Adjunct Law Prof Blog

Editor: Mitchell H. Rubinstein
New York Law School

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is A J.D. Degree The Same As A P.h.D??

On Sep't. 27, 2007, I wrote a posting about whether lawyers are considered doctors, here. That posting generated quite a bit of commentary. Not surprisingly, the answer to that rather simple question is somewhat unclear. A reader brought to my attention that the ABA considers a J.D. degree to be equivalent to a P.h.D. A copy of the ABA Council statement is available here. This would tend to support the notion that those with a J.D. degree can properly be called doctor. Frankly, however, I would be uncomfortable referring to myself as a doctor.

Mitchell H. Rubinstein 

Hat Tip: Stephen Hicks, Esq.

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My Swiss-born international law professor once remarked in class that law review (viz., writing a student note) was the equivalent of a Ph.D. dissertation. That fits in with the comment that the bar exam is the equivalent of the Ph.D. comprehensive exam.

Of course, purists on the Ph.D. side would point out that dissertations are reviewed by faculty, while law review student notes (written by 2Ls) are reviewed by student editors (3Ls).

Posted by: D. C. Toedt | Nov 10, 2011 6:00:44 PM

If a JD is a doctor, then what is a JD who then gets an LLM (MASTER of Laws) called? A doctor and master? And the JD who gets an SJD? A doctor/doctor? Really, this is just silly.

Posted by: Steve Erickson | Nov 11, 2011 5:15:57 PM

I've been at the bar a long time. When I started, the story was fresh of an advocate who had got himself a PhD and started calling himself "Dr". He even got a brass plate to say so. Other members of the bar with a less well developed sense of self importance started button-holing him all the time to ask him about their aches and sprains, STDs, and the like, whether real or imaginary. After a time the brass plate was changed. Nobody has pulled this stunt since.

Posted by: Jonathan | Nov 12, 2011 6:46:10 AM

JDs are doctors. Period. It is a professional doctorate. Every profession has one. It distinguishes us from LL.B. (which is a bachelor of laws). It is no less a doctorate than an MD (medicine), D.Eng (engineering), D.B.A. (business), Ed.D (education), Pharm. D (pharmacy). Etc. This debate is silly. Of course it is a doctorate. It's called a "Juris Doctorate" for god's sake. Whether we should call ourselves doctors is a different question. But we ARE doctors.

Posted by: Chancellor Kent | Jul 19, 2012 3:04:05 PM

My brothers and sisters: This thread reminds me of the conversations you can hear at a dentists' convention. For goodness sakes. Has no one heard of a JSD degree? What's that a "doctor squared?"

Posted by: Mike Pinkerton | Aug 15, 2012 6:45:47 PM

Yes, let's keep this simple. JD is a doctorate. We don't call ourselves "doctor" out of sense of modesty and concern about accidentally misrepresenting ourselves to ignorant people who might think we are medical doctors (very important for lawyers to consider). Traditionally also during the time when JDs and LLBs were still being granted, many distinguished lawyers only had a bachelor's so it was a no-no to call oneself doctor and suggest that you were more qualified than the very distinguished colleague. Of course the JD was a higher credential because of the pre-existing skill set from the bachelor. Many PhDs don't call themselves doctor either for social reasons. Many people people who become, e.g. Secretary of State, do not refer to themselves as doctor since they operate outside of academia. We get am LLM after JD because it is a one-year degree specializing in a field, thus we are, e.g., a doctor of law and master of tax law. An LLM is a lesser degree than a JD because it is only one year on one narrow field, not three years encompassing ALL OF LAW. It would be the same if I had a JD and later got a Master's degree in History. We would not call ourselves doctor and master since no one refers to their lesser degree alongside their higher degree. We do not even bother to refer to the higher degree, so the lesser one is besides the point. If we get a SJD or PhD (some do), then we are still a doctor. However in academia is more socially acceptable to refer to oneself as doctor only for a research doctorate i.e. PhD. Many MDs later get PhDs and teach or research medicine. They continue to be "Doctor", not "doctor squared" or anything else silly like that.

Posted by: Matt | Oct 5, 2012 6:43:53 AM

Let's be honest here - a PhD takes about 60 - 70 post bachelors semester credits followed by a 20-30 semester credit dissertation. That equates to a JD candidate that takes approximately 90 semester credits post bachelors, or about 8-10 MORE classes than a PhD, but without a dissertation.

I'd rather write an extensive paper and defend it than take 8-10 MORE DOCTORAL LEVEL CLASSES IN LAW SCHOOL ANY DAY! JD is a doctorate! Face the facts as nearly every major university has been headed by a JD - Top universities, such as, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Michigan State, Michigan, Johns Hopkins, etc. This is not true for masters degree or bachelors degree holders. Think also, President Obama, President Clinton. Think also many CEOs of Fortune 500 companies...

Posted by: Stephen | Dec 10, 2012 8:28:35 PM

The self -indulging and self-gratifying posturing of the JD holders who insist that JD is a doctorate is ridiculous. You need extra schooling after obtaining the JD to even get Master's. The only equivalent to a PhD is a Doctor of Judicial Science degree. You just have to be honest people !!!!!!!!!!
By the way, PHD is a RESEARCH degree, if you don't already know.
While it may boost one's ego and impress those who do not understand the obvious, it is simply dishonest, unethical, and shameful to insist that things are better than they really are.

