Medical Law Degrees: Doctorate, Master's & Online Course Info

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Master's and doctoral degrees in medical law can lead to careers in and out of academia. Get the truth about requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Medical Law: Degrees at a Glance

Master of Law (LL.M.) and Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) programs are intended for students who have already completed a Juris Doctor (J.D.) program. Students often complete an LL.M. program immediately after completing the J.D., while other students may return to school to complete an LL.M. program after they have acquired some work experience. The S.J.D. is a research degree, and the terminal degree in law. Neither of these degrees can be completed before you complete the J.D.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the job market for lawyers to grow 10% from 2010 to 2020 ( This is slightly slower than the average growth expected for all occupations.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? - Individuals who have completed a J.D. program and want to acquire specialized knowledge in an area of law
- Individuals who want to pursue a career in academia
- Individuals who plan to earn an S.J.D. in the future
- Individuals who want to pursue a career in academia
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Law instructor ($66,100)**
- Lawyer ($113,300)*
- Assistant professor of law ($91,200)**
- Associate professor of law ($109,800)**
- Full professor of law ($148,600)**
- Dean of law school ($139,600)**
Time to Completion One year, full-time 2-3 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Research project - Dissertation
Prerequisites J.D. - J.D. & LL.M.
- Evidence of scholarly achievement
Online Availability Rare No

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), ** (May 2012 figures)

LL.M. in Medical Law

LL.M. programs may be designed either to introduce students who studied law at an international university to American law or to allow students who received their J.D. at an American university to gain specialized knowledge and academic research skills in a sub-area of law. Some programs are designed with two different tracks - one to suit each group of students. LL.M. programs designed for U.S.-educated students usually require that students write a thesis.

When applying to an LL.M. program, you usually first apply to the general program. After you have been admitted, you then apply to specialize or earn a certificate in medical law, also known as 'health law', after earning a minimum grade in a series of core and elective courses.

Pros and Cons


  • An LL.M. can provide you with specialized knowledge beyond what you would have gained in your J.D. program
  • An LL.M. with a research focus can give you an opportunity to prove your scholarly potential and make you a more attractive candidate for competitive positions teaching law
  • Law is a competitive field, and an advanced degree may set you apart from the competition


  • You will be adding another year of study and tuition fees beyond what you already committed to your undergraduate and J.D. programs
  • There are many jobs in law and policy that do not require an LL.M.
  • In your aim to focus on medical law, you may be better served by a different degree program, such as a Master of Public Health

Courses and Requirements

Course offerings vary by program. Some programs have a specific focus, such as global health or health policy. Here are some course topics that your program may include:

  • Medical malpractice law
  • Biotechnology and law
  • Public health law and ethics
  • Global health law
  • Health policy
  • Elder law
  • Mental health and law

You may also be required to write a thesis. Programs vary in how much they emphasize research, with some having a requirement of a 50-page thesis and others having only optional research opportunities. If you plan to go into academia, then you will probably want to make the most use of any opportunity presented to conduct and publish research. If you plan to begin a career in the government or a policy-related industry, you may want to look for a program that offers an externship option.

Online Degree Options

Online LL.M. programs in health or medical law are rare. Courses offered in an online program are commonly similar to those offered in an on-campus program. In an online program, however, you may also have additional choices for how fast you complete your degree. Online programs in medical law are typically designed to allow students to take fewer courses each semester and complete the degree in a longer amount of time.

Stand Out With This Degree

You can stand out in your LL.M. program by making the most of opportunities that relate to your desired career path. Here are some ways you might do that:

  • If you desire to go into academia, seek out opportunities to be involved in research as early as possible.
  • Look to contribute to on-campus journals. If you have a paper from class that you are especially proud of, look for ways it can be expanded and polished, and then submit it to a professional journal.
  • If you want to go into policy or practice, then look for externship opportunities or other options for learning from professionals in the field.
  • Your contacts will be important, so the more you can network by joining a professional society or attending conferences, the better off you will be when you enter the job market.

Degree Alternatives

If you have not yet completed a J.D., you may want to consider a joint-degree program that allows you to simultaneously earn a J.D. and a Master of Public Health (MPH). MPH programs cover areas such as biological science, statistics and policy issues. A joint J.D./MPH program allows you to finish both degrees in three or four years and then begin your career with the advanced public health knowledge you gained while studying. This type of program is especially suitable for students who want to work in public policy or private practice. If you want to a career in research, you may still want to complete an LL.M., because the program may have more research options and is a common prerequisite to earning a S.J.D.

S.J.D. in Medical Law

The S.J.D. is a research degree. It is designed to prepare students for positions in academia. Before applying to an S.J.D. program, you need to have experience conducting academic research and have both a J.D. and an LL.M. Admission to S.J.D. programs is very competitive, with some programs accepting only 1-3 students per year.

There is not much coursework involved in an S.J.D. Most of your time in this program is spent writing a dissertation. Therefore, rather than focusing on programs with health law coursework, you may want to prioritize programs that have professors on staff who are conducting research in health law and who are willing to serve as mentors. There are a few S.J.D. programs that advertise themselves as specifically appropriate for health law; however, you may find that other S.J.D. programs are better for you if there are faculty members in residence conducting research in your area of interest.

Pros and Cons


  • The S.J.D. is the highest degree available in law, placing you at the top of the hierarchy in the field
  • The S.J.D. will set you apart from other legal professionals when looking for teaching jobs
  • The S.J.D. provides an opportunity to conduct your own original research


  • The S.J.D. is mostly only appropriate for students looking for a career in academia
  • Most jobs in the legal field, including many in academia, do not require an S.J.D.
  • Admission to S.J.D. programs is highly competitive

Courses and Requirements

The first year of an S.J.D. program is the only year that you are required to be in residence. During that year, you take advanced law courses in topics like health law, healthcare regulation and healthcare finance. You may also participate in a colloquium or research preparation course with other first-year students. However, during this year, much of your time is spent preparing your dissertation proposal. Your final 1-2 years of study are spent researching and writing your dissertation.

Online Degree Options

S.J.D. programs require a year of residency. Because of this, there are no programs that can be completed entirely online. However, after your first year of residency, you can complete your dissertation away from your home institution. Note, though, that you will likely still need to be located near a law library or other resources you need for your research, and may need to travel to campus to meet with advisers.

Stand Out With This Degree

Your performance in your S.J.D. program is evaluated by the quality of your dissertation. However, to stand out with your degree, you may want to pursue additional opportunities for publishing smaller papers during your studies. If you can serve as a research assistant under a professor, you may have a chance to contribute to a paper intended for publication. You may also want to look for opportunities to attend conferences at which you can present your research and network with academics. Being published and having presented at conferences may make you more attractive to employers.