Obtaining a Doctor of Juridical Science Degree is no small feat. The Doctor of Juridical Science Degree, also known as the J.S.D., S.J.D., or Doctor of Laws, is one of the most advanced law degrees that can be conferred upon a student. Consequently, earning this degree requires patience, attention to detail, and most importantly, extraordinary research ability. It is for this reason that a majority of universities consider the J.S.D. the “terminal law degree” and hold J.S.D. candidates in high esteem. This is the same reason why J.S.D. programs are typically small, with universities accepting just a handful of students in a given year.
Originating in the United States, S.J.D. programs have since spread, and it is now possible to receive the degree in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Every program is different, but many elements remain consistent across all courses of study; learning these elements can put you ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing for your Doctor of Juridical Science Degree application. Here is what you need to know if you are considering pursuing a Doctor of Juridical Science Degree.
What are the pre-requisites to be eligible for a Doctor of Juridical Science Degree?
J.S.D. programs are notoriously selective, and as such, require above-average academic credentials before application can even be considered. In order to be an eligible candidate for a J.S.D. program, you must first have completed a degree in law, such as a J.D. (Doctor of Jurisprudence) or LL.B. (Bachelor of Laws), from a university recognized by the school to which you are applying. Following that, you must have obtained a Masters in Law, known as an LL.M.. Depending on the university, you may be asked to provide supplementary evidence of the work you completed during your course of study, such as a research project.
Historically, some universities have granted exceptions to the latter clause (i.e. holding an LL.M.) if sufficient evidence of relevant professional experience is provided. Professional experience must also be paired with proof of adequate research preparation, the exact amount of which being determined by the university. Exceptions of this nature are quite rare, and in most cases, an LL.M. is a bare minimum requirement for those looking to enroll in a Doctor of Juridical Science Degree program.
If you are a foreign student interested in a J.S.D. program in the United States, you will be asked to provide evidence of your English language ability, usually in the form of a TOEFL score. Due to the intense nature of study, the TOEFL scores required by J.S.D. programs tend to be considerably higher than other programs at the university. However, frequent exceptions are made for candidates who completed their previous courses of study at universities where English was the primary language of instruction.
Finally, high marks during your undergraduate and postgraduate studies are required, though precisely how high varies from university to university. Having an actionable plan of study is also a requirement at most universities.
What courses and topics are covered under the Doctor of Juridical Science Degree?
As the prerequisites for application are more stringent than other degrees, most universities either require or can safely assume students in a Doctor of Judicial Studies Degree program will have a set plan of action for achievement. J.S.D. candidates are driven, regularly going out of their way in the academic pursuit of knowledge as it relates to the legal field. Universities know this; it is the chief reason that the students were admitted in the first place.
Because of this, defining an exact curriculum for juridical science doctoral degree students proves rather difficult; curriculum tends to vary based on the student’s desired course of study. For most universities, students are required to spend the first year taking university courses, allowing them to become acclimated to their new environment. These courses almost always directly relate to their academic focus, though students are also encouraged to take foundational courses. These foundational courses emphasize qualitative and quantitative methodology, providing a more comprehensive framework for both law and its theoretical bedrock. During this time, J.S.D. scholars are commonly instructed to take a seminar course, which introduces them to the university and allows them to present their current research to colleagues.
A majority of universities require at least one year of residency at their law school, with additional time recommended. During this time, students will often take individualized reading courses under an advisor on the faculty and attend academic conferences at or near the university. Doing this allows them to develop relationships with other professionals in the field, relationships that may prove beneficial in their coming years of study. Furthermore, faculty may recommend that the student enroll in or audit specific courses. It is for this reason that some students stay on for a second year of residency.
Once students have developed a framework of study, they can narrow down their academic focus. Focuses can range between a variety of fields. Here are some study tracts students have chosen and an idea of what each one offers.
Health Law and Policy
Students studying health law and policy will research and discuss a multitude of topics related to health and how it interacts with the law. Courses of this nature include privacy as it relates to healthcare, insurance law, public healthcare policy, children’s rights, healthcare fraud, and more. Often, this study tract involves fieldwork, which can take the form of teaching, course development, or lectures. At the conclusion of this program, students will have completed a piece of health law scholarship in the form of a dissertation.
