Best PhD for Lawyers

Aug 31, 2018

Some attorneys may wish to continue their education after earning their Juris Doctorate, or JD, and pursue a PhD. Students who are entering law school or completing their 1-L year might think of completing a joint JD/PhD program. Holding these diplomas can make job applicants more competitive for a variety of positions. Read on to learn about three PhD degrees that a lawyer might consider and some possible career options for those who complete these programs.

PhDs for Lawyers to Consider

PhD in Law

A PhD in Law is a highly advanced legal degree that prepares candidates for careers in legal scholarship. To apply to a law PhD program, it is expected that applicants would have first earned a JD degree. Transcripts from their JD and undergraduate programs, legal writing samples, and recommendations are considered in making admission decisions. Research proposals are also required. The program takes approximately three years of full-time study to complete, and some common courses may include legal scholarship, jurisprudence, and research methodology. Scholarship is an expected part of PhD in Law programs, with the completion of law review articles or a dissertation being part of program completion. Other advanced degrees in law that might be considered by those interested in legal post-graduate training are the LLM and the SJD.

PhD in Economics

Many legal fields, such as bankruptcy law and antitrust law, take place at the intersection of law and economics, requiring a thorough understanding of both fields. As such, a PhD in Economics might be a good consideration for attorneys seeking to earn a PhD. Program applicants are required to provide transcripts, GRE results, and letters of recommendation. Advanced undergraduate courses in mathematics, including calculus and linear algebra, may be expected. Common courses for PhD in Economics programs include macroeconomic theory, microeconomic theory, and econometrics. A PhD program in economics typically takes five to six years to complete, with coursework being completed during years 1-3 and dissertation work in the following years. If completed as a joint degree program, the coursework can typically be completed in four years, with candidates completing their dissertation after that time.

PhD in Engineering

With the increasing importance of technology to social and legal issues, a PhD in Engineering could be a great choice for applicants with a strong background in this field. Applicants to PhD in Engineering programs typically hold their bachelor's degree in engineering or a closely related area. They should expect to provide transcripts, where grades in technical courses will be strongly considered, along with GRE scores. An engineering PhD program typically takes approximately five years; a dual JD/PhD program can often be completed in six years. Course requirements depend on the specific engineering area being studied, but may include topics such as analog and digital communications, power systems, and neuroengineering. To complete PhD program requirements, candidates typically take qualifying examinations and complete a dissertation.

Career Options for Graduates with a JD and PhD


There is a growing trend, particularly among top law schools, to hire professors with both a JD and a PhD. As such, many graduates of JD and PhD programs work as professors. Graduates holding any of the PhD degrees discussed above would be qualified for a role as a college professor. College professors design syllabi, teach courses within their field of study, and work closely with students to ensure their success in their field. They assess students' performance on examinations or written papers. They may provide advising to students selecting courses or assessing career opportunities. At most levels, professors are also involved in scholarship and produce articles or books on current issues within their fields.

Higher Education Administrator

Another option to consider within academia for those who hold both a JD and PhD is higher education administration. Administrators direct various functions of college campuses, including the services offered to students, the way research is conducted, and the quality of the overall academic program. They may draft a range of academic policies and analyze data concerning student outcomes.

Policy Analyst

A position as a policy analyst is an option for any candidates holding a JD and PhD. Policy analysts work for think tanks, governmental agencies, and non-profits. They propose solutions and raise awareness regarding a wide range of issues within their area of specialty.

In-House Counsel

For those who hold a PhD in Engineering or Economics and wish to practice law, one option to consider would be a position as in-house counsel. Lawyers with engineering PhDs could be particularly well-suited to positions at a technology or biological science company where a strong understanding of the science of the business is expected, whereas an economics PhD could be an advantage for an in-house counsel at companies focused on financial services. An in-house counsel manages the legal affairs of a company by advising upper management regarding the application of laws to company practices, protecting the company against risk, and overseeing the work of in-house counsel who may be hired for litigation.

Intellectual Property Lawyer

Graduates holding a PhD in Engineering may consider work as an attorney specializing in intellectual property. Intellectual property is the legal methodology for protecting intangible property and includes patents, trademarks, and copyrights. In particular, patents prevent the copying of inventions by another individual. To become an intellectual property lawyer specializing in patents, a bachelor's degree in a technical field as well as a law degree is required, as is passing both the bar exam in the state of practice and the patent bar exam. However, a PhD could give candidates a competitive advantage with the enhanced ability to analyze and interpret highly technical patent applications.

Antitrust Lawyer

For those holding a JD and a PhD in Economics who wish to practice law in a specialized field, antitrust law would be a great option to consider. Antitrust law is focused on federal laws that maintain competition within the marketplace and require a deep understanding of modern economic structures. The fields of bankruptcy or corporate law are also practice options to consider for lawyers with a PhD in Economics.

Overall, obtaining both a JD and a PhD is a highly challenging and lengthy course of study. However, it can lead to a wide range of challenging and well-compensated career options in both the academic and corporate fields.

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