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Is a Law Degree Worth It? 3 Factors to Consider Before Choosing a Path

Industry Advice Law & Criminology

For individuals with an interest in law, following the path to becoming a practicing lawyer may seem like the obvious—or perhaps only—option for a career in the field. The consistent rise in the number of lawyers in America supports this notion, with a total count of 1,338,678 practicing lawyers in the United States as of 2018.

The reality is, however, “you don’t have to go to law school to work [with] the law,” says Dan Urman, the director of Northeastern School of Law’s Online and Hybrid Programs. “There are new ways to learn about the law, depending on people’s careers and place in life.”

With this in mind, if you’re not interested in becoming a lawyer, you may be wondering if pursuing a full law degree is really worth the time, money, and energy that it takes to complete. Luckily, students interested in expanding their legal knowledge aren’t limited to just one type of law degree. There are actually several different programs offered at the graduate level that have the ability to set students up to achieve their various career goals.

At Northeastern University, for example, there are three main types of law degrees:

Read on to uncover the top three factors to consider when determining which type of law degree may be the best fit for you.

How to Determine Which Law Degree is Right for You

Consider: Your Career Goals

Perhaps most important to consider when choosing which type of legal degree to pursue is what you hope to do with your education. For those looking to actively practice law and represent clients, a JD is the most direct path, followed by an LLM. Both programs leave graduates accredited for the practice of law in America.

Not every student pursuing their degree will have aspirations of becoming a practicing lawyer, however, and for those students, an immersive and time-consuming program like the JD just may not be worth it. Instead, an MLS program—which is explicitly designed to layer legal understanding into a student’s existing career—may be more aligned with their goals. 

Learn More: A Guide to Earning Your Master’s in Legal Studies

Urman explains that those looking to pursue an MLS most often aim to become more familiar with the language of the law and obtain an overall comprehensive understanding of how their current position intersects with regulation and compliance work. In order to best correlate each student’s education with his or her existing career, MLS programs like Northeastern’s also offer concentrations in Health Law, Business Law, and Human Resources Law, as well as “a wide array of electives” for professionals in other industries.

The career goals of students who enroll in an MLS program most often include advancing in their career or improving their organization as a whole, and Urman believes both can be accomplished within the pursuit of an MLS. “Some of our best students are ‘professional advancers,'” he says.

Consider: Your Prior Education and Experience

The JD, LLM, and MLS each require students to have reached a specific level of education prior to enrolling. For that reason, knowing what level of education each of these programs requires and where you fit in on that spectrum can be very beneficial in determining which is right for you.

For JD programs, students are expected to have both an undergraduate degree and a passing LSAT score. This, however, is where the requirements end; those who enroll in this degree can come from any career path or educational background, as the curriculum will cover all you need to know in order to practice law. In fact, there isn’t even a preferred undergraduate major for law school, although the most common majors among JD-bound students include economics, criminal justice, linguistics, math, and business administration.

Similarly, an MLS program requires an undergraduate degree for enrollment, although the LSAT is not a factor. Students who enroll in LLM programs, on the other hand, likely already “have a law degree from another country, and want to actually get credentialed in American law,” Urman says. This program type is ideal for lawyers abroad who are looking to relocate, as it allows them to learn the laws of their new country in the pursuit of becoming a practicing lawyer. Other students may be already located in America but hope to advance their foundational knowledge and practical skills as they relate to the constantly changing U.S. laws with an LLM degree.

Consider: Your Time & Resources

There are many career-focused reasons to pursue a graduate degree in today’s society, and in law, such a degree is often required in order to reach certain career goals. However, the length of a program, its price, and even personal considerations such as lifestyle, motivation, and availability must all be considered by students looking to continue their education.

Luckily, those interested in law have three degree programs to choose from, which each require a different amount of time, money, and resources to complete. Below, you will see how these programs at Northeastern specifically compare in terms of time, cost, and flexibility.

JD Programs

JD programs are perhaps the most rigid and expensive of those within this category at Northeastern. The program is offered only in the daytime and on campus, which usually results in students working towards their degree full-time. The JD also requires three years and over $150,000 to complete, a commitment that is well worth it for students looking for a direct path toward practicing law. Practicing lawyers also make an average of $120,910 per year, a factor that some students consider enough to balance out the higher price of the program.

LLM Programs

Northeastern offers LLM programs in three distinct tracks in order to fit into the lives of the various types of students.

The first track is the “General Program,” which is offered on-ground during the day and takes a year and a half to complete. This program allows for slightly more flexibility and gives students a chance to choose the courses they want to take. This track also includes a “cooperative education”—or co-op—experience in which students get the chance to work in the industry for credit, a practice Northeastern is known for.

The second LLM program track is the “Executive LLM Program” which is designed specifically for working professionals looking to expand their legal knowledge in America while maintaining a job. This track is offered partly online and partly on-ground and does not include co-op experience. Students on this track have 24 months to complete all degree requirements.

The final track for LLM students is the “Online LLM Program,” which is offered 100 percent online, as its name suggests. This program is a perfect fit for those looking for a less strictly structured approach to legal education.

MLS Programs

MLS programs are perhaps the most flexible of the law degrees in regard to time and class structure. Urman says for students who “might have a busy family and work life,” this degree program, which is also offered 100 percent online and can be completed in fewer than two years, is an ideal fit.

Whatever path you choose, any of these advanced degrees can set you on the path toward the career you desire. Explore the MLS, JD, and LLM programs to help determine which of these degrees is right for you.


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