Introduction to law and national security programs
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.
It combines aspects like human rights, privacy, cybercrime, immigration, and international relations to provide an understanding of national interests.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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).
Cost of the degrees
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.
Emergency plannerMedian salary: $53K
Working in a public organization or corporation, you could assess hazards and develop response plans.
After your J.D. degree, you’re ready to sit the bar exam and practice law. Here are some possible career options:
Corporate lawyerMedian salary: $113K
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.
Military lawyerMedian salary: $114K
Also known as a judge advocate, you could work with a branch of the armed forces to resolve military justice issues.
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.
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.