LLM vs JD: What’s the Difference?

2 June, 2021

LLM vs JDThere’s a reason why you see so many television dramas and movies take place in a courtroom. The thrill of being an attorney is a dream for many people. U.S. News & World Report ranks being a lawyer number four in its 2021 list of Best Social Services Jobs. And according to Burning Glass, the median salary of an attorney is $98,556 (based on data between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021). Legal careers are expected to have an 8.2% growth rate over the next 10 years (as of April 2021).

Obtaining a Juris Doctor (JD) is the most common way to practice law in the United States. A JD allows you to sit for a bar exam and practice in the state in which you are licensed. For those who obtain a JD in the United States or a comparably recognized law degree in another country, a Master of Laws (LLM) provides a path to advancement and possible specialization, or practice in a more specialized manner.

This article will focus on how an LLM differs from a JD in terms of admission requirements, curriculum and program outcomes.

LLM vs. JD

Topic JD LLM
LSAT requirement An LSAT score is the standard entrance requirement, though not all JD programs require it LLM programs do no typically require an LSAT score
Focus Provides a broad understanding of the law Provides focused study of particular areas of law
Time commitment Can be completed in three years Can be completed in as little as one year, full time
Bar exam Allows graduates of ABA-accredited schools to sit for the bar exam in any state. May allow foreign-trained attorneys to sit for certain US state bar exams.

Admission Requirements

One of the main differences in terms of admission to a JD or LLM program is that an LLM requires you to already have your Juris Doctor or international equivalent. LLM programs vary, but most do not require that you submit LSAT scores. In addition, since an LLM degree is popular with international lawyers, English proficiency tests may be required if English is not your first language. Here’s a quick list of common LLM vs. JD requirements:

JD admission requirements

  • Undergraduate transcripts; graduate transcripts if applicable
  • Resume
  • An LSAT score is the standard entrance exam requirement, though not all JD programs require it
  • Personal statement
  • Recommendation letters
  • English proficiency, TOEFL or IELTS scores may be required if English is not your first language

LLM admission requirements

  • Undergraduate and graduate transcripts, if applicable
  • Resume
  • Personal statement
  • Recommendation letters
  • English proficiency, TOEFL or IELTS scores may be required if English is not your first language


JD Curriculum

To ensure all attorneys have the foundational knowledge to pass state bars and practice law, JD programs have a fairly unified set of courses for the first year. You are expected to study the following topics:

  • Civil Procedure
  • Property
  • Constitutional Law
  • Torts
  • Legal Writing
  • Criminal Law (or Criminal Justice)
  • Contracts

The second and third years of law school allow you to take coursework based on your interests and career goals. Courses will vary by program, but will most likely include options such as advanced courses in legal writing and research or civil procedure, and electives such as estates and trusts, international law, First Amendment and legislation.

LLM Curriculum

An LLM curriculum allows you to gain more specialized knowledge in a particular area of the law. For example, Northeastern University School of Law’s online LLM program features three industry-informed curricular paths: Bar Examination Preparation, Intellectual Property and Technology Law, and International Business. Bar Examination Preparation allows students who obtained a law degree outside of the U.S. to study and sit for particular bar exams.

With an LLM, you are also able to tailor your studies to fit your career goals. LLM coursework will vary by program. Northeastern Law’s online LLM offers an array of course options, including courses in topics such as torts, contracts and constitutional law. In addition, they offer niche courses in fields that include intellectual property, securities regulation and international tax.

Program Outcomes

While a JD program provides the foundational knowledge you need to practice law, an LLM allows you to specialize in your specific area of interest and distinguish yourself in the legal market. Since an LLM allows you to dig deeper into specialized subject matter, it can also open up more job opportunities. For example, an attorney who is interested in becoming an intellectual property (IP) lawyer could benefit from advanced courses that drill down into the field.

Some of the outcomes students in Northeastern Law’s online LLM can expect from their studies include the ability to:

  • Know and understand the law
  • Analyze, reason and solve problems
  • Apply the means and modes of effective communications
  • Recognize the roles of ethical, professional and business norms in practicing law
  • Demonstrate team-lawyering skills
  • Comprehend how lawyers situate their work
  • Understand law in its social context
  • Demonstrate aptitude for organizing information
  • Incorporate interdisciplinary and international thinking into legal analysis

Career Paths for LLM Graduates

Thanks to more targeted coursework, an LLM can provide you with the right background for a plethora of legal jobs. There are opportunities for more specialized roles in the field for those who possess an LLM. Below is a list of popular careers pursued by students with an LLM. Though these options are also available for those with a JD alone, an attorney with an LLM may have more specialized training for them.

Potential LLM Careers

  • Compliance counsel
  • Digital and privacy legal counsel
  • Intellectual Property (IP) lawyer
  • International trade attorney
  • In-house counsel

About the Master of Laws (LLM) from Northeastern University School of Law

Northeastern Law’s 100% online Master of Laws (LLM) was designed for both the global practice of law, and for international lawyers to gain a better understanding of the U.S. legal system.

The online LLM program can be completed in as little as 12 months, and features three in-demand focus areas: Bar Examination Preparation (for foreign-trained lawyers), Intellectual Property and Technology, and International Business.

Northeastern Law’s Master of Laws program was designed with input from a legal advisory group, featuring a curriculum of industry-informed courses that allow students to enhance their practical skills and foundational knowledge.

Some Northeastern University accolades include:

  • Top 50 national universities—U.S. News & World Report
  • Top 10 most innovative national universities—U.S. News & World Report

Northeastern University School of Law accolades include:

  • Ranked #1 for practical legal training by The National Jurist

Online Master of Laws Program

Get Started Now

Learn more about Northeastern Law’s online Master of Laws program by filling out the form fields to download a free brochure. You can also call us toll-free at +1 877.374.7697 or at +1 617.419.3247 to talk with one of our admissions counselors.

* All Fields are Required. Your Privacy is Protected.