Law studies in the USA – An overview
Good to know:
- American universities don’t deliver law degrees at the undergraduate level.
- Students have to obtain a Bachelor’s degree (4 years of higher education) before being allowed to apply to a law school.
- This Bachelor’s degree may be obtained in any field of study. However, most of the candidates applying to a law school have been following courses in the humanities, social sciences or behavioral sciences. Some universities or colleges also offer “Prelaw” programs.
- Law schools prefer candidates with excellent results and analytical and writing skills over candidates with a lot of knowledge.
The Juris Doctor (J.D.)
- This is the first American law degree.
- It allows one to pass the Bar Exam (equivalent of the Barreau), but must be obtained in a school accredited by the American Bar Association (see www.abanet.org).
- Candidates who wish to apply to a law school in order to prepare for a J.D. must take an admission test called the LSAT (Law School Admission Test).
- To obtain a Juris Doctor, a student needs to have passed at least 84 semester hours, which usually corresponds to 3 academic years.
- Those 3 years of study provide students with a general education which is more designed to teach the “legal way of thinking” than the details of each law.
The Master of Laws (LL.M.)
- LL.M. = Legum Magister in latin, which means Master of Laws.
- It is a specialization in such fields as comparative law, environmental law, fiscal law, maritime law, intellectual property, etc.
- A third of the law schools accredited by ABA propose LL.M.’s.
- Most accept the students who have obtained their law diploma abroad. Some , especially those with programs specialized in the American legal system (as for example the taxation law programs), will only admit students who have first obtained a J.D. in the United States.
- Some of schools offer LL.M. programs specifically designed for international students who have obtained the equivalent of a J.D. outside the United States. For a Belgian citizen it consists minimum in a “masters of law”.
- Those programs for to foreigners are essentially general degrees and allow international students to choose among the courses of the J.D. program. Other programs offer courses in fields such as comparative or international law or an introduction to of the American legal system.
- An LL.M. can usually can be obtained during one academic year and requires taking 24 credits.
Other Law Programs:
- M.C.L. : The Master of Comparative Law, as its name says, is a program focusing primarily on comparative law. Admission requirements are more or less the same than for an LL.M.
- The Doctor of Juridical Science (D.J.S.) or Doctor of the Science of Law (J.S.D.) can usually be obtained after one academic year, after the completion of a LL.M. As with any Ph.D., it is designed for people who wish to begin an academic career.
- A certain number of law schools also offer summer sessions which are more specifically designed for international students who wish to receive an introduction to American law or English courses specialized in American law. Seminars are also available for individuals with professional experience. The Education USA Center of the French-American Commission publishes a list of the summer sessions offered by American law schools (see “our publications” on www.fulbright-france.org).
A Master of Laws program can cost $15,000 and sometimes more than $40,000, only for the registration fees. You must add to that the costs for housing and food which vary a lot from one area to another (from $700 to $1,500 more per month for a single student). Since there is little financial aid offered by the universities themselves, ask for information directly from each admissions office. Belgian citizens applying for a Master of Laws can also apply for the Fulbright program. More information can be obtained on our website: www.fulbright.be
Important: The final application deadline is April 30th and your admission letter is needed to recieve the final forms.
LL.M. and the US Bar
Obtaining an LL.M. doesn’t necessarily allow candidates to be admitted practice in the state where they are studying. Students must request information each State Bar Examiners Office. You will find more information on the website of the American Bar Association: www.abanet.org.
The following list concerns Master of Laws programs especially designed for international students who have already obtained the equivalent of a Juris Doctor, which means for a Belgian citizen, at least the Master in law. Most of these programs admit students for the Fall session (end of august – beginning of September), some of them will also accept students for the Spring session (around January). Note that application deadlines are often between January and April for the academic year that will start in September. It is important to start the application procedure at least one year before the beginning of the courses. The application file of an international candidate includes the followings elements: TOEFL or IELTS scores, academic results of the candidate (transcripts or records) since their first year of university and certified copies of diplomas, letters of recommendation, a study plan, motivations the candidate (personal statement, statement of purpose or essay), financial certificate, administrative fee (between $25 and $100). Any document written in Dutch or French must be accompanied by a certified translation. More and more law schools require candidates who have obtained their diploma outside of the USA to use the evaluation service of the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). This means that academic results and TOEFL scores must be sent directly to the LSAC LL.M. Credential Assembly Service and not to the admission office of the law school. This operation costs $185 per university. For more information: http://www.lsac.org/llm.
Good to know:
- The L.S.A.T. (Law School Admission Test) is usually not required for candidates applying for a Master of Laws, but it is for those applying for a Juris Doctor.
- The TOEFL format (Test of English as a Foreign Language) has been modified since Fall 2005. The new TOEFL is named TOEFL iBT (Internet Based-Test) and the maximum score is 120 in place of 300 for the former TOEFL CBT. For more information: www.ets.org/toefl
Overview of universities offering law programs in the U.S.