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LLM vs. JD: Key Differences

January 22, 2024
4 min read


Reviewed by:

David Merson

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 01/22/24

If you’ve decided you want to become a lawyer and keep seeing the terms JD and LLM, read on to learn the key differences between these degrees and which one is right for you.

So, you’ve decided law is the perfect field for you, and now you’re looking into what post-secondary education you need to become a lawyer. As you go through your degree options, you’ll come across both the JD and LLM degrees.

Depending on where you are in your law journey and what your ultimate law goals are, one degree may be better suited for you than the other, or it might be best for you to pursue both! But in order to decide this, it’s essential to compare the details and advantages of each degree.

This article will go over the main differences between these degrees, their admission requirements, and tips on how to choose which one is right for you.

LLM Vs. JD: Key Differences

To easily distinguish between the JD vs. LLM degrees, here’s a summary of their key differences, as referenced by US News.

Now, let's break down the differences between a JD and a lawyer even further.

1. Different Experience Levels

A Juris Doctor (JD) is meant for students without any prior legal education or experience. While they may have pre-law majors, JD students have no prior graduate law experience. A JD provides students with the necessary skills to begin practicing law.

On the other hand, a Master of Laws (LLM) is a master’s program that is typically taken after students complete their JD. Foreign-trained attorneys who need lessons in American jurisprudence often also complete LLMs. Accordingly, this degree is meant for people with prior legal education and experience.

2. Different Certifications

While a JD is the minimum requirement to practice law in America, an LLM is an optional additional degree lawyers can obtain to advance their knowledge. 

3. Different Curriculums

A JD covers the basics to prepare students for jobs as lawyers, but LLMs go beyond these basics and allow students to specialize in their desired field of law, such as Intellectual Property or Family Law.

An LLM is also generally more theoretical than a JD to help students formulate their own opinions on policies and laws.

4. Different Assessments

Another major difference between a JD vs. LLM degree is that LLM students often have to complete a thesis on their preferred research topic.

However, a thesis is not required for JD programs. Instead, JD students can expect similar assessments as those they completed in their undergrad: exams, tests, and papers with the addition of mock trials.

5. Different Durations

While JD programs typically take three years to complete full-time, most LLM programs only take one year, and some take up to two.

male student studying on laptop in kitchen

LLM Vs. JD: Admission Requirements

The admission requirements of these programs also differ in a few ways:


Most LLM programs have the same requirements as Stanford’s Law School:

  • Resume: Since many LLM applicants work for a few years before pursuing this degree, law schools use resumes to learn about all of their relevant work experience that can help them excel in their legal studies.
  • Personal Statement: Personal statements introduce the applicants to the admissions committee. For transfer students, they offer a unique opportunity to highlight their academic journey, reasons for transferring, and future goals in a concise and compelling manner.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Most law schools require anywhere from two to five letters of recommendation from at least one faculty member and at least one employer who is familiar with the student’s work in legal practice.
  • TOEFL Score: Many law schools require students to submit their TOEFL scores to prove they are fluent in written and oral English. Native English speakers normally request a TOEFL waiver to complete this requirement.
  • Scholarly Writing or Research Proposal: Depending on which program you choose, you may need to submit examples of scholarly writing or a research proposal detailing what you want to explore in your LLM.
  • Secondary Essays: While Stanford doesn’t require them, some programs ask prospective LLM students to write several short essays for their application.


To keep consistent, here are the following requirements for Stanford JD applicants. These requirements are consistent across most JD programs.

  • Resume: This resume should outline the extracurriculars and work experience you pursued during your undergrad. Since most students have little or no legal experience at this stage, more volunteer and extracurricular experiences are expected on this resume than the LLM one.
  • Personal Statement: This personal statement serves the same function as the LLM one to give more insight into each candidate.
  • Optional Diversity Essay: Almost every JD application gives students the chance to write a diversity essay to demonstrate how they are unique candidates.
  • Short Essays: There are usually several other short essays (sometimes optional) that are part of the secondary JD applications.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Most JD programs require at least two letters of recommendation and prefer them to be from faculty members.
  • Standardized Tests: The need for standardized test scores for JD applications is likely the biggest difference between the LLM vs. JD degrees’ requirements. These standardized test scores can either be the GRE or LSAT for Stanford. However, many schools only accept the LSAT, which includes a writing sample that gives an in-depth view of your skills.

While many of these requirements repeat themselves across both degrees, there are some major differences that set these degrees apart.

LLM or JD? Which One to Choose

Choosing between the LLM or JD depends on a few very basic factors. The first is where you are in your legal journey. If you have absolutely no legal experience and have just finished your undergrad in America or Canada, your only option is a JD to begin practicing law.

If you already completed your JD and wish to hone your skills in a specific law field, or you’re a foreign attorney who wishes to practice law in America, you might opt for an LLM over a JD. An LLM will give you a more specific understanding of law theory, and you won’t have to go over the basics of legal practice again.

LLMs are also much shorter programs, which allow foreign lawyers to begin practicing law as soon as possible.

Another reason to get an LLM is if you want to pursue legal education. In order to teach law, you usually need an LLM at minimum, and sometimes even a JSD (Doctor of Juristic Science).

You may also choose to complete both degrees if you want to begin practicing law, find your niche, and specialize in it. You’ll have to complete your JD first and then your LLM in this case.  

female student studying from book

FAQs: LLM vs. JD

For any remaining questions, here are the answers to frequently asked questions about these degrees.

1. Is JD Higher Than LLM?

No, an LLM is a master’s program, so it’s more advanced and usually requires a JD or equivalent law degree.

2. Is LLM Harder Than JD?

In some ways, an LLM may be harder because of its specialized curriculum and thesis requirements. However, the JD is often believed to be harder because it takes longer to complete and is the first time students are introduced to legal theories and the rigorous demands of law school.

3. Is it Worth it Getting an LLM?

It’s argued that LLMs are often unnecessary depending on the type of law you plan on practicing. Highly regulated areas of law such as environmental law, education, tax law, or government-related law are some of the fields that actually benefit from LLMs.  

4. Why Do People Get an LLM After Their JD?

People generally pursue an LLM after their JD to specialize in a particular area of law in order to have more career opportunities and earn higher salaries.

5. Is There Anything Higher Than an LLM?

Yes, the JSD is higher and is a doctorate program.

6. What is the Best Law School?

Stanford University is currently the best law school in the nation.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the key differences between the LLM vs. JD, you’re one step closer to picking your perfect program and actualizing your career goals! Regardless of which degree you choose, completing a JD, LLM, or both will equip you with the right skills and knowledge to become an excellent attorney!

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