Law Professors

Should Aspiring Law Profs Go for a JSD Degree?

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What are the reasons to get a JSD (also called an SJD) degree? And what is it exactly?

As far as “available law degrees—the universe extends further than I ever knew,” Bruce Carton writes at Legal Blog Watch.

St. John’s University School of Law assistant professor Marc DeGirolami, who just finished a JSD at Columbia Law School, is curious to see if the degree, which is most often pursued by foreign law graduates, will eventually catch on among U.S. law graduates. Candidates for a Scientiae Juridicae Doctor degree not only already have their JDs, but also their LLMs, DeGirolami writes at Prawfsblawg.

DeGirolami writes that the degree is designed for those interested in academic legal careers and might be of particular value to those who “at least in some measure [want] to burnish a CV with a JD from a non-elite law school (say, a school outside the top 5 or 7).” To this end, if a U.S. law grad is “using the JSD as a way to polish up what will be perceived as some ugly soiling on your CV” he or she should only pursue a JSD at one of the nation’s top law schools. At the same time, DeGirolami also warns that JSDs are not universally respected by academic employers; some “don’t know what to make” of the degree, he writes.

DeGirolami recommends that students pursue LLMs at the same institutions at which they want to get their JSDs, and use their LLM year to gather information about the professors you hope to work with while pursuing your JSD.

“The person who should do the JSD is someone who already has zeroed in on a particular legal field and has identified legal scholars in that field with whom he or she wants to spend several years in an extended academic ‘conversation,’ ” he writes.

Back in 2008, reader of Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports asked the University of Chicago law professor about the relative value of a JSD.

“The strong interdisciplinary turn of law schools over the past 30 years means that the credential of real value to an American lawyer is a Ph.D. in a cognate discipline, not a ‘Ph.D.’ in law,” Leiter responded. Others state the same opinion in the comments of the Prawfsblawg post.

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