The ABC’s of Legal Titles

Initials listed after a professional’s name often designate accomplishment, title, and authority.  While the use of “M.D.” for doctors and “Ph.D.” for professors is widely understood, the initials commonly present after attorneys’ names are less known.  Below is list of the most common legal titles and their meanings.


“J.D.” refers to “Juris Doctor,” “Doctor of Law,” or “Doctor of Jurisprudence.”  It means “Teacher of Law” or “Teacher of Legal Knowledge” in Latin and is the degree conferred upon persons who have completed law school in the United States and thus earned a law degree.
Most law schools require students to have a Bachelor’s degree to gain admittance and full-time law school in the United States is generally three years.  

Earning a “J.D.” does not confer the right to practice law.  Instead, each state administers its own admission guidelines including the requirement to pass a Bar Exam.  When you see “J.D.” after a person’s name, that person has graduated from law school but is not necessarily licensed to practice law.


“LL.M” refers to a “Masters in the Letters of Law.”  It is an advanced law degree after someone completes a “J.D.”  An “LL.M” is often pursued by students who are interested in gaining expertise in a concentrated area of the law.  Some “LL.M” degrees are available for foreign lawyers who wish to learn about the host country’s legal system (referred to as a “Comparative Law Degree”).  


“Esq.” often succeeds an attorney’s name.  “Esq.” is an abbreviation for “Esquire.”  Originally a term of social status in England (above a “gentleman” and below a “knight”), in the United States it is customarily used to designate a person licensed to practice law.  Although “Esq.” is not an official title, because it is often associated with persons who are licensed to practice law, most state laws prevent non-lawyers from using the designation.  

In California, in order to practice law and thus be allowed to use the unofficial “Esq.” designation, a person must pass a three-day, 18-hour written Bar Exam as well as pass a separate ethics exam and meet several other qualifications.


California, as well as many other states, has a program to certify its practicing attorneys as “Certified Legal Specialists” in one or more of eleven different practice areas.  In order to become a Certified Legal Specialist (“CLS”), a California attorney must have been practicing in the area of specialty for a minimum of five years, be an active member of the California Bar, demonstrate performance in a number of designated tasks in the particular field of specialization, demonstrate education performance in the particular field of specialization, pass a written 6.5-hour specialist exam, and demonstrate proficiency in the particular field of specialization through independent inquiry and review.  

Kyle A. Krasa, B.A., J.D., Esq., CLS earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Literature from Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, earned his Juris Doctor degree from UC Davis School of Law, is a licensed attorney by the State Bar of California, and is Certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization as a Certified Legal Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust, & Probate Law.  

KRASA LAW is located at 704-D Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove, and Kyle may be reached at 831-920-0205831-920-0205.