Also sometimes known as the doctor of jurisprudence, the juris doctorate (JD) degree serves as lawyers’ primary professional preparation (and prerequisite) for taking the bar exam and obtaining licensure to practice law. A professional rather than a research doctorate, the JD affords both broad and specialized knowledge of the legal system and cultivates skills in legal writing and analysis, court procedure, and public speaking.
JD graduates typically pursue lucrative careers as lawyers, judges, consultants, or professors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), lawyers earned a median annual salary of nearly $123,000 in 2019 — a figure several times higher than the national median for all professions.
Top Juris Doctorate Programs Online
|THOMAS JEFFERSON SCHOOL OF LAW
|San Diego, CA
|UNIVERSITY OF DAYTON
What is a Juris Doctorate?
The JD serves as the terminal professional degree for legal studies. Like on-campus equivalents, an online JD degree typically takes about three years to finish and requires students to complete core and specialized coursework, internships, and a legal paper.
Most online JD students pursue this degree as a prerequisite for taking the bar exam and becoming lawyers, although other professionals become arbitrators, hearing officers, law professors, and judges. The JD can also serve students seeking careers in business, consulting, and politics. Read on to learn more about the personal and professional benefits of an online JD.
Why Get a Juris Doctorate?
Pursuing a JD provides various advantages, including access to the bar exam, a professional community, and diverse practice areas. The JD also typically yields career and salary advancement.
- Meets Education Requirement for Bar Exam: Most states require aspiring lawyers to complete their JD before taking the bar exam and applying for state licensure.
- Doctoral-Level Expertise: As a doctoral-level terminal degree, the JD meets or exceeds the educational expectation for legal professionals. This degree also provides useful expertise regarding a complex discipline and system.
- Diverse Practice Areas: Due to industry segmentation, law professionals can pursue several specialty areas, including retirement law, family law, tax law, and policy.
- Professional Community: Law school offers many opportunities to network with other legal professionals and students. These connections often prove useful when graduates search for jobs and clients.
- Earning Potential: Lawyers earn salaries far above average. The BLS reports a median annual salary of $123,000 for lawyers in 2019.
|Do you need a JD to be a lawyer?
|All practicing lawyers require a juris doctor. However, some states allow law readers or legal apprentices to take the bar exam without a JD.
|How long does it take to get a JD degree?
|JD programs typically take full-time students three years to complete. However, attending accelerated or part-time online JD programs often alters this timeline.
|Is a JD higher than a master’s?
|Yes, the JD is a professional doctorate that constitutes a terminal degree in law and qualifies candidates to take the bar exam and begin practicing law.
|What jobs can you do with a juris doctorate?
|The JD meets minimum education requirements for high-level legal professions including lawyer, judge, and mediator or arbitrator. Other professionals pursue academic teaching jobs at law schools.
Accreditation for a Juris Doctorate
The U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognizes various national and regional accrediting agencies which evaluate the academic rigor and quality of U.S. higher educational institutions. Eligible students at schools bearing institutional accreditation from these agencies can receive federal financial aid.
Higher-caliber, academic schools typically maintain regional accreditation, while professional and religious schools often hold national accreditation. Most schools and employers consider national accreditation less prestigious than regional accreditation. Keep in mind that regionally accredited schools typically only accept transfer credits and degrees from other regionally accredited schools.
Good law schools are typically accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). To determine accreditation status, consult the ED’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Schools.
Courses for a Juris Doctorate
JD programs provide comprehensive understanding of the legal discipline and system. Core curricula cover many legal studies topics, including constitutional law, civil procedure, international law, and torts. Most programs also include coursework on professional ethics, criminal law, business law, and legal writing.
JD students may take some general courses in politics or government or complete some specialized coursework in a chosen concentration. Specialized courses may cover topics such as immigrant advocacy, international and comparative law, or entertainment and media law. Most JD programs also incorporate an internship or practicum that meets state licensure requirements. To graduate, candidates usually must complete a publishable paper.
