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The Value of the JD Candidate

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When the word “doctor” is heard, there comes with it a sense of prestige – a person who has put forth quite a lot of time – and money – in order to hold the highest level of education within a particular field. 

With the ever-increasing costs of higher education, pursuing such degrees requires a good bit of commitment and a significant sense of passion for the field. 

For JD candidates, that passion is law. 

What is the value of a JD candidate?  The main value of a JD candidate is the commitment they have demonstrated to earning their Juris Doctorate (JD) and practicing law. The pursuit of this degree shows the candidate is on the primary and most direct academic pathway to becoming a contributor to the profession. In general, this person is dedicated to taking about three years or more of schooling, through which students can achieve the necessary qualifications to practice law (source).

Reference to the JD Candidate During Resume Creation

The purpose of a resume is simply to showcase one’s past professional experiences and skills and market them to a prospective employer.

The most intimidating aspect of resume writing is that, in general, you have less than 30 seconds to impress. Some would say 30 seconds is being generous.

With that in mind, a resume should be written specifically and most importantly, differently, depending on the audience.

A general resume that can be sent out to most any employer is indeed doomed to land not an interview, but rather in the recycling bin. 

With categories that highlight education and experience, there are also optional sections.

And, specifically for students pursuing a JD degree, the question often arises as to whether or not a candidate in pursual of the degree should state so on his or her resume.     

Should “JD candidate” be included on a resume?

For most, the decision about whether or not to add “JD candidate” to a resume is a personal one. 

On one hand, it lets employers know that you are a student, and are then aware of the category of jobs you may be looking for and are interested in.

In a sense, it identifies you as a person who is looking for employment within a law firm or related area. 

On the other hand, some will say that it may seem presumptuous to do so or is only done so by those who are more “pretentious” by nature. 

The reality is that whether you choose to include it or omit it, it is not going to be the deciding factor as to whether or not you will “win” the job for which you have submitted your resume. 

Other factors are far more important, including writing ability, your experience level, among others. 

Another point is that in a cover letter, a JD candidate will often refer to him or herself as an “X year” law student at “X” school.

Doing so inherently makes adding the reference on your resume redundant, so it need not be mentioned. 

Whatever the case, more attention should be paid to the formatting of the resume, ensuring that it is grammatically perfect and that it is written with the intention of focusing on the needs of a particular employer. 

The Value Proposition – JD Candidacy

Similar to other higher education degrees, a JD can open up doors to other professions as well. 

The critical thinking, scientific questioning, and decisive analysis skills that are part of a JD program are beneficial in numerous careers of varying categories. 

Law Students: Advice, Tips, and Successfully Completing the JD Program of Studies

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Achieving a degree in law takes about 7 years, four of which occur at the bachelor level and the remaining three within the school of law at an accredited university.

Most law programs also then require successful completion of the Law School Admissions Test, otherwise known as the LSAT. 

Once successful completion of all of the above has taken place, students are then required to successfully pass their state’s bar examination.

Needless to say, this requires a substantial amount of commitment, study, financial expenditure, maturity, and learning of standard professional practices that are, at times, lacking among today’s students (source).

Learning to Write Well

Students of law are generally known to be skilled writers. This includes even the most basic email etiquette and personal presentation through various means of communication. 

Many students, throughout their educational careers, have heard that learning how to write well will prove advantageous no matter the course of study. This is particularly true in the study of law. 

Writing is an essential mode of communication, especially as it pertains to the analysis of case studies.

Writing in this genre is also quite different than that of general writing, and needs to be studied intensively, right alongside other courses of study.

It is a unique form of art and one that improves only with time, preparation, and dedication. 

There remains an inherent expectation that students of law hold supreme reputations, as every interaction essentially serving as the next interview. Writing is, in a sense, the gateway to many such opportunities. 

Challenges of Procrastination and Writer’s Block for Law Students

Many students have flashbacks of receiving papers back from English teachers with scathing red pen remarks.

