By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.

what is the study of law

When you are studying law, there are several paths in U.S. educational institutions. Not every law degree will make you a lawyer and that is an important fact to know.

U.S. law schools typically offer a degree called Juris Doctor or J.D. for short. Attending law school commonly happens after you graduate with your bachelor’s degree.

A B.A. in legal studies or any other one of the first academic degrees will not qualify you to sit for the bar exam. However, that’s not to say that an undergraduate law degree is not a good idea.

An undergraduate law degree is a great idea since it introduces you to law-related topics. It also gives you valuable exposure to various areas of the law, such as corporate law, constitutional law, immigration law, and civil law.

Studying these topics will allow you to acquire legal knowledge that will help you as a first-year law student. But to sit for the bar exam in almost all states, you will need to attend a law school that is accredited and will confer a J.D.


Other Types of Law Degrees

There are other kinds of law degrees. For example, in most British and Canadian educational institutions, there is a degree called an L.L.B., known as a “Bachelor of Laws” degree.

This law degree is offered to students in law schools in many countries as their first degree; it is equivalent to a B.A. in the U.S. Some bar associations will grant a holder of an L.L.B the ability to sit for the bar exam, since those other schools are deemed to give students the equivalent of a legal education in the U.S.

In New York, there is a list of pre-approved law schools from all over the world. Once a candidate shows that he or she graduated from any of these institutions, that candidate is eligible to sit for the bar exam in New York. It is an important option for students who study law in other countries, where law schools can be much more affordable than U.S. schools.

Since law degrees are such a big investment, the ability to obtain an affordable L.L.B. can be a significant consideration for law students. However, some jurisdictions will want you to have a U.S. degree or at least a certain number of academic hours of graduate-level law degree courses.

Taking graduate-level law classes is also an expense that students need to take into consideration. Some legal sub-fields, such as tax law, usually find their practitioners getting an L.L.M. (a master's degree in law) in tax law so that expense makes perfect sense. But if you plan to start a career that focuses on family law or criminal law, you should consider the financial expenses of obtaining an L.L.M.

It is also an important consideration for international students. If you are an international student who wants to practice law in the U.S., think about the financial costs involved in obtaining a license. While an L.L.B. for international students is generally much easier to afford, consider the cost of a master's degree in the U.S. as well.


Choosing a Law School

Now that you know you want to study law, how do you choose a school? There are many schools offering graduate-level law degrees from which to choose.

The first consideration is if the school you want to attend has American Bar Association® (ABA) accreditation. If the school is ABA-accredited, then you will have the ability to study law and sit for the bar exam in more jurisdictions.

Law programs in a non-accredited school will confer a J.D., but that will not make you eligible to take the bar examination in most states. There are some exceptions; California, for instance, is one example.

However, think hard about your future career plans. If you want to practice law in a state that requires you to sit for its bar exam and you have a degree from a school that is not ABA-approved, taking the bar examination might be a problem.

The options depend on your record, including the results of your Law School Admission Test (LSAT) coupled with the results from your first degree. That will create the framework that you will present to a school when you’re seeking admission to a J.D. program.

Law is a competitive field and what you can bring to the table will give you more options. Even an activity, such as being an active member of a law society, can improve your chances of being admitted to law school.


Choosing a School Based on Reputation

Another consideration when you’re choosing your law degree program is reputation. The legal field is very status-oriented, so think long and hard about the school where you want to apply.

Some schools have more name recognition than others. On the other hand, if you can shine in a lower-ranked school, that is a good reason to choose a lower-ranked institution that will allow you to be more noticeable.

For example, finishing first in your class and also serving as the student editor of the law school legal journal will be useful when you’re looking for work. So if you believe you could stand out more in a school that has less of a national reputation, going to that school could be worth your while.

Another consideration when choosing a law school is the field for which the law school is known. All law schools teach you about how to practice law and about the general areas of the legal system.

But some schools are known for legal sub-fields, and their graduates are heavily recruited by law firms who have a large practice in this sub-field. So if you are interested in areas of the law relating to maritime law, private international law, and intellectual property law, make sure to learn about the school’s strengths of a potential law program in those types of sub-fields.


2 Different Ways to Think about Your Legal Studies

There are two ways to think about your legal studies. One way is to focus on your legal skills, such as legal writing, legal research, and legal reasoning.

Another way is to consider specific sub-fields of law when you're studying law. In your first year of law school, you will typically take courses such as criminal law, civil procedure, or constitutional law. These courses will help you to learn the general skills set you need to develop but also a knowledge of basic terms from these sub-fields.

