How Long Does IT Take To Get a PhD in Law?

Apr 23, 2020

It's important for students looking to earn their Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Law to be aware that a law school degree in and of itself is a doctorate. After three years of law school, the student has earned a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree which allows them to practice law. A Ph.D. in Law is an optional next step, ideal for students wishing to participate in similar academic careers as those who earn Ph.D.s in other subjects.

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Time Required

A Ph.D. in Law is a research-intensive program designed to prepare law students for careers in the fields of legal scholarship and teaching. Most programs take three to four years to complete and include elements of coursework, assessments, and examinations in addition to the completion of a full doctoral thesis. The average Ph.D. in Law program takes three to four years to finish and may take longer depending on if the students is enrolled part-time or full-time.

A doctoral degree in law may also be earned alongside a Juris Doctorate as a dual degree program. Students enrolled in dual programs may be able to complete law school in three years and doctoral work in six years if enrolled full time.

Program Overview

Admission to this degree program usually requires that the student has already earned a Juris Doctorate and/or a Master of Laws degree and has also gained professional experience of practicing law, unless the application is for a dual degree program, in which case such restrictions would not apply. Ph.D. in Law programs are extremely competitive, with around two to five students being accepted by major institutions each year, so only the most viable candidates will be selected for advanced study.

Course Structure and Content

Most schools outline the format of study up front. The Ph.D. in Law track often includes coursework, assessments, and examinations during the first two years and requires completion of a research-based dissertation in the final one or two years of study. Students take a mix of competencies and foundational courses to enhance their knowledge of the law in addition to classes in their chosen area of specialty. The curriculum may include courses in the following topics:

  • Company, commercial, and financial law
  • Criminal law, criminal justice, and criminology
  • Dispute resolution
  • Employment law
  • European law and policy
  • Human rights
  • International law
  • Law and theory
  • Medico-legal
  • Private law

Students will be expected to set up a thesis schedule with their advisory. These meetings ensure that the student is working toward his or her completed thesis and is able to complete the work on time for graduation. Since many doctoral law students are working professionals, meetings may be schedule on nights or weekends and around the times the student is taking classes.

Outcomes of a Ph.D. in Law

Students earning their Ph.D. in Law are prepared to work at the university level as professors and scholars, and can also elect to publish their work and conduct research for a living. However, this occupation often pays less than working in the private or government sectors of the law. Postsecondary law teachers made a mean annual wage of $130,710 in May 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), compared to the mean annual wage of $144,230 for lawyers in the same period, though mean wages exceeded $200,000 in some private sectors.

In conclusion, a Ph.D. in Law is an optional path for students wishing to undertake careers as teachers or law scholars. The program of study is multi-faceted, incorporating elements of coursework, examinations, seminars, assessments and a doctoral thesis. Students enrolled in a full-time program could expect to complete their studies in 3-4 years; those undertaking a dual degree program must be prepared for 6-8 years of study.

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