What Is a J.D. Degree or a Juris Doctor?

Becoming a lawyer is both intellectually challenging and rewarding. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in law, one of the first questions you may be asking yourself is how. “How do I become a lawyer? How do I know what degree and skills are required to get there?”

The most common path to becoming a lawyer is earning a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) from an American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited law school program.1 Below, learn more about what a J.D. is and if it’s the right next step for you.

To become a lawyer, you’ll need to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. The J.D. degree is the “first degree of law,” according to the ABA. Most full-time, ABA-accredited law school programs are three years, but part-time and online hybrid J.D. programs can take four years. Some schools also offer accelerated two-year curriculums or longer five-year joint-degree programs, such as J.D./MBA and J.D./MPH programs.2

What Can I Do with a J.D. Degree?

A common path for those who graduate from law school is to become a lawyer — a practicing attorney. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the role of a lawyer is to “advise and represent individuals, businesses, and government agencies on legal issues and disputes.”3

According to the ABA, 48% of 34,420 students who graduated from law school in 2020 went on to work as attorneys in law firms.4

A law school education provides the legal acumen and analytical training required for jobs in a variety of legal fields, including specialties5 in:

  • Environmental law
  • Tax law
  • Intellectual Property Law
  • Family Law
  • Securities Law

Becoming a practicing lawyer isn’t the only professional path for someone with a J.D. degree. Graduates of J.D. programs also often find success in “nontraditional” jobs, such as:

  • Law professor
  • Legal editor
  • Paralegal
  • Mediator
  • Policy analyst
  • Politician

J.D. Degree Requirements

While admission requirements for J.D. programs6 vary by school and location, the standard checklist of requirements to become a lawyer7 includes:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited program, and have a competitive GPA.
  2. Study for and take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).8 Some law schools, like the University of Dayton, will allow Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores in place of the LSAT.
  3. Identify law schools you are interested in and apply.
  4. Secure 2–3 letters of recommendations from employers or faculty members who can speak to your work ethic and expertise.
  5. Write a personal statement.

For more information about how to become a lawyer, visit the How To Become a Lawyer page and view the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.9

Common Courses for J.D. programs

Much like admission requirements, courses and curriculum for J.D. programs may vary by school and location. However, an example J.D. curriculum such as the University of Dayton’s Online Hybrid J.D. will introduce you to subjects such as:

  • Civil procedure
  • Constitutional law
  • Evidence
  • Torts
  • Contracts
  • Criminal law
  • Trial practice

J.D. program curriculums cover core theories and the laws and principles that provide the overall legal foundation required for a career in the field. Classes also focus on in-depth legal practices and theories and include high-level writing courses.

A student’s years in a J.D. program may also include the opportunity to focus on a concentration or specialization in a specific area. Concentrations — in areas such as criminal law, tax law and environmental law — allow students to develop skills, knowledge and expertise in one particular area of law.

Learning Outcomes for J.D. Programs

When it comes to learning outcomes for J.D. programs, the ABA states that all graduates of ABA-approved J.D. programs demonstrate competency in the following:10

  1. Knowledge and understanding of substantive and procedural law
  2. Legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem-solving, and written and oral communication in the legal context
  3. Exercise of proper professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system
  4. Professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession

According to the ABA, other professional skills required for the “competent and ethical participation” of lawyers include interviewing, negotiation, trial practice, conflict resolution, organization and management of legal work and cultural competency.

Along with the mandated learning outcomes, J.D. students will participate in a series of internships, externships and practicums designed to help them hone their legal skills and master the practice of law in real-world situations.

Juris Doctor at Dayton

Take the first step today by requesting information about the Online Hybrid J.D. from the University of Dayton School of Law.

Request Information


1American Bar Association, ABA-Approved Law Schools, on the internet at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/aba_approved_law_schools/ (visited July 25, 2019). arrow_upwardReturn to footnote referenc

2The Association of American Law Schools, FAQ, https://www.aals.org/prospective-law-students/faqs/ (visited July 25, 2019). arrow_upwardReturn to footnote reference

3Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Lawyers, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm(visited July 25, 2019)arrow_upwardReturn to footnote reference

4American Bar Association, Employment outcomes as of April 2021 (class of 2020 graduates), on the internet at https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/statistics/class-of-2020-employment-summary-release.pdf (Accessed January 2022).arrow_upwardReturn to footnote reference

5Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Lawyers, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm#tab-2 (accessed January 2022).arrow_upwardReturn to footnote reference

6The Law School Admission Council, J.D. application requirements, on the internet at https://www.lsac.org/applying-law-school/jd-application-process/jd-application-requirements (visited July 25, 2019).arrow_upwardReturn to footnote reference

7University of Dayton (2019, February 5), How to become a lawyer [Blog post], on the internet at https://onlinelaw.udayton.edu/resources/how-to-become-a-lawyer (visited July 25, 2019).arrow_upwardReturn to footnote reference

8The Law School Admission Council, What is the LSAT?, on the internet at https://www.lsac.org/lsat (visited July 25, 2019). arrow_upwardReturn to footnote reference

9Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, How to become a lawyer, on the internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm#tab-4(visited July 25, 2019). arrow_upwardReturn to footnote reference

10American Bar Association, ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools 2021-2022, on the internet at  https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/standards/2021-2022/2021-2022-aba-standards-and-rules-of-procedure-chapter-3.pdf (accessed January 2022). arrow_upwardReturn to footnote reference

Citation for this content: University of Dayton’s online J.D. degree.