Doctor of law

Jesus amongst the Doctors of the Law, Master of Sigena, active at the Monastery of Santa María de Sigena, 1515-1519 (current location: Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

Doctor of Law or Doctor of Laws is a degree in law. The application of the term varies from country to country, and includes degrees such as the Doctor of Juridical Science (J.S.D. or S.J.D), Doctor juris (Dr. iur. or Dr. jur.), Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Juris Doctor (J.D.), and Legum Doctor (LL.D.).

By country


In Argentina the Doctor of Laws or Doctor of Juridical Sciences is the highest academic qualification in the field of Jurisprudence.[1] To obtain the doctoral degree the applicant must have previously achieved, at least the undergraduate degree of Attorney.[2] (Título de Abogado). The doctorates in Jurisprudence in Argentina might have different denominations as is described as follow:


In Brazil, the Doctor of Laws degree, known in Portuguese as Doutor em Direito or Doutor em Ciências Jurídicas, is the highest academic degree in law available.

In some of the country's most important universities there is a higher title known as livre docência, like the habilitation in some European countries. However, this higher title is not a degree in the strict sense, because livre docência nowadays is an internal title, that applies solely within the institution granting it.

In the past, livre docência was a degree in the fullness of the term, and a professor bearing the title would enjoy the privileges of livre docência if he transferred from one institution to another; there are still living professors who hold the "old" livre docência degrees; but all new titles of that name only confer privileges within the institution granting it.

The doctoral degree is awarded upon the completion and the successful defense of a thesis prepared by the doctoral candidate under the supervision of a tutor. The thesis must be examined by a board of five professors, holders of the title of doctor or of a livre docência. Two of the members of the board must be professors from another institution. In most Brazilian Law Schools, the candidates are also required to earn a minimum number of credits.

Unlike the rules of other countries, the Brazilian norms governing the grant of doctoral titles do not require the publication of the thesis as a precondition for the award of the degree. Nevertheless, copies of the thesis must be delivered to the institution's library. Usually, doctoral thesis are published by specialized editors after the grant of the doctoral title.

If one obtains a doctoral title in a foreign country, one cannot enjoy the academic privileges of the title in Brazil unless the title be first validated by a Brazilian University. In that case, the doctor asking for the validation of the title will present his thesis and other documents relating to his foreign doctoral course to a board examiners of the Brazilian University and the examiners will then pass judgement on whether the work done by the candidate adheres to the minimum standards of quality that are usually required by a Brazilian university when granting doctoral degrees.

Admission to doctoral courses is almost universally reserved to holders of a master's degree (the Master's in Brazil is a graduate degree and is not the first professional degree). Therefore, a bachelor of Laws (a bearer of the first professional degree), seeking the degree of doctor must usually complete a postgraduate course to attain the degree of Master of Laws (to attain that degree one must write and defend a dissertation before a panel of three professors, bearing the title of master, doctor or a "livre docência, and also complete credits), and only then, after being a Master of Laws, one will apply for admission to a doctoral course.

There are, however, a few universities that allow "direct" admission to the doctoral course without previous completion of the Master's course in exceptional circumstances. Thus, in rare cases, a bachelor of Laws (i.e., a holder of the first professional degree), can be admitted directly to a doctoral course.

Usually, one is allowed three years time to complete a Master of Laws degree, and four years time to complete the doctoral course. So, if one were to graduate from Law School and immediately enter a Master of Laws course and a Doctor of Laws course in immediate succession, that person would become a doctor about seven years after graduating from the Law School. On the other hand, in the rare cases in which a bachelor of Laws is allowed to pursue a "direct" doctorate, he is usually allowed five years time to complete the doctoral course.

Unlike the Master of Laws dissertation, the Doctoral Thesys must contain an original contribution to the field of Law under study.


In Canada, there are several academic law-related doctorates: the Doctor of Laws (LL.D.); Doctor of Juridical Science or Doctor of Legal Science (J.S.D./S.J.D); Doctor of Civil Law (D.C.L.); and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.).

The Doctor of Jurisprudence (Juris Doctor or J.D.) is the professional doctorate degree that is usually required for admissions to post-graduate studies in law.

