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How do I Earn a Law PhD?

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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2018
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A law PhD or Doctor of Juridical Science is a highly specialized research doctorate and the third and highest academic degree attainable in the field of jurisprudence. A typical law PhD program requires at least three years of coursework and research beyond the requirements of the Juris Doctorate and Master of Laws. The Juris Doctorate is granted upon successful completion of law school, and the Master of Laws is normally completed in one year and is not necessarily a research degree but law PhD candidates must complete a dissertation under the direction of a faculty committee or adviser. The law PhD was originally developed in the United States to give law professors and legal scholars and scientists additional training but is now available in several other countries including Canada, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

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The first step toward completing the law PhD is earning the Juris Doctorate by finishing a three-year law school program. Law school candidates must have an undergraduate degree in any field, a strong grade point average and an exceptional score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Law school students take a series of core courses about topics such as constitutional law, criminal law, torts, civil procedure, property, contracts and legal research and writing. In addition, law school students participate in legal clinics and work on scholarly legal journals. For the majority of students, the Juris Doctorate is a terminal degree since lawyers can practice with it and a successful bar examination grade.

The Master of Laws is the degree beyond this that allows graduates the opportunity to research a particular legal area in depth. Tax law, bankruptcy law, human rights law, commercial law and environmental law are common types of Master of Laws degree programs offered by American universities. Other such programs cater to lawyers from foreign countries who wish to become familiar with the local legal system and its principals. The requirements of the Master of Laws degree vary between institutions but the majority of programs last one year and include some combination of coursework and research culminating in a thesis.

The law PhD is the degree available beyond the Master of Laws and the requirements can vary widely between programs. The majority of Doctor of Juridical Science programs are extremely selective and require the degree candidate to complete and submit a dissertation to his or her committee within three years of matriculation.

Additional requirements may include coursework and a written or oral exam. Candidates for the law PhD work under the supervision of a committee of professors or an adviser while pursuing their research in a specific area of law, typically the same or a similar area researched for the Master of Laws. Recipients of the Doctor of Juridical Science often pursue careers as law professors or legal scholars.

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