The Doctor of the Science of Law (JSD) Degree

The JSD (Doctor of the Science of Law), the most advanced law degree, is designed primarily for those interested in becoming scholars and teachers of law. Study toward this degree is open only to exceptionally well-qualified students who hold a JD or its equivalent and who have successfully completed a U.S.-based LLM program or Stanford’s SPILS program. It is awarded to students who, under the personal supervision of a faculty member, successfully pursue a course of advanced research in a field in which they are already well grounded, and who produce an advanced dissertation that, in the opinion of the adviser, makes a substantial contribution to knowledge. A candidate must successfully complete either an LLM program or the SPILS program prior to commencing work on a JSD. Students enrolled in (or who graduated from) a Stanford LLM program or the SPILS program are in no way guaranteed admission to the JSD program, admission to which is highly selective.  Such Stanford-based students must (like all non-Stanford LLMs) apply separately to the JSD program during the spring quarter of the year prior to which admission is sought.

Overview of Degree Requirements

The requirements for the degree of Doctor of the Science of Law are:

  • Three quarters in residency during the first JSD year;
  • Successful completion of 9-12 approved quarter units during the first JSD year; including at least one
    methodological course;
  • Successful completion of an oral exam at the end of the first JSD year, intended to determine the candidate’s
    readiness to embark on doctoral research, as determined by the candidate’s dissertation committee chair and at least one other Stanford faculty member;
  • Filing of a Doctoral Dissertation Reading Committee Form, signed by each member of the committee, as well as the
    Associate Dean for Graduate Studies;
  • Successful completion of an advanced dissertation, as determined by a faculty dissertation advisory committee;
  • Successful completion of an oral defense of the dissertation, as determined by the same dissertation advisory
    committee;
  • Successful participation in the JSD colloquium during the first year and all subsequent years in which the student is
    in residence; and
  • Timely filing of an application for graduation

Unit Requirement

To obtain a JSD degree, a student must successfully complete, under the personal supervision of a faculty member, an approved 44-unit course of study. Credits earned to meet the Stanford-based LLM or JSM (SPILS) requirements will count toward 35 of these quarter units. Credits earned in an LLM pursued at another university cannot be counted toward the JSD unit requirement.  At least 26 of those 35 units must be in Law School courses; however, see below for the policies and limitations on enrolling in courses from elsewhere in the University.

All JSD students must participate in a year-long research colloquium (0 units) designed especially for JSD students.

JSD students in their first year who earned the LLM or JSM at Stanford must take 3 courses of at least 3 units each, for a minimum of 9 but no more than 15 units. Students wishing to take more than 9 units must secure the approval of their faculty advisor, and the law-school registrar must be so informed. And no student may take more than 7 units in a single quarter.

JSD students who earned the LLM degree at another university must during their first year at Stanford earn 35 units over the course of three quarters in residency and must take no fewer than 9 units in a single quarter. In the second year of the JSD program, these students must take 3 courses of at least 3 units each, for a minimum of 9 but no more than 15 units. Students wishing to take more than 9 units must secure the approval of their faculty advisor, and the law-school registrar must be so informed. During this second year, they may take more than 7 units in a single quarter.

In the year when JSD students are required to take 3 courses of at least 3 units each (i.e., the first year of the JSD program for students who earned the master’s degree at Stanford, and the second year for those who earned the master’s degree elsewhere), the following course-selection requirements apply. At least one of these three courses must provide either advanced methodological training and the remaining courses must provide further study in a substantive field related to the student’s doctoral research and all three must be approved by the student’s dissertation chair or by the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. Generally, directed research will not satisfy the coursework requirement units unless it is intended to provide the student with new or enhanced methodological, theoretical knowledge or substantive knowledge that is essential to carrying out that student’s dissertation research and that is not offered by any regularly scheduled courses or seminars at Stanford during the candidate’s first year in the JSD program. Candidates seeking credit for directed research while in residence must petition and receive the approval of their dissertation adviser and the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies as well as the Petitions Committee.

Students in the first year of the JSD program who have completed an LLM or JSM degree at Stanford and have been admitted to the JSD program will be entitled to terminal graduate registration (“TGR”) status, which allows students to register at a reduced tuition rate and pay for additional units.  JSD students who earned the LLM degree at another university are not entitled to TGR status until they have both earned 35 units and been in residence for three quarters at Stanford.

