A law degree is an academic degree conferred for studies in law. Such degrees are generally preparation for legal careers. But while their curricula may be reviewed by legal authority, they do not confer a license themselves. A legal license is granted by examination, and exercised locally. The law degree can have local, international, and world-wide aspects, such as in England and Wales, where the Legal Practice Course is required to become a solicitor or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) to become a barrister.
The first academic degrees were law degrees, and the first law degrees were doctorates. The foundations of the first universities in Europe were the glossators of the 11th century, which were schools of law. The first European university, Bologna, was founded by four legal scholars in the 12th century. The first academic title of "doctor" applied to scholars of law. The degree and title were not applied to scholars of other disciplines until the 13th century.
The University of Bologna served as the model for other law schools of the medieval age. While it was common for students of law to visit and study at schools in other countries, that was not the case with England. This was because of the English rejection of Roman law. Although the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge did teach canon law up until the English Reformation, its importance was always superior to civil law in those institutions.
Types of degrees
The type of law degree conferred differs according to the jurisdiction.
Magister iuris (Mag. iur.) ("Master of Law") in Austria. It is a master's level degree and the first academic title within both systems. After three years of practice, students can take the "Anwaltsprüfung," an equivalent of the bar exam.
Bacharel em Direito (Bachelor of Laws) or Bacharel em Ciências Jurídicas e Sociais (Bachelor of Laws and Social Sciences), in Brazil. It is an undergraduate degree. To be a lawyer and be admitted at the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (Brazilian Bar Association), the Bachelor must be approved at the Brazilian Bar Exam. If the Selection and Registration Committee accept the new member, they will be considered an Advogado (Attorney at Law/Advocate).
Canada's legal system is composed of both common law and civil law elements. As of 2019, the professional degree required to become a common law lawyer is a Juris Doctor (J.D.). Formerly, this degree was called a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B., Legum Baccalaureatus in Latin), but the name was phased out. LL.B. holders were often given the chance to convert their degrees to the new designation. Despite having the word "Doctor" in the name, the J.D. remains a second-entry undergraduate programme, requiring some years of undergraduate study before applicants are eligible. For Quebec, where provincial law is a hybrid of French-heritage civil law for civil matters and common law for public, criminal, and federal law matters, the professional degree is often called the Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.) in English, and has other designations at various institutions in Quebec. Prior to getting called to the bar in one of Canada's provinces or territories, degree-holders must complete bar exams and articling terms (professional apprenticeships with practising lawyers) or the equivalent thereof.
For graduate academic study in law, the master's level designation is the Master of Laws (LL.M., Legum Magister in Latin). Doctoral-level legal research degrees vary in title by institution, but the designations include the Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D., Scientiae Juridicae Doctor in Latin), Doctor of Philosophy in Law (Ph.D., Philosophiae Doctor in Latin), or Doctor of Laws (LL.D., Legum Doctor in Latin) for common law-based doctorates and the Doctor of Civil Law (D.C.L.) for civil law-based doctorates.
The degree of Doctor of Laws (LL.D., Legum Doctor in Latin) is reserved at some universities for honorary use.
Magister iuris (Mag. iur.) ("Master of Law") in Croatia. It is a master's level degree and the first academic title within the system. After three years of practice, students can take the "Pravosudni ispit," an equivalent of the bar exam.
The Finnish title of varatuomari is the basic qualification for the legal profession. It is obtained by a one-year externship at a district court after completing a master's degree in law in a university.
Erstes Juristisches Staatsexamen is partially equivalent to the Bar exam, since the second part (Zweites Juristisches Staatsexamen), is the German equivalent to the Bar exam in the U.S. At some universities you either become a "Lizentiat des Rechts (Licentiatus iuris)", a Magister iuris, or a Diplom-Jurist. It is a master's-level degree.
Laurea di Dottore in Giurisprudenza for graduates before the Bologna Process reforms, or Laurea Magistrale in Giurisprudenza after the Bologna Process reforms ("Juris Doctor"), in Italy. It is a masters level degree, however all graduates of Italian universitiesare authorized to use the title of "dottore" (Italian for doctor).
In Russia, students attend university to earn a Specialist degree in law. A Russian law degree is graduate-level degree, which allows for PhD research after admission to the PhD department (aspirantura), though formally it is not at the master's level.
Spanish universities confer a Bachelor's Degree in Law. At one time, students earned law degrees as a part of the five-year Bologna Process. The modern Spanish law program consists of four years, with internship and to specialize and it has a graduate level (it is necessary to study a master's degree).
Lizentiat der Rechtswissenschaften (German) / Licence en droit (French) until 2004 and Master of Law (MLaw) since 2004 (as a result of the Bologna Process) in Switzerland. It is a masters level degree.
Specialist in law or Jurist in Ukraine (as in Russia). It is a graduate degree which allows doing a PhD research after admission to the PhD department (aspirantura), though formally it is not at the master's level.
United Kingdom and Ireland
Universities in the United Kingdom generally award a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) for undergraduate legal studies, although some award a Bachelor of Arts as their standard undergraduate law degree, as with the B.A. in jurisprudence at the University of Oxford and the B.A. Tripos in Law at the University of Cambridge. The Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.) degree awarded by the University of Oxford is in fact a postgraduate degree, similar to an LL.M. elsewhere.
In the Republic of Ireland, undergraduate law degrees are offered in the same fashion as in the United Kingdom. While the constituent universities of the National University of Ireland award a Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.) degree as their primary undergraduate law degree, it is in fact a common law degree that is directly equivalent to an LL.B. degree elsewhere. The Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree is the degree generally awarded by other universities and colleges in Ireland.
Many universities also offer a Master of Laws. Also referred to as an LL.M. from its Latin name, Legum Magister. It is an advanced academic degree pursued by those holding a professional law degree or a degree in a relevant field.
Legum Doctor (known as the LL.D., or in some jurisdictions Doctor of Laws) is in some jurisdictions the highest academic degree in law and is equivalent to a Ph.D., and in others is an honorary degree only.
Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) is a research doctorate in law awarded mostly in the United States and Canada.
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