Posted by: ABE | Feb 8, 2013 4:29:38 PM

I have to agree with ABE, and I have both. There is a big difference between the JD and the Ph.D. Pace Stephen, a Ph.D Dissertation is much more than long paper: it's an original contribution to the field. Something that rarely happens in Law School

Posted by: Jorge | Jul 17, 2013 2:59:40 PM

This conversation would be laughable if it wasn’t based on a lie. The ABA’s statement about the degrees being equivalent is based on a myth that Ph.D.’s require 60 hours of postbacculaureate hours. This is 100% wrong. I have a B.S. in Math, a M.Ed and I am researching Ed.D programs (Interestingly enough, the National Science Foundation and the Dept. of Ed. , has declared that the Ed.D is equivalent to the Ph.D but NOT the J.D.) ALL of the Ed.D/Ph.D programs that I have looked at require60-75 hours PAST the MASTERS degree, not the Bachleor’s level, as the ABA is saying. You can go into a Ph.D program right out of undergrad, but you are looking at 90+ credits. Period.

Posted by: David Fagan | Aug 23, 2013 7:17:57 AM

The questions is not whether the J.D. is equal to a research doctorate, but whether it is on par with other professional doctorates (i.e., medical doctorates, doctorates of optometry, and doctorates of dentistry).

To be quite clear, most reputable attorneys not only go to law school and pass the bar, but many also serve court clerkships for a full year before accepting employment. Many others obtain LL.M. degrees or other specializations. Most work for years (if not a full decade) as "apprentice attorneys" (i.e., associates) with large law firms before their peers consider them fully "qualified."

The J.D. is on par with other professional doctorates. To claim the contrary is absurd.

Posted by: Jeffrey | Jan 21, 2014 4:40:51 PM

Perhaps have we failed to Shepardize here. Take a look at the History section of the Doctor of Philosophy on Wikipedia, and then surf over to Etymonline and do a little word origin research of the term 'doctor.' The designations "Doctor of Theology and Divinity," "Doctor of Law," and "Doctor of Medicine," date from the late Middle Ages. The Ph.D degree (without and with the almighty dissertation requirement) is of much later advent. Using the Ph.D dissertation as measure of “doctorness” is akin to determining a sheriff by whether or not he or she drives a Ford Crown Victoria or Police Interceptor: They typically do these days, but I’m fairly certain those models were not available to the shire reeve, whose position predates The Conqueror.

George Washington, much beloved, was implored by many to take a significant title, commensurate with the power of his office, perhaps a hereditary title. Humble George, however, was uncomfortable being called "Mr. President," preferring instead, "First Citizen." Maybe my fellow Juris Doctors are as humble as Mr. Washington, or at least would not deign to be perceived any less humble than some old politician.

Posted by: Steve R. | Feb 12, 2014 6:09:58 PM

"Take a look at… Wikipedia" LOL hahaha… ("cuz" it is 100% a reliable source) LOL

Posted by: Mixtec | Apr 24, 2014 6:55:43 AM

I am in the final stages of the Ed.D. program and earned my J.D. several years ago. The Ed.D. program is much easier. The JD program was more intense and the competition was much greater. The Ed.D. program is great, for philosophy and such, but the JD hones certain analytic skills.

Posted by: Ronald McDonald | Aug 24, 2014 7:27:26 PM

I want to add that the Ed.D. program is only 2 years of classes + a Masters + the dissertation = about 90 credits = the same number for a J.D.

Posted by: Ronald McDonald | Aug 24, 2014 7:29:31 PM

A JD, along with a MD, is a professional degree. A PhD is a research degree with the objective to contribute something new to the field. A JD is a glorified masters in my opinion. In case you are wondering -- I have a PhD in the sciences.

Posted by: LawyersHaveComplexes | Oct 3, 2014 8:53:21 PM

I think the point is being lost some where. A JD and PhD are professionally equivalent as end game, terminal degrees. As for the title of doctor, well let's all remember that doctor = teacher, whether the general public understands that or not. As a PhD holder I have no qualms with being equated to a JD. (The only opinions that truly matter are those of your colleagues who know the work you've done and for whom the title holds meaning). I will assert, however, that a dissertation is far more than a long paper. They are generally 250 + page documents (book length) that require not only the approval of 3 or more in house readers, but often are sent out to anonymous experts in the field to critique. They represent original contributions to the field and depending on your field can take years to research. Law review notes would seem to be the equivalent of a journal article which is the standard unit of scholarly contribution across the boards generally: an original piece of research generally 30-80 pages in length that is anonymously reviewed by experts in the field (and generally not students).

Posted by: Chris | Nov 6, 2014 4:11:33 AM

A Ph.D. requires the completion of the Masters degree. The J.D. requires the completion of the bachelors degree. It also does not require a dissertation or research, so I would liken it to a Masters level experience, not a Ph.D. experience.

Posted by: dan davis | Nov 8, 2014 5:40:14 PM

Not sure why we're comparing apples to oranges. JD is a professional doctorate in the area of law, PhD for academia, MD, etc...

Posted by: Kennedy | Dec 12, 2014 4:03:19 PM

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