Limitations on Course Selection

JSD candidates are subject to the following limitations on course selection:

  • JSD candidates may not take any courses that are required as part of the first quarter of the first year of the JD curriculum and must petition for permission to take any courses that are required as part of the second quarter of the first year of the JD curriculum.
  • JSD candidates may not take any courses at other law schools.
  • As a general rule. JSD candidates are expected to take for Law School credit no more than 9 units elsewhere in the University and may not take any foreign or English language courses for Law School credit.  In exceptional circumstances–and with the express permission of their faculty advisor–students may be permitted to take more than 9 units elsewhere in the university.
  • Because of their special course and thesis requirements, JSD candidates cannot avail themselves of the “clinical quarter.

Residency Requirement

JSD candidates must complete a full academic year (three quarters) in residence at the Law School. This requirement is in addition to quarters in residence that may have been completed as part of a Stanford LLM program or the SPILS program. Thus, students who go through a Stanford LLM program or the SPILS program and then enter the JSD program must be in residence at Stanford Law School for six full quarters. For JSD candidates on TGR status, the term “in residence” means that a student is physically on campus and regularly meets with their adviser throughout the quarter.

Dissertation Requirement

JSD candidates must successfully complete an advanced dissertation, under the personal supervision of a law school faculty member (the Dissertation Committee Chair also referred to as the dissertation adviser). The dissertation must, in the opinion of the student’s dissertation committee, make a substantial contribution to knowledge.

JSD candidates also must orally defend that dissertation before the dissertation committee.

The JSD Dissertation Committee must have three members and may not have more than five members. Normally, all committee members are members of the Stanford University Academic Council or are emeritus Academic Council members. The principal dissertation advisor serves as the committee chair and must be an Academic Council member. Professors who have recently become emeritus and have been recalled to active duty may serve as principal dissertation advisors, though they are no longer current members of the Academic Council. A non-Academic Council member (including former Academic Council members) may replace only one of three required members of dissertation reading committees. However, emeritus faculty, whether recalled to active duty or not, count as an Academic Council member on the dissertation committee. The composition of the committee must be approved by the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies. All members of the committee must approve the dissertation.

Candidates for the JSD degree are required to submit either a single book-length monograph to satisfy the dissertation requirement or three papers in the form of publishable journal articles. Generally, candidates should decide on the format of the dissertation early in the dissertation research process but they may choose between the two formats later in the process, as long as they have the approval of their dissertation committee chair. The three papers should be related by methodology or substance.

As concerns the three papers, these are expected as a general rule each to be solo-authored by the JSD candidate.  That said, in line with changing norms in some social science fields, those JSD students engaged in such research may submit one co-authored paper, conditioned on the approval of the chair of the candidate’s dissertation committee and the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies.  In determining whether to allow for the co-authorship exception, the focus should be on two inquiries.  The first is whether the JSD candidate made substantial contributions to the paper, amounting to at least half the credit for its authorship.  Under this standard, it is possible for there to be more than two authors in total, but the JSD candidate must nonetheless be responsible for at least 50% of the resulting paper.  The second inquiry is whether the paper is of the sort that might be published in a specialized social science journal and/or have been produced as part of a social science doctoral program.  Papers that draw primarily on humanistic methods and/or on doctrinal analysis are not eligible for the co-authorship exception.  In the case of fields and methods (e.g., history and anthropology) that straddle the line between social science and the humanities, due attention should be given to the then-reigning doctoral requirements in those particular disciplines.  If the committee chair and associate dean determine that the exception should be granted, each co-author must submit a letter specifying (1) exactly how—and how much—the JSD candidate contributed to the paper and (2) stating that the JSD candidate “made substantial contributions to the co-authored paper, which amount to at least half the credit.”

Candidates who choose the paper option will defend all three papers at their dissertation defense. When submitting their papers for approval prior to their oral defense, students should include a brief (2-5 page) memo explaining the relationship among the papers and summarizing and commenting on the findings and their implications.

Ideally, by the time of the defense, at least one of the papers will have already been accepted for publication, a second will have been submitted for journal review, and the third will be ready for submission.

With the approval of the chair of the candidate’s dissertation committee and the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, the dissertation may be written in absentia following the fulfillment of the JSD residency requirement. It must however, be completed and submitted for approval within the period of four consecutive academic years and TGR fees must be paid for every quarter in which the candidate is in residence at Stanford. For this purpose, residency is defined as a student being physically present on campus, using university resources (e.g., library, computing, statistical advising), and interacting regularly with their dissertation chair or other members of the faculty. The JSD candidate must be registered and paying tuition in any quarter in which the student defends the dissertation or submits the completed dissertation, except that candidates are allowed to register for a special “graduation quarter” (for a modest fee) in the quarter immediately after they have successfully defended their dissertation, in order to make minor revisions to their written dissertation as requested after the defense.