The first law degree was known until recently as the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.). However, since law schools in Canada generally insist on a prior degree or some equivalent in order to grant admission, it was a more advanced degree than the LL.B. degrees awarded by programs abroad, which would accept high school graduates.[3] The majority of Canadian universities now grant that degree rather than the LL.B.;[4] the University of Saskatchewan replaced its LL.B. with a J.D. in 2010, because the Canadian LL.B. is equivalent to the J.D.[5]

All Canadian J.D. programs are three years, and all (except those in Quebec) have similar mandatory first-year courses: In "public," "constitutional," or "state" law; tort law; contract law; criminal law, and some sort of "professional practice" course. Beyond first year and the minimum requirements for graduation, course selection is elective, with various concentrations such as business law, international law, natural resources law, criminal law, and Aboriginal law.

After the first law degree, one may pursue a second, the Masters of Laws (LL.M.) and after that, the Doctor of Law (LL.D.), at some Canadian universities. (The LL.D. is awarded by several universities only as an honorary degree, but when awarded by a law school is an earned degree). Of the universities in Canada that offer earned academic doctorates in law, four (University of Ottawa,[6] University of Montreal,[7] Laval University,[8] and University of Quebec at Montreal)[9] offer LL.Ds, four (University of Alberta,[10] University of British Columbia,[11] Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, and University of Victoria)[12] offer Ph.Ds, two (University of Toronto,[13] and Dalhousie University)[14] offer J.S.D./S.J.D degrees (Doctor of Juridical Science or Doctor of Legal Science), and one (McGill University)[15] offers a D.C.L (Doctor of Civil Law). The differences largely reflect the divide between Canada's two legal systems (the common law and the civil law). Faculties that teach in the civil law tradition grant LL.D degrees, whereas those in the common law tradition grant either Ph.Ds or J.S.Ds.

Czech Republic and Slovakia (former Czechoslovakia)

In the Czech Republic and Slovakia the Doctor is a postgraduate degree in two types - as a traditional doctorate (JUDr) and the PhD doctorate.

JUDr (Juris Utrisque Doctor) is a degree with a tradition of several centuries, originally the highest possible degree. Nowadays, its scholar importancy is quite limited, but it serves as a traditional and popular badge degree, especially useful for attorneys. In older times with no master's degree, JUDr. served as the only law degree (and was roughly equivalent to the today's master's degree, plus a special exam). Requirements for obtaining a JUDr degree are a highly rated Master (Mgr.) degree in law, the compilation of a thesis (including successful defense) and passing an oral exam called Rigorosum. The thesis itself is also sometimes called Rigorosum. Many JUDr. theses are based on the students previous Master theses; however, nowadays universities require that the dissertation work is completely new.

Doctoral studies leading to PhD degree are different from the JUDr exam. PhD studies are internal (PhD student is at the same time teacher at the University), which lasts 3–5 years, and external up to 8 years long. PhD. students are obliged to pass some exams during the studies and mainly to work on their dissertation. The PhD is intended basically for candidates interested in an academic career, and it gives them the right to teach at a university.

The Czech system is in many ways similar to the German and Austrian systems. Therefore, a PhD degree is necessary for habilitation procedure. Through habilitation, the doctor of law who submits his habilitation work (similar to German Habilitationsschrift) can be given a capacity and title of Docent (Doc.), similar to German Dozent, Privatdozent or US Assistant Professor. Docent is not a degree, but a scholar title.

Only a Docent can be appointed a Professor through a special procedure. Unlike Germany (and unlike the traditional Czech practice), a Professor is not a function (a seat, Cathedra) at a University, but a scholarly title. This leads to many problems, especially the phenomenon of so-called "flying professors", who are teaching at two or three universities at the same time and to the decline of academic life.

European and Commonwealth usage

In the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, the degree is a higher doctorate usually awarded on the basis of exceptionally insightful and distinctive publications that contain significant and original contributions to the study of law. Some universities, such as the University of Oxford, award a Doctor of Civil Law degree instead. In South Africa the LL.D. is awarded based upon research and completion of a Ph.D. equivalent dissertation; the LL.D. may also be awarded as an honorary degree based upon contributions to society; see below.