This can break a student’s confidence for years to come. It can also result in an emphasis on mistakes, rather than growth, ultimately leading to habitual procrastination, especially as it pertains to the writing of legal documents. 

Writing may be simple – putting words to a page – but it is certainly not easy. And, legal writing takes on many forms with intense pressure and tight deadlines.

Additionally, it is a different form of intensive, nuanced writing than many students are familiar with at the outset – with little instruction on how to overcome writer’s block and problems of procrastination (source).

A few points regarding both of these common issues are as follows:

  • Protect your time, plan it well, and use it wisely
  • Just start writing – even when, and perhaps especially if, anxiety is creeping in
  • Do not reject ideas prematurely – all ideas are worthy of exploration
  • Write detailed outlines that match the complexity of legal writing
  • Set small, realistic goals that are attainable

Recognizing that all of the answers posed in the research question will not be answered at the start of writing is paramount in achieving success.

Often times, once the research has ceased and the writing has begun, answers and deeper analysis and understanding become clearer and more accessible. 

Organization, Preparation, and Meeting Deadlines

Certain aspects of professionalism come with age and maturity. As a law student, there is a necessary fast track to achieving high degrees of professionalism.

This includes meticulous organization skills, detailed preparation, and continually meeting deadlines and commitments.

It’s fairly easy to overextend oneself as the push for involvement in extracurricular activities while mastering studies is strong.

Nonetheless, meeting deadlines is a crucial skill in practicing law, as missing a deadline can easily mean a lost case. This can also be reflective of poor organization, thus resulting in a flawed reputation.

The best advice seems to be that if you cannot meet a deadline due to an unanticipated difficulty, request an extension and practice, early on, asking for necessary changes as soon as possible. 

Finally, we’ve all heard that preparation is key. And, we’ve all been guilty of pulling an “all-nighter” and winging an important presentation the following morning. In practicing law, this can cost a lawyer a case. 

Preparing statements and planned points is essential in getting your argument across clearly and effectively.

Forgetting relevant materials, documents, and notes, or lacking the articulation necessary to come across as knowledgeable and convincing can also result in distrust from your audience, and again, a lost case or opportunity. 

History and Definition of a JD Degree

A JD, or Doctor of Jurisprudence, is a professional law degree, though it is one of several options for doctorate-level law degrees.

As with many professional courses of study, the university level JD program began as a way in which to improve the training of those practicing law and provide a consistent, advanced level of focused curriculum. 

History of the Law Degree

The idea of a professional doctorate level degree came about in the 19th century, and as can be assumed, began with medicine.

At that time, the legal system as we now know it was still developing right alongside institutions of higher learning. 

Practicing law, however, did not hold the esteem of a practicing medical doctor, and its status as a professional, advanced level program of study was uncertain.

Much of this was due to the fact that while students received practical training, there was lacking the mandatory classical and cultural studies required of other advanced academic programs (source). 

And furthermore, prior to the JD, law students could enter into law school having obtained only a high school diploma.

As one can imagine, over time there was concern regarding the quality of legal education – the training was practical at best, and lacked the inquiry-based scientific questioning, analysis, and intensive study that was needed. 

It was not until the 20th century that a completed bachelor’s degree became a prerequisite for all students entering law school.

Influence of Charles Columbus Langdell

Charles Langdell was the dean of Harvard Law School in the late 19th century for 25 years and dedicated his life’s work to transforming the practice of law from practical study to a university-educated, graduate-level profession – one that was predicated on the successful completion of a 4-year bachelor’s degree. 

He instituted two levels of study that are now paramount in legal education, the Socratic Method – the idea that questioning and reasoning through argumentation, debate, and dialogue leads to deeper levels of inquiry and understanding – and the investigation and analysis of specific case studies as models for learning and practice. 

With these concentrations of study, and the implementation of a program that culminated in a graduate-level degree, by the 1960s, the JD became the formal level of higher education required to practice law, with prerequisite completion of a bachelor’s degree that reflected a holistic foundational knowledge of history and culture. 