See below for common coursework in JD programs:
Typically part of first-year law school requirements, these courses focus on infringements of rights that lead to liability based upon fault. Courses often cover assault and battery, trespassing, false imprisonment, and privileges. This course also surveys negligence-based tort categories such as limitation of duty, standard of care, causation, and comparative negligence. Enrollees learn about survival, wrongful death, damages, and strict liability. This foundational course familiarizes law students with liability fundamentals needed to understand and prepare prosecution or defense for many lawsuits.
This core course examines the law, history, and development of the U.S. Constitution. Learners assess constitutional principles and interpretation and analysis methods. This course also explores the Constitution’s basic doctrine dictating rights protection and governmental structure. Enrollees discuss topics including religious freedom, due process, separation of powers, and equal protection.
International Trade Law
Focused on international trade legal policy and practice, this course covers policy issues including trade and national security, globalization and protection of environments and local cultures, and labor and human rights issues. This course also explores practical topics such as antidumping, intellectual property rights, services and agriculture trade, and foreign competition. Future lawyers and aspiring international trade professionals benefit from this course.
Exploring the steps and stages of civil litigation proceedings, this core course discusses subjects such as the right to a jury trial, disposition without a trial, appeals and post-trial motions, and pleadings. The course also typically covers jurisdiction, diversity cases, and preclusive effects of judgments. Civil procedure helps aspiring legal professionals understand how to counsel clients in civil litigation.
Law programs typically require legal internships that allow students to gain on-the-job skills and apply knowledge acquired during coursework. Many programs require students to complete case work through a law clinic before undertaking a full internship that may entail representing clients. Internships typically include a classroom component in which legal interns engage in reflective writing and discussion, receive faculty supervision and mentorship, and cultivate advanced litigation skills.
How Much Do Juris Doctorate Graduates Make?
Many JD graduates obtain prestigious, high-paying legal careers as lawyers, arbitrators, and judges. Legal salaries vary considerably based on position, credentials, employer, and industry. Typical median salaries for these professionals fall into the $64,000-$123,000 range, according to the BLS. On the lower end of the scale, arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators made a $63,390 median salary in 2019.
Meanwhile, judges, hearing officers, and lawyers often earn over $120,000 annually. Judges typically possess considerable professional experience as lawyers. Professionals interested in education often pursue careers as law professors. Postsecondary teachers‘ pay differs considerably based on position level, but BLS data indicates that these professionals earned a median annual salary of $79,540 in 2019.
Some JD graduates qualify for career and salary advancement by completing various specialized legal certification or master of laws programs.
Career and Salary Outlook for a Juris Doctorate
Many JD graduates obtain prestigious, high-paying legal careers as lawyers or judges. Due to high numbers of law school graduates, these positions are typically competitive. However, JD graduates can also work as court officers, mediators, or consultants. Other professionals pursue careers in fields such as taxation, business, public administration, or politics.
See below for descriptions of common law-related careers for online juris doctorate students.
- Lawyer: Tasked with providing legal counsel and representation to individuals or organizations facing legal issues, lawyers boast advanced legal knowledge and expertise. Also called attorneys, lawyers interpret laws and judicial decisions and advise clients of legal rights and obligations. Interacting frequently with colleagues, clients, and judges, these professionals need advanced communication skills. Preparing and presenting legal documents and cases also requires sophisticated skills in research, analysis, legal writing, and public speaking. Lawyers often specialize in fields such as tax law, family law, or intellectual property law.
- Arbitrator, Mediator, and Conciliator: These professionals serve as intermediary communicators who help disputants reach mutual agreement without using the courts system. This process typically begins by meeting with disputants to clarify concerns and needs and to explain the arbitration process. Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators schedule appointments, interview witnesses, analyze relevant laws and documents, and prepare settlement agreements. Mediators do not offer binding decisions, while arbitrators and conciliators may.
- Judge and Hearing Officer: Overseeing court legal processes, these professionals perform various duties, including conducting hearings and negotiations and making legal decisions. Typical tasks include researching legal issuings, reviewing court documents, overseeing court procedures, and evaluating evidence. Judges and hearing officers also compose legal opinions, juror instructions, and legal decisions. Local and state judges may hold titles such as county court judge, justice of the peace, or municipal court judge.
