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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

What's the Difference Between an LLM and JD Degree?


law students on staircase

A U.S. News & World Report article provides that the primary difference between the JD and the LLM is that the JD is typically designed to prepare the individual for practicing law, and the programming of an LLM is designed to build upon the experience of the latter. The LLM is also known to be more supportive in the development of a law career in consulting or policy-driven initiatives. Another U.S. News & World Report article sets forth the primary distinctions between the degrees as follows:

  1. The purpose of a JD is to prepare someone to practice law, while the mission of an LLM is to provide advanced training.
  2. An LLM program focuses on more theoretical concerns than a JD program.
  3. An LLM can help attorneys attract clients in fields where the credential is highly valued.
  4. An LLM is usually not a requirement for a particular position.
  5. An LLM program may offer an opportunity to take more rigorous courses.
  6. LLM programs frequently require a thesis, while JD programs usually do not.
  7. An LLM can help JD recipients overcome the stigma of a poor GPA or having attended a low-ranked law school.
  8. An LLM allows attorneys to exclusively study one legal discipline.

LawyerEDU defines the JD "as the initial, postsecondary law degree necessary to sit for the bar examination and practice as a lawyer in a US jurisdiction," and the LLM as "a secondary degree for lawyers who have achieved their JD and passed the bar exam, and who are interested in a focused, specialized course of study in a specific topic of law." a typical law school requires a JD applicant to have a bachelor's degree and LSAT or GRE score; while an LLM applicant must have a JD (or another first degree in law for foreign-educated lawyers).

Attending law school to earn a JD is the first step in becoming a lawyer and gaining admission to the state bar in order to practice. An LLM takes a lawyer deeper, to gain "advanced knowledge in a specific area of law for career advancement, upward mobility, and/or expanded practice opportunities." The primary difference in the curriculum is that a JD program covers general law concepts; the LLM is focused on a specific area of expertise.

According to Ziprecruiter, a JD holder will earn an average of $99,949 annually. In comparison, Ziprecruiter finds an individual who holds a master of laws will have an average salary of $142,663 annually.



The requirements for the Pepperdine Caruso School of Law have expanded to include additional opportunities to showcase applicants' success and ability. The requirements follow:

Juris Doctor

  • Online application via LSAC
  • Official test scores
    • LSAT score: 164 (median)
    • OR
    • GRE score: 80th percentile scores
  • GPA: 3.85 (Undergraduate median)
    • Graduate course work will be taken into consideration
    • Official transcripts required
  • Personal statement
  • Optional statement
  • Letters of recommendation
    • 2 letters required, with an option to submit 4 letters of recommendation

Master of Laws

  • Online application via LSAC
  • Personal statement
  • Current resumé or CV
  • Official transcript(s) required
  • Two narrative letters of recommendation

Originally published July 2019.