What Is a Juris Doctor?

Obtaining your Juris Doctor is just the first step to becoming a certified lawyer.
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A juris doctor is a degree program specific to legal professionals, such as lawyers. Lawyers must obtain this degree in order to qualify to take an exam to gain a license and practice professionally, which is referred to as being "admitted to the bar." Obtaining a juris doctor degree and being admitted to the bar is a rigorous process overseen separately by each state, and requiring extensive study and examination.

Accreditation and Requirements

The American Bar Association accredits educational institutions that offer juris doctor degree programs, which are referred to as law schools. The ABA also develops and administers the code of ethics and the bar exam, which aspiring lawyers must pass after obtaining a juris doctor. Some states have additional requirements, but passing the ABA bar exam and following its ethical standards is required in all states.


To qualify and enter a juris doctor educational program, students must obtain a bachelor’s degree. Coursework should include studies in law and government, as well as general academic courses such as English, mathematics and public speaking. After a bachelor degree program is successfully completed, most accredited law schools require students to pas the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) to enter law school. The LSAT consists of several sections, which includes reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, logical reasoning and a writing sample. The exam takes about four hours to complete and is administered at a variety of testing locations throughout the country.

Time Frame

A juris doctor degree generally requires three years of full-time studies to complete. Combined with the prerequisite bachelor degree, this totals about seven years of full-time studies. Students can study general law to complete the juris doctor degree program or specialize in a specific discipline such as tax, immigration, estate, labor or corporate law. After completion, students must pass the bar exam to enter into a career as a lawyer.

Careers and Salary

Although obtaining a juris doctor is challenging, it’s also rewarding for those interested in a career in law. Lawyers earn substantially high average salaries. In 2011, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated an average salary of $130,490 per year. Some industries pay lawyers even higher average salaries. The BLS estimates about 10 percent job growth for lawyers between 2010 and 2020.

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