- Postsecondary Teacher: Often employed as professors at universities or technical colleges, postsecondary teachers design courses, prepare and teach lessons, and mentor students. These professionals also typically collaborate with colleagues and administrators to fulfill various administrative tasks and duties. Meanwhile, many professors produce and publish research and writing that contributes original knowledge to their fields of expertise. Professors at larger universities typically spend more time on research activities, while smaller schools’ faculty often carry larger teaching workloads.
|Median Annual Salary
|Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
|Arbitrator, Mediator, and Conciliator
|Judge and Hearing Officer
Scholarships for a Juris Doctorate
Prospective students can save on education expenses by qualifying for the many need-based, performance-based, and identity-based scholarships available for law school students. Eligible juris doctor program candidates may qualify for the sample scholarships below. Scholarships do not require repayment.
Turco Muñoz Domestic Violence Survivor Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Students in law, social work, or related fields who want to help domestic violence victims may apply. Candidates need related advocacy experience in roles such as paralegal, social worker, advocate, or investigator. Applicants must submit a resume and recommendation letter.
Arent Fox Diversity Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Second-year law students belonging to underrepresented groups and attending ABA-accredited U.S. law schools may apply. Eligible applicants must demonstrate strong academic performance, excellent communication skills, and leadership ability. Scholarship recipients must express eagerness to work at Arent Fox upon graduation.
Amount: $20,000 and a salaried position at Arent Fox
Arthur Lockwood Beneventi Law Scholarship
Who Can Apply: U.S. citizens enrolled in accredited U.S. law schools and maintaining 3.25 minimum GPAs may apply. Application requirements may include transcripts, recommendation letters, a list of extracurricular activities, and a 1,000-word personal statement outlining career objectives.
Pi Gamma Mu Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Pi Gammu Mu members within their first two years of graduate study in criminal justice-related fields may apply. Applicants submit resumes, personal statements, three recommendation letters, and official transcripts.
California Sea Grant State Fellows Program
Who Can Apply: California university students nearing completion of a graduate degree and specializing in marine law, conservation, public policy, or stewardship of coastal environments may apply. Applicants submit transcripts, two curriculum vitae (personal and academic), an education and career-goal statement, and two recommendation letters.
Top Online Juris Doctorate Programs
#1. THOMAS JEFFERSON SCHOOL OF LAW
Located in San Diego, Thomas Jefferson School of Law trains lawyers and legal scholars in technological innovation and global issues. While the school does not offer an online JD degree, its 60-unit online JSD program provides an attractive option for current legal professionals who want to transition into academia.
The JSD program takes 3-5 years to complete, with most candidates receiving 20 transfer credits from their master’s degrees. Upon entering the program, candidates take six units of coursework in research methodology, dissertation writing, and American jurisprudence. They complete their dissertations afterward. The program includes independent research and writing guided by a supervisory panel and dissertation advisor.
Applicants to the program must hold both a JD and an LLM, JSM, or MSL. They must also have earned a minimum 3.0 GPA in their master’s program. Admission requirements include a resume, personal statement, and transcripts. Thomas Jefferson is accredited by the State Bar of California
#2. UNIVERSITY OF DAYTON
The University of Dayton is home to one of the first online JD degree programs accredited by the American Bar Association. UD’s hybrid program employs a combination of live instruction, interactive video classes, and online course materials. Students attend ten on-campus learning sessions during the four-year program.
UD provides comprehensive training for future lawyers with a broad base of traditional core courses based on the Socratic method. First-year students take part in the Legal Profession Program, a course sequence that builds essential lawyering skills. Final-semester students tackle a simulated legal problem in a capstone course. A semester-long externship affords the opportunity to gain real-world experience. Additionally, students may undertake concentrations in a variety of subjects, including human rights law, criminal law, and business law.
Accepted applicants at UD achieved a median undergraduate GPA of 3.48 and a median LSAT score of 151. All applicants need to submit LSAT or GRE scores, transcripts, and a personal statement. Transfer students can receive credit for up to 30 semester hours.