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What is a Doctor of Juridical Science Degree? An Overview of the S.J.D. Degree

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The Doctor of Juridical Science Degree–abbreviated as either S.J.D. or J.S.D.–is the highest law degree offered by law schools in the United States. The S.J.D. is the legal equivalent to a Ph.D. in other academic disciplines. By design, the S.J.D. is designed for lawyers who aspire to pursue a career in legal academics rather than practicing law.

How Hard is Admission to an S.J.D. Program?

Currently, there are only 37 law schools in the country that offer this advanced degree program. S.J.D. programs–in general–accept very few students and only admit students with excellent academic backgrounds. Some programs require students to first complete an LL.M degree. Since this doctoral program is largely comprised of independent writing and research, law schools also only look for candidates with a demonstrated aptitude for scholarly research and writing.

How Long Does it Take to Earn an S.J.D. degree?

Most S.J.D. programs are designed to be completed in five to six years although some students take more or less time. The S.J.D. program usually requires an additional year of coursework as well as an oral examination before students move to the dissertation phase. During the the dissertation, phase students work closely with their advisor as they pursue independent research and, in some cases, additional coursework. For most S.J.D. candidates, the dissertation phase takes three years. All candidates must also successfully defend their dissertation.

What Will I Study in an S.J.D. Program?

Most S.J.D. programs are considered “general” degrees which allows each candidate to pursue an area of academic interest. However, a number of law schools now offer S.J.D. in specific fields of study that reflect areas of particular expertise at the law school. For example, the University of Arizona School of Law offers a S.J.D. focused on Indigenous People’s Law and Policy. A number of law schools offer an S.J.D. in highly specialized fields such as environmental, health, or tax law. Finally, since many international students pursue their S.J.D. at American law schools, many schools offer an S.J.D. in international or comparative law.

Can I Earn an S.J.D. Online?

In general, an S.J.D. requires residential coursework and close contact with a candidate’s faculty supervisor. Unlike many LL.M programs, S.J.D. programs are not offered online. However, since the core of any S.J.D. program is independent research and writing, many law schools allow students to complete their dissertations without remaining in residence.

Is an S.J.D. Degree Worth It?

The Doctor of Juridical Science Degree is not necessary to practice law in the United States–aspiring lawyers only need to earn the much more practical Juris Doctor degree. Additionally, students who wish to specialize in a narrow practice area may earn an LL.M degree in order to bolster their professional skills. The S.J.D. is narrowly focused on students who wish to pursue a career in legal academia, generally as a law professor. For students who wish to pursue such a career, the S.J.D. provides a challenging but valuable path to beginning a career in legal academia.

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