But after finishing a course in law school, you are not yet ready to be a practicing lawyer. You’ll need internal exposure to the legal system before you are ready to go.

Your evolution and growth will be gradual. As all practicing lawyers know, the learning never ends.



Part of the law school experience is an internship. During the summer and other parts of the year, students are encouraged to get an internship as a law clerk. Working as a law clerk is not only a way to gain more knowledge, but that knowledge will also be helpful when a law student seeks a job later.

Internships are a vital component of your education, offering students the unique opportunity to bridge the gap between theory and practice. These experiences provide valuable insights into real-world applications of the law and legal systems. They help students develop crucial practical skills and build professional networks, which will be useful when those students pursue job opportunities in the legal field.


What to Expect from Law Degrees

In general, law school is very vocation-oriented. You will study both law texts and case law.

In your last year of law school, there will be more courses that include specific topics. For instance, you might take courses that analyze law from an interdisciplinary approach or discuss topics like public international law and its connection to international relations. You might also study European Union law and its take on patent law, or even become familiar with Islamic law.

As law school graduates, young lawyers are not expected to know much. However, they are expected to have a knowledge of law’s basic terminology, so they can learn how practicing law is really done in law firms.


Intellectual Property Law

Intellectual property law is one example of what you’ll learn in law school. You will have the chance to discuss some basic topics and acquire knowledge that will prepare you to learn how to do real hands-on work.

Other intellectual property law topics might include:


Legal Training

What will your legal training look like after you are a law school graduate? Law graduates in many jurisdictions have a yearly quota of continued legal education courses they need to take to maintain a license.

Students can take courses in various legal fields relating to human life and family-related matters, such as mental health law, land law, labor law, and insurance law. Through continuing education, lawyers become familiar with the latest changes in the legal field after they obtain law degrees.

But the most important area where legal training takes place is in a law firm and the real life of a lawyer. As an attorney, I learn something new every day.

The legal system is big, and I am faced with questions that include elements from labor law, criminal law, immigration law, and even international law on a regular basis. When I practice law, I cannot say that I only specialize in a certain field and someone else needs to be contacted about another field.

There are times that a lawyer needs to say when he does not have an answer and a specialist needs to be consulted. But an average attorney practicing every day can see cases involving multiple legal questions from multiple fields.

For instance, imagine working in a legal practice specializing in corporate law with a client such as a company heavily invested in entertainment law. Your knowledge will most likely need to include areas relating to contract law, media law, sports law, and entertainment law. Also, you’ll need to navigate between these fields so that you can determine when to say that an expert is needed.

Ultimately, you will learn something new every day in the legal field. Legal theory is important, but law topics are never clearly separated. When you choose to practice law, you need to grow your legal knowledge all the time.


Legal Careers Do Not Always Follow a Rigid Path

Does the evolution of a legal career follow a rigid path? Not at all.

For instance, you might start pursuing a career in a big law firm, dealing with complex business affairs and juggling U.S. corporate law and English law. A few years later, you might find yourself in a completely different legal sector, working on family law, corporate law, or even private international law if you know a relevant foreign language.

Legal methods and legal skills are transferrable. As a result, they can enable practicing lawyers to follow different career trajectories.


Other Potential Career Areas for Law Graduates

Law firms are not the only option for law graduates. Lawyers might follow diverse career paths; for instance, some government agencies have lawyers who handle the legal implications of public policy.

Other lawyers might take their skills and law degrees to non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Still others might work in the business field, using their knowledge, skills, and abilities in different areas of a corporate environment.


Pursuing a Legal Career Involves Much More than Obtaining a Law Degree

Pursuing a legal career involves so much more than merely obtaining your law degree. Studying law is a lifelong experience, whether you want to work in civil law, common law, immigration law, corporate law, or any other legal field.

The legal field can take you to different organizations, such as law firms, NGOs, government agencies, or business. The important thing is to keep learning and always expect change.

ABA is a registered trademark of the American Bar Association.

About the Author
Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Dr. Ilan Fuchs is a scholar of international law and legal history. He holds a B.A. in Humanities and Social Science from The Open University of Israel and an M.A. in Jewish history from Bar-Ilan University. Ilan’s other degrees include an LL.B., an LL.M. and a Ph.D. In Law from Bar-Ilan University. He is the author of “Jewish Women’s Torah Study: Orthodox Education and Modernity,” and 18 articles in leading scholarly journals. At the University, Ilan teaches courses on international law while maintaining a law practice in several jurisdictions.

LSAT is a registered trademark of the Law School Admission Council, Inc.
ABA is a registered trademark of the American Bar Association.

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