JD Curriculum and Practice

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Because there became a standard requirement for the achievement of a JD degree, with it came a necessary standard of common characteristics across JD candidacy programs of study.

An emphasis was placed, as previously stated, on the Socratic Method combined with the study and analysis of prior cases of law.

Additionally, the intention of the degree was to prepare students with an intensive course of study based on the scientific approach to learning.

Utilizing these methods of instruction, students spend a substantial amount of time analyzing paramount cases and debating in an adversarial manner with the goal to question the logic, ethics, and outcome of such cases. 

These debates, while meant to delve deeper into case studies are not meant to foster disagreement for disagreement’s sake.

Rather, they are meant to probe students to think critically about the law itself, and the morals and ethics therein. 

Research Doctoral Degrees Versus the JD

Many doctoral-level degrees are predicated on the assumption that recipients of the degree will continue further research in a particular area of study.

The JD, however, is not a research degree, as are other professional law degrees, such as the Master of Laws (LL.M.) or the Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D). 

The JD degree’s intention is that students who successfully complete the graduate-level program are then ready to practice in the profession.

It is, however, noted that the J.D. is intended to be equal in its prestige to a Ph.D. level degree and that it is, indeed, the first professional degree in law (source).

Is a JD Degree Equal to a Doctor?

While the JD is clearly the customary professional law degree, the use of the title doctor has had its fair share of opposition and debate.

It was not until the 1970’s that the use of the title was extended to address those holding a JD degree, and yet there is still confusion as to whether a lawyer can also be called a doctor.

Much of the debate came with the reality that the requirements of the JD degree are not equivalent to that of a medical doctor or a research-based Ph.D., and the use of the term “doctor” to refer to a lawyer seemed self-inflating or an overvaluation and against professional codes of ethics, emphasizing only the importance of the lawyer’s position (source). 

Additionally, a JD degree does not require the defense of a dissertation, a requirement among other references to doctoral degrees, though it should be noted that a dissertation is not mandatory for a medical doctor degree, dentistry, or the practice of veterinary medicine. 

Today, most state bars allow the use of doctor in referring to a JD degree, though there is the stipulation that there cannot be confusion on the actual qualifications of a lawyer as compared to research-based doctoral degrees and medical doctors. 

Like many other characteristic differences among the states, the reality is that some have adopted the use of the term in referring to lawyers, while others have not.

Still, for many who have obtained the degree, the consensus is that the work and testing required to upkeep the education and licensure to practice law is equivalent to any other reference or title of “doctor.” 

Career Options with a JD Degree

A JD program curriculum track focuses on a broad education that encompasses the scientific study of the legal system as a whole.

There are also specific concentrations that students may select from, including dispute resolution, criminal law, intellectual property law, or family law – and particular interests of study such as elder law, immigration law, personal injury, or bankruptcy, among others (source).

Each avenue results in the practice of representing clients during legal proceedings, composing legal documents, and consulting with clients on a wide range of legal issues and personal matters related to the case. 

If a student is interested in achieving a law degree, but over time comes to the conclusion that practicing law is not of his or her utmost interest – as is common at the conclusion of many professional degrees – there are other options that will lead to professional and personal success. 

The JD degree emphasizes strong analytical skills, as well as intensive writing, critical thinking, and public speaking skills.

These skills prove instrumental in many professional fields, such as those in business and entrepreneurship, government, and education, among others.

The average salary for a lawyer with a JD degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics was 120,910$ per year in 2018, expected to rise in forthcoming years as the current salary went up 1.4 percent as compared to the previous year (source).

Final Thoughts

While there seems to still be some controversy over whether or not a JD can be referred to as a doctor, the more important focus lies in the reality that achieving such an accolade requires an intensive course of study, one that cannot be taken lightly.

Whether JD candidates refer to themselves as doctors or just simply lawyers, successful completion of the program, and thus earning the right to practice law, is a success that deserves the utmost celebration and carries with it the weight of responsibility.

A JD degree is certainly of value and reflects characteristic attributes that would be deemed desirable in any number of professions, each carrying high levels of both personal and professional success.