Introduction to law and national security programs


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HomeLaw and national security

What is law and national security?

Law and national security, sometimes referred to as national security law (NSL), is a specialized area of law. The American Constitution gives national security powers to the president and the congress. It’s one of the most complex legal topics, making lawyers in this field high in demand. It combines aspects like human rights, privacy, cybercrime, immigration, and international relations to provide an understanding of national interests.

As a result, those who study law and national security will likely cover constitutional, military, and cyber law. There’s also a considerable focus on civil liberties, as lawyers in this field need to understand how an individual’s rights intersect with matters of national importance. Beyond law, NSL can also encompass political science, public administration, and national safety.

Careers in NSL are often connected to government organizations, including the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or the National Security Council (NSC). You could also work in the private sector, advising corporations on how to navigate government laws on finance and trade.

The subject would interest those who want to make an impact on their country and its citizens. NSL can involve urgent situations and complex cases that enhance the protection of the country against terrorism and cybercrime, or strengthen international relations. It may also interest those who want to better define relations between individuals and the government.

Job satisfaction isn’t the only appealing factor. Career prospects and opportunities in the field of law are also promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment of lawyers will grow 4% from 2019 to 2029.

Potential degree pathways 

The majority of roles in this profession will require at least 2, or sometimes 3, degrees. An undergraduate degree can equip you with a general understanding of NSL or other areas of study, such as government administration, political science, or business.

Typically, you will need to obtain a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree before you can sit the bar exam and practice law. Lawyers who want to specialize or advance their careers might progress to a Master of Law (LL.M.) or even a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Judicial Science (S.J.D) to become a scholar or professor in the field.

An overview of management accounting 

Undergraduate programs in law and national security

A bachelor’s degree in law and national security tends to require a 4-year commitment. You can find programs that offer a Bachelor of Science (B.S.), which generally have a forensic science focus. There are also Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) programs, where law and information analysis are the core components.

Most programs involve general education modules in writing, statistics, and research. These modules are complemented by theoretical courses on ethics, law, and security to encourage critical thinking. Some schools provide opportunities for a supervised practicum or internship in the field. In your final year, you may also need to complete a capstone project to demonstrate the knowledge you have gained from the program.

Courses may include:

Criminal law
Intelligence analysis
Constitutional law
Homeland security and terrorism
Judicial systems
Incident mapping and analysis
Information systems security
Government administration
Global politics

You can find online and campus-based versions of these courses. The online programs may suit you better if you have work or family commitments and need a flexible learning approach.

Juris doctorate degree programs

The majority of J.D. programs are 2 to 3 years long and generally provide you with the theoretical and practical foundations of NSL. This includes understanding the application of legislation and regulation, and learning the use of contracts and civil procedures.

Core courses include:

Constitutional law
Criminal law
Courtroom procedures
Civil law

Specializations are usually applied in the second year of a J.D. program. Some schools might offer national security courses, which you can take to complete your J.D. while simultaneously contributing towards your LL.M. Others might include NSL as an elective.

Common concentrations include:

International law
Criminal justice
Law and history
Law and government
Comparative law

You may find that NSL is an option for international law, criminal justice, and concentrations like law and government. In the final year of a J.D., you will likely have to complete a capstone project that includes research, writing, presenting, and practical experience. These programs are available as online and hybrid courses which may involve in-person attendance for group work and practical experience.

Master’s of law programs in law and national security

One of the most popular ways to further your education in NSL is through a master’s of law (LL.M.). Although they can be earned in 1 year, most students require 1.5 to 2 years or longer if studying part-time.

These programs are aimed at those with a J.D., who have already passed the bar exam and started practicing law. Their content focuses on providing knowledge in the national security specialization of law, rather than practical skills. However, some courses can include simulations of NSC meetings or meetings of other government organizations. You may need to write a thesis to complete the program.

Core courses may include:

Cybersecurity law
Homeland security law
Intelligence law

Electives could include:

Counterterrorism law
International law
Privacy and information security
Immigration law
Surveillance law
War and law
Corporate national security law

As the LL.M. is mainly theoretical, it’s typical to find online options for this program. This format might be a more convenient option than commuting. However, many campus-based programs offer evening classes, as many applicants are practicing lawyers.

Ph.D. and S.J.D programs for NSL

If you want to further your education beyond practicing law by contributing to it as a scholar, you could consider a doctorate program. A doctoral degree may open a path to a senior leadership role in a government agency or a teaching position.

Typically, it will take you 3 to 4 years of full-time study to earn a Ph.D. or S.J.D. The first year or 2 involves studying different courses and conducting research, while the final year is usually focused on a dissertation, which could be in the form of law review articles.

Courses may include:

Legal scholarship
Research methodology
Advanced cybercrime
Advanced national security law

Program requirements 

Each level of degree will require you to submit an application and provide various documents showing that you meet certain standards. For an undergraduate degree, you’ll need to submit your high school transcript or General Equivalency Diploma (GED). The requirements vary by school, but you’ll likely need to include a letter of recommendation from a teacher, a personal essay, and your Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or American College Testing (ACT) score.