In Finland, the Doctor of Laws (Finnish: Oikeustieteen tohtori, OTT) (Swedish: Juris doktor, JD) is the highest academic degree in law, based on 60 credits of course studies and, most importantly, successful completion of a doctoral dissertation. The dissertation usually takes the form of a monograph at least of 250 pages in length, or of a series of published articles. A successful oral disputation is also required. It usually takes at least four years to complete the degree.

The degree of the Doctor of Laws does not qualify its holder for judicial offices. Instead, the degree of the Master of Laws (Finnish: Oikeustieteen maisteri) (Swedish: Juris magister) is the requirement for the membership of the Finnish Bar Association and for judicial offices. As the doctoral programs for the doctoral degree are, in principle, open for the holders of all master's degrees, the possession of the degree of the Doctor of Laws is not a guarantee for the possession of the Master of Laws -degree. However, it is very seldom that someone who has not graduated in law graduates for a doctor of law.


In France, the Doctor of Law degree (doctorat en droit) is a PhD. The PhD in law is required to teach at the university level as a maître de conférences (lecturer). To become Professor of Law, holders of a PhD in law have yet to pass an additional competitive exam: the agrégation de droit. Only the first year (master 1) of the master's degree in law is necessary to pass the bar exam.


The Doctor of Laws (Doktor der Rechte) is the terminal degree in law, abbreviated as Dr. iur. (Doctor iuris) or Dr. jur. (Doctor juris). The terminology varies: while most universities refer to the degree as Doctor of Laws (Doktor der Rechte (pl.), e.g. Munich, Münster, Berlin (HU), Cologne, Tübingen, Göttingen), some others refer to it either as Doctor of Jurisprudence (Doktor der Rechtswissenschaft, e.g. Heidelberg, Hamburg) or Doctor of Law (Doktor des Rechts (sg.), e.g. Berlin (FU)). It is conferred based on a thesis consisting of a suitable body of original academic research, and an oral examination (Rigorosum or Disputation). The thesis must have been published as a book or - less common - as a series of articles in a peer reviewed law journal before the degree can be formally conferred. Admission usually requires the grade of "Fully Satisfactory" (approximately top quintile of class) in the student's first Staatsexamen (the Master's level first professional degree). Having successfully passed the second Staatsexamen (the German equivalent to the bar exam) is not required.

The Doctor of Both Laws (Doktor beider Rechte), awarded as Dr. iur. utr. (Doctor iuris utriusque, conferred e.g. in Würzburg) is rare, since it means considering both Civil Law and Canonical Law. A doctorate solely in the latter area is the degree of Dr. iur. can. (Doctor iuris canonici).

Approximately ten percent of German law graduates hold a doctoral degree. However, the Doctor of Laws is still only the first step to tenure at German law schools. Despite the initiative to establish a junior professorship with tenure option after five to seven years, and special professorships specializing in teaching (Lehrprofessur), to become a university professor of law a habilitation (de iure not an academic degree) is still mandatory at most German law schools.


In Italy, the title of "Magister Doctor of Law" (Dottore magistrale in Giurisprudenza) is the title given to students who complete the five-year Laurea magistrale degree.

Despite the adoption of the Bologna process, in Italy law remains a field that retains the traditional Italian system.

Once a prospective lawyer has been awarded the Magister Doctor of Law and worked 18 months as a trainee lawyer, he or she is required to pass a state bar examination in order to be licensed to practice as an attorney at law (Avvocato). Previously, dottore in giurisprudenza was the title given to the students that completed the old (four-year) course of studies in law. After the five-year degree, it is possible to enroll in a Ph.D course in a specific field of law ("Dottorato"), and the title obtained is "Dottore di ricerca" (Ph.D).


In Malta, the European Union's smallest member state, the LL.D. is a doctorate-level academic degree in law requiring at least three years of post-graduate full-time study at the University of Malta,[16] Malta's national university. At least three years of previous law study are required for entry. Students are required to complete coursework in a number of core areas of law, as well as to submit a thesis which is to be "an original work on the approved subject or other contribution to the knowledge showing that he/she has carried out sufficient research therein".[17] It confers the title of Doctor, which in Malta is rigorously used to address a holder of the degree. The LL.D. is one of the requirements for admission to the profession of advocate in Malta (an advocate, as opposed to a legal procurator, has rights of representation in superior courts).