This tract is for those looking to examine the law from a more globalized perspective. Those studying comparative law take a comprehensive, globally-focused approach, researching or developing legal scholarship as a means of tackling issues across all societies. Coursework in this area may explore foreign government policy, as well as international business and international human rights.
S.J.D. students who wish to study the minutiae of employment law will find themselves immersed in courses and research about employees, employers, and the relationships between them. They will analyze the legal rights of both parties, including terms of employment, whistleblower protections, and other related topics. Courses in this tract may feature examinations of company law, including shareholders’ rights, takeovers and mergers, limited liability, and more.
Following residency, the student is allowed to further pursue their research under a primary advisor and, typically, a group of selected faculty members. A multitude of factors constitute this research period; as an example, a student may continue to attend and present at conferences.
During this time, students will work with their advisor to determine the members on their dissertation committee, later presenting their recommendations to the program’s chair. There are rules regarding who may be present on the committee; these rules vary based on the university.
Dissertation work comes into focus at this time, and students may be forced to give a preliminary defense of their dissertation. However, the primary focus of this period is academic organization, and the university works to ensure that students are provided with the resources they require to draft their dissertation proposals. Sometimes, students are compelled to continue taking at least one class at the university per semester of study.
From this point forward, the student’s main focus is their dissertation. As work on the dissertation progresses, students may face occasional oral examinations and assessments of their thesis research.
Once the student’s dissertation is complete, their writing and research will be assessed by their doctoral committee, who will then make suggestions. The course will then conclude with an oral examination, and upon the dissertation’s approval, it will be added to the university’s library. Dissertations are expected to be both original and full of new thought, answering profound questions or expanding on ideas in legal theory.
The course of study listed here is only to be used as a general example. Every university has a different plan for their J.S.D. students; some require increased examination and frequent checks to verify that the student is following their stated research plan, while others take a more hands-off approach, relying on the student to be working closely with professors and scholars in their field. To know the exact courses and topics that will be covered during your period of study, it is best to look at the university’s website or contact someone involved in the program directly.
How long does the Doctor of Juridical Science Degree take to earn?
Depending on recommendations from academic advisors and personal choice, obtaining a Doctor of Juridical Science Degree can take up to five years. The extension of study time also may be beholden to simple scheduling issues; as S.J.D. programs are normally comparatively small; a possibility exists that the desired classes will not be available during every semester of a given student’s study period.
However, most programs are designed so those studying for a Doctor of Juridical Science Degree can complete their entire course of study in three years.
What careers can I pursue with a Doctor of Juridical Science Degree?
Graduates with juridical science doctoral degrees tend to find employment in research, academia, or in positions within the government. As the degree is primarily oriented toward educating future legal scholars, scientists, and other law-related professionals, work following the degree’s completion is often focused on the intricacies of law. This leads to many J.S.D. graduates writing for legal publications or performing legal research.
By far the most popularly sought careers by Doctors of Juridical Science are within academia. A majority of universities acknowledge this, actively advertising their programs as means of entering the teaching and research world.
It should be noted that employment options usually available to those with Master of Laws degrees are also readily available to those who have obtained a Doctor of Juridical Science. Often, their J.S.D. status means higher wages from the onset, as well as increased opportunity and room for growth. Jobs that fall into this category include General Counsel, Legal Consultant, Compliance Director, and others.
Notable J.S.D. graduates include Sang-Hyun Song, President of the International Criminal Court, and Pauli Murray, a well-known civil rights activist and advocate. As evidenced by the previously listed names, opportunities for J.S.D. graduates are wide-reaching; other J.S.D. graduates have gone on to be distinguished law professors, presidents, and legal scholars.
Employment opportunities for J.S.D. graduates are on the rise; opportunities for postsecondary law teachers are slated to grow by 22% between 2014 and 2024 according to a 2015 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Legal careers are growing in general; that same report claimed that lawyers should expect 6% job growth over the next decade.
What’s the annual income for Doctor of Juridical Science Degree graduates?
Earnings for the average J.S.D. graduate can vary wildly depending on the pursued career. Degree holders who continue into academia can expect to earn a median salary of $105,250 if they become law professors, according to the same 2015 BLS report mentioned above. However, wages for this position are highly contingent on the university; at highly ranked universities, law professors earn well over $100,000 annually, with several exceeding $200K.