For a J.D. program, you will need to sit the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Applications should include your score, undergraduate transcript, resume, and a personal statement. You’ll likely need to supply 3 letters of recommendation from law professors, submit a research proposal that identifies faculty members you would like to work with, and attend an interview.

Most LL.M. programs will require you to have a J.D. degree, although some will accept international students without this degree who have completed the necessary coursework. The degree should come from a school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) or a member of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). You’ll need to supply your transcripts, a statement of purpose, and typically 3 letters of recommendation.

S.J.D or Ph.D. degree programs typically require an LL.M from a high-ranking accredited school. Students often opt for an S.J.D or Ph.D. program at the same institution they received their LL.M. You’ll need to submit your academic records, including an LL.M. paper or thesis, a dissertation proposal, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.


Many education institutions and potential future employers will be looking to see if you’ve attended an accredited school. That means the university has met specific quality standards and received a certificate of approval from an independent body. There’s usually a peer review process, which checks the program content and student services at an institution.

Besides the fact that it can help you succeed in your applications for further education and jobs, knowing that a school meets high standards can be beneficial to your study experience. You can usually see if a school is certified by checking for the initials or logo of an accreditation council on their website.

The American Bar Association (ABA) has an accreditation and approval process for law schools, which applies to J.D. degrees and higher. You can also check for schools that are members of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS).

Costs of the degree 

Bachelor’s degree programs at public schools have an average cost of around $10,000 for in-state students and $27,000 for those coming from out of state. This can vary by institution and program. Online courses tend to have similar tuition fees as campus-based programs in this field.

An approximate average cost for J.D. degrees is around $45,000 to $55,000 per year. For an LL.M., annual tuition fees are approximately $20,000 to $55,000 per year for in-state students, and $35,000 to $70,000 for out-of-state students. For Ph.D. and S.J.D students, annual tuition fees are approximately $10,000 to $25,000 for in-state residents, and between $10,000 and $30,000 for non-residents.

Law and national security career options 

If you choose to work in the field of law and national security, you could have several career opportunities open to you, depending on how far you progress in your education. Those with a bachelor’s degree won’t be able to practice law but could work in one of the following roles:

Working in the force or specifically in a counterterrorism unit, you could use your understanding of national security to implement security measures and analyze intelligence.
The average annual salary for this role is $54,064.

Working in a public organization or corporation, you could assess hazards and develop response plans.

The average annual salary for an emergency planner is $52,871.

After your J.D. degree, you’re ready to sit the bar exam and practice law. Here are some possible career options:

National security law can include regulations for companies, particularly defense contractors. You could work as in-house counsel for a company that handles government contracts and help them to stay compliant.
The average salary for this role is $78,097 per year.

You could work as in-house counsel for a company or at a law firm providing legal guidance on commercial matters impacted by national security law.
The average annual salary for a corporate lawyer is $111,004.

Also known as a judge advocate, you could work with a branch of the armed forces to resolve military justice issues.
The average annual salary for a military attorney is $114,000.

Your LL.M in law and national security could give you the advanced education and specialization you need to take on high profile roles in this field. Potential job options include:

Working at this government department, you’ll handle complex and varied legal cases that are of national interest.
The average annual salary for this role is $113,016.

This role would involve advising the director, agents, and officer on legal implications of any actions taken during investigations and other policy points.
The average annual salary range for a Homeland Security lawyer is $72,000 to $179,000.

In an advisory role to bureau staff, you would review and inform on legal consequences of actions and the best way to proceed in matters of national security.
The average salary range per year for this role is $100,000 to $172,000.

After your Ph.D. or S.J.D., you could consider a career as a professor of law. In the role, you could teach students at a university or law school or conduct research. The average annual salary for a law professor is $131,378. 

Licensing or certification

Before practicing as a lawyer, you’ll need to take your state’s bar exam. Typically, this process involves 1 or more tests from the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). Your J.D. degree will prepare you for the topics on the exam, although you may want to find additional preparation materials and practice answering sample questions beforehand.

There is a fee to sit the exam. Passing the bar means you’re inducted to the state bar and will be licensed as an attorney.

Financial aid 

To cover the costs of your law and national security degrees, you might seek financial aid. This support could come in the form of grants or scholarships. They could come from organizations like the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which offers writing competitions on diversity. Alternatively, many law firms and attorney offices have grants, such as the Future Lawyers of America Scholarship or this legal scholarship from Ken Nugent.

Many students seek support from the government, through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. It can help you determine your eligibility for receiving financial aid.

American Bar Association (ABA)
This organization provides accreditation for law schools, resources for practicing lawyers, and advocates for ethics and advances in law across the states.

Association of American Law Schools (AALS)
This membership association promotes and encourages high-quality education in law, as well as offering professional development opportunities.

National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE)
An assessment board for the bar exam that promotes best practice in the profession.