In Malta, practising lawyers are of three designations – notaries, legal procurators and advocates. The Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree is an undergraduate degree that of itself is not sufficient for admission into any of the legal professions. A one-year full-time taught post-graduate diploma of Notary Public (N.P.) is required after the LL.B. for admission to the profession of notary public, while a taught post-graduate diploma of Legal Procurator (L.P.) is required for admission to the profession of legal procurator. A legal procurator is a lawyer in Malta that has rights of audience in the lower courts, a profession that was existent in Malta as early, and even prior to 1553.[18] All three professions also require members to be holders of a warrant issued by the President of Malta, obtainable after a minimum of one year of work experience in that profession, and examination. It is not possible for a Maltese lawyer to hold a warrant in more than one of the professions at a time.

Notable holders of the LL.D. degree include Dr. Ugo Mifsud Bonnici (former President of Malta), Prof. Guido de Marco (former President of the United Nations General Assembly and former President of Malta), Dr. George Borg Olivier (first post-independence Prime Minister of Malta), Dr. Edward Fenech Adami (former Prime Minister and former President of Malta) and Dr. Lawrence Gonzi (former Prime Minister of Malta).

As of 2014 changes to the law course resulted from the implementation of the Bologna Process, will remove the Doctorate of Laws (LLD) title and replace it with Master of Laws (LLM). This means that prospective lawyers will not be honored with a doctorate degree and can no longer use the title "Dr". This was met by some contempt from prospective Law students mainly because the title "Dr" is seen to be of higher esteem in Maltese society. Students of other disciplines however welcomed the change. The program had always been in essence only a master's degree and was therefore viewed as discriminatory, especially by medical students.[19]

South Africa

See: Legal education in South Africa; List of law schools in South Africa; Bachelor of Laws#South Africa; Master of Laws#South Africa.

In South Africa the Doctorate in Law is offered as a research doctorate of at least two years duration,[20] in various specialised areas of law.[21] In general, South African universities offer either the PhD[22][23] or the LLD,[24][25][26] with no significant difference between these. (At UCT, UKZN and Wits, the PhD is the research doctorate, while the LLD is the higher doctorate;[27][28][29] UWC offers the LLD to law graduates, and the PhD to other graduates researching a legal-related topic).[30] In order to obtain the degree, the student will complete a thesis under the guidance of a supervisor, after completion of a module in research methodology, the submission of a research proposal and an oral examination. The thesis will demonstrate evidence of in-depth independent research and understanding of the topic, and constitute an original scientific contribution. Admission is usually on the basis of an LLM, and in some cases an LLB.


In Sweden, the Doctor of Laws (LLD) is the highest academic degree in law. It is a research degree, which combines 240 credit hours (or equivalent of four full-time years of work). Candidates have the option to complete a dissertation or a monograph of a series of published articles. Although not required to practice law, the LLD is a prerequisite for an academic career.

United Kingdom

In the UK, the degree of Doctor of Laws is a higher doctorate, ranking above the Ph.D., awarded upon submission of a portfolio of advanced research. It is also often awarded honoris causa to public figures (typically those associated with politics or the law) whom the university wishes to honour. In most British universities, the degree is styled "Doctor of Laws" and abbreviated LL. D., however some universities award instead the degree of Doctor of Civil Law, abbreviated DCL.

In former years, Doctors of Law were a distinct form of Attorney-at-Law who were empowered to act as advocates in civil law courts. The Doctors had their own Inns of Court, which was called Doctors' Commons. In 1953, a case was brought under long-dormant law in the High Court of Chivalry. The opening arguments in that case were by George Drewry Squibb, who was simultaneously distinguished as a barrister, a doctor of laws, and a historian. Squibb argued, to the satisfaction of the court, that since the modern class of Doctors of Laws were no longer trained as advocates, their role must necessarily be performed by barristers.[31] This was because Victorian reforms, which had unified the other classes of court attorney into the single profession of Barrister, had overlooked the Doctors of Law.

