What Law Degree Is Right for Me? An MLS, LLM and JD Comparison

To help you get a sense of common graduate pathways, we provide this overview of three types of law degrees. Please note that specific details, offerings and structures vary across different institutions and programs.

  Master of Legal Studies (MLS) Master of Laws (LLM) Juris Doctor (JD)
Focus Designed for non-lawyers who want an in-depth understanding of the law. The LLM is an advanced, academic degree in law that is usually pursued after a JD or the international equivalent. The JD is the primary professional degree for aspiring lawyers in the United States. It is required to take the bar in most U.S. jurisdictions.
Students Professionals from a wide range of fields (e.g., business, healthcare, human resources, cybersecurity) who engage with legal matters or counsel in their roles but do not intend to become practicing attorneys. Lawyers who either already have a JD and wish to gain expertise in a specific area—such as tax law, business law or human rights law—or international lawyers who are interested in practicing in the United States. Individuals aiming to practice law, pass the bar exam and represent clients in legal matters.
Curriculum Provides an overview of the U.S. legal system as well as introduction to practices such as legal research and negotiation. These programs often include specialized tracks to align legal knowledge with specific industries or domains. Focuses on specific areas of law, providing advanced training beyond a JD program. May be research-intensive or include comparative legal studies. Covers a broad range of legal topics, including contracts, torts and civil procedure, among others. It prepares students to pass the bar exam and practice law.