. Students may specialize in any area of law in which the
university provides courses, or they may choose not to specialize. Some areas of
specialization are energy law, environmental law, banking and finance law,
intellectual property law, and maritime law. Generally, but not always, the LLM
is geared towards students with a Common Law background, while the MCJ or MCL is
intended for students with a Civil Law background. Students are urged to consult
law school catalogs for complete information on the programs offered at each
institution. Doctoral programs in law are generally intended to prepare
graduates for academic careers. They most commonly award the Doctor of
Juridicial Science (SJD) or Doctor of the Science of Law (JSD). 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 US
doctoral law program. Some schools admit only those students who have already
completed that particular school's master's program in law. All are likely to
expect the equivalent of a master's degree in law to have been completed
somewhere. 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
working toward the dissertation, which may take one to three more years. Most
programs 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 Information
Agency (USIA) or the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Degree Abbreviations

LLM = Master of Laws
MCJ = Master of Comparative Jurisprudence
MLS = Master of Legal Studies
MCL = Master of Comparative Law
JSM = Master of the Science of Law
JM = Master of Jurisprudence
SJD/JSD/DJS = Doctor of the Science of Law
DCL = Doctor of Comparative Law

Qualifying to Practice Law in the U.S.

Permission to practice law in the US is granted by the courts of each of the
various states. A summary publication "Law Schools and Bar Examinations
Requirements" can be obtained from the American Bar Association. For precise
details on state bar admissions requirements, the candidate must contact the law
examiners in a given state. Many states require bar exam candidates to have an
undergraduate degree in any field and an American JD. Graduation with a JD from
an American Bar Association approved law school and the bar exam are both
necessary 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 contact
the individual State Bar Associations; addresses may be obtained from: Even if
admitted to the bar, it is not likely that a non-US trained lawyer will succeed
on the bar examinations. Not only is a knowledge of state law necessary, but US
law relies on precedent rather than strictly on legal code as law does in most
other countries, thus increasing the amount of material with which one must be

Qualification for Foreign Lawyers and Law Graduates

Some US legal study at an ABA-approved law school is required for a candidate
with foreign credentials to sit the bar exam in most states; the exact amount
will be expressed by the state bar examiners in terms of credit hours. Admission
to a JD program would be the most straightforward route towards gaining this
credit, and some universities may award partial credit, "advanced standing",
towards the JD if the student has an undergraduate degree in law. Basically
state bar examiners require evidence of three qualities in exam candidates:
sufficient US legal education gained from an ABA-approved law school, sufficient
general education, and sufficient knowledge of local bar requirements. While a
bar review course prior to the bar exam is recommended, it is not required. Bar
review courses are usually only about four weeks long and are designed as
"crammers" for candidates who have an American law degree. Every American law
school's career office will have information on state bar requirements, and
anyone wanting to qualify to practice law in the US should obtain complete
information from the state bar association to which he or she will apply.
Successful completion of the bar exam does not guarantee one employment, and
there is no central body in the US which handles placements for foreign lawyers.


Information received at IIE's international conference for student
advisers in Eastern Europe, Prague 1993; "Studying US Law" printed by AMIDEAST
in Washington, DC, and information available at the Moscow EIC.


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