United States

Legal education in the United States

In the United States, Legum Doctor (LL.D.) is granted only as an honorary degree. Two other degrees in law are referred to as "doctor of law". Juris Doctor (JD) (Doctor of Jurisprudence) is the usual first professional degree for lawyers and replaced the name Bachelor of Laws in the 20th century when law schools began to require a Bachelor of Arts degree before beginning the study of law. While many lawyers claim it is equivalent to other earned doctorates such as the Ph.D., academics in other fields dispute this on the grounds that no dissertation is required and that most law schools did not make significant curricular changes before changing the name of the degree. Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) is the research doctorate in law, and as such it is generally accepted as comparable to the more commonly awarded research doctorate, the Ph.D.[32]

The S.J.D. is described as the "highest degree in law" by the University of Virginia,[33] the "terminal degree in law" by Indiana University[34] and Harvard Law School [35] and as the "most advanced law degree" by Yale Law School,[36] Georgetown Law,[37] New York University [38] and Stanford University.[39] The National Association of Legal Professionals states that the J.S.D./S.J.D. is "typically the most advanced or terminal law degree that would follow the earning of the LL.M. and J.D. degrees."[40] However, some argue that the J.D. is the highest "professional doctorate" in law,[41] on the grounds that some universities describe the S.J.D. as a "postdoctoral degree."[39][42] and the American Bar Association has issued a Council Statement[43] stating that the J.D. be considered as being equivalent to the Ph.D. for educational employment purposes.[44]

See also

Notes and references

  1. National Commission of University Accreditation: Doctorate Engine Seeker Archived July 2, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. "National Law of Higher Education" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  3. Belford, Terrence. "Why Change To A JD Degree?". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 5 April 2011.
  4. Osgoode Law School "Dean Patrick Monahan on the Growing Number of Canadian Law Schools Switching from the LLB to JD Degree Designation"
  5. "Become A Juris Doctor". University of Saskatchewan Law School. Retrieved 5 April 2011.
  6. "Graduate Studies in Law". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  7. "Présentation - Faculté de droit - Université de Montréal". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  8. "Index des programmes - Faculté de droit | Université Laval". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  9. "UQAM | Doctorat en droit | Université du Québec à Montréal". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  10. "PhD - Faculty of Law - University of Alberta". Retrieved 2013-06-17.
  11. "UBC Faculty of Law - Doctorate (Ph.D) Program". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  12. Archived November 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. "University of Toronto - Faculty of Law: Prospective Students". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  14. Archived November 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  15. "Faculty of Laws - Faculty of Laws - University of Malta". 2009-07-16. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  16. "Faculty of Laws - Faculty of Laws - University of Malta". 2009-07-16. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  17. Archived April 17, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  18. "Law students want to retain 'Dr' title".
  19. Faculty of Law. "Doctor of Laws".
  21. "- Wits University".
  22. Rhodes University. "Rhodes University".
  23. "Error".
  30. Squibb, G.D. : The High Court of Chivalry : Oxford University Press, London : ISBN 0-19-825140-8
  31. "International Affairs Office".
  32. "LL.M. and S.J.D. Programs, Graduate Studies in Law". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  33. "S.J.D. Degree". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  34. "S.J.D. Courses & Academics". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  35. "Yale Law School | Contact the Graduate Programs Office". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  36. The George Washington University. "SJD - The George Washington University". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  37. "NYU Law - LL.M. & J.S.D.: J.S.D. Program". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  38. 1 2 Stanford Law School. "Doctor of Science of Law (JSD) | Stanford Law School". Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  39. "The Association for Legal Career Professionals | Working Glossary". NALP. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  40. See Council of Graduate Schools in the United States. (1966). The doctor's degree in professional fields. A statement by the Association of Graduate Schools and the Council of Graduate Schools in the United States. Washington D.C. p. 3. Quoted in Forni, P. (1989). "Models for Doctoral Programs." Nursing and Health Care. v. 10, n.8. p. 432
  42. Council Statements are intended to provide law schools with guidance on a variety of issues and are advisory only. Council Statements are not and should not be considered the equivalent of Standards, Interpretations, and Rules for the Approval of Law Schools.
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