At the end of each quarter in which a JSD candidate is enrolled in the program, the student’s dissertation chair will evaluate whether or not the candidate shall receive an ‘N’ grade in Law 802 (TGR Dissertation), indicating satisfactory progress toward completion of the degree or an ‘N-’grade, indicating unsatisfactory progress. The first ‘N-’grade constitutes a warning. The faculty adviser and student should discuss the deficiencies and the adviser should set forth the steps necessary to correct them. A second consecutive ‘N-’ will normally cause the Law School to deny the student further registration unless and until a written plan for the completion of the degree requirements has been submitted by the student and accepted by the adviser and the Committee on Graduate Study. Subsequent ‘N-’ grades are grounds for dismissal from the JSD program. Once a JSD student has satisfactorily finished all the degree requirements, the dissertation chair shall enter a grade of ‘S’ (satisfactory) for the student’s final TGR quarter.

Oral Examination Requirement

All JSD candidates must pass an oral examination at the end of the first academic year of the JSD program (normally before the University’s commencement date) and must successfully defend their dissertation orally at the completion of the program.

The first-year oral exam is intended to determine the candidate’s readiness to embark on doctoral research. Normally, the candidate will be asked to present plans for doctoral research (i.e., the research proposal) and will be expected to demonstrate mastery of the research literature and theoretical concepts relevant to the dissertation topic, and competence to deploy the required research methods. The candidate’s dissertation adviser will determine the exact content and format of the exam. First-year JSD candidates are encouraged to discuss with their dissertation advisers how best to prepare for the oral examination.

First year oral examinations will be given under the supervision of the faculty dissertation adviser. At least one additional Stanford faculty member will also participate in the oral examination. Candidates are encouraged to form their dissertation committee during their first year in residence and request that all members of the committee participate in the oral exam. If the candidate does not pass the oral examination, the candidate must retake the exam at a later time. Any such candidate should meet with their adviser to receive guidance concerning why their performance on the oral examination was insufficient to pass and how those deficiencies can be corrected with further preparation in advance of the second oral examination. In the event that the candidate needs to retake the oral examination, the second exam will be before a panel including at least three faculty examiners. A second failure to pass an oral examination will disqualify the student from the JSD program.

The oral dissertation defense is given under the supervision of the doctoral dissertation adviser and all members of dissertation committee. At the discretion of the dissertation chair, one member of the committee (but only one) may participate by videoconference. Oral dissertation defenses are not open to the public.

Colloquium Requirement

Regular attendance and participation (including presenting JSD research at various stages) in a faculty-led colloquium is required of all first-year JSD candidates and all other JSD candidates who are in residence at Stanford.

Time Limit on Degree Conferral

Candidates for the JSD degree must complete all degree requirements, including the dissertation, within four consecutive academic years of the time of matriculation into the JSD program. This is not extended for any quarters during which the JSD candidate is on leave. Only under extraordinary circumstances will a JSD candidate be allowed to extend the time to degree completion; such petitions require the approval of both the student’s adviser and the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and whether to approve such petition is within the discretion of each.

Timely Filing of a "Graduation Application"

Students should consult the University’s online Academic Calendar for the Graduation Application deadline dates for each term. The Academic Calendar is available through the Office of the University Registrar.

Academic Calendar

JSD Reinstatement

Students who withdraw from the JSD program before receiving their doctoral degrees may petition for reinstatement. Decisions on reinstatement will be made by the graduate program admissions committee.

Students who withdrew from the program after completing a dissertation research proposal and passing the first-year oral exam must submit the following:

  • An application for reinstatement available online or from the registrar’s office;
  • A statement describing the circumstances under which the student left the program and the changes in circumstances that suggest that the student now will be able to successfully complete the requirement for the doctoral degree;
  • A revised research proposal updated to reflect progress made before dropping out and current plans for completion;
  • A schedule for completing the proposed research, submitting a final dissertation and defending the
  • dissertation;
  • A draft of completed dissertation chapters, if any;
  • A statement from a Stanford Law School faculty member agreeing to serve as the student’s dissertation committee chair plus two other members of the Stanford faculty who have agreed to serve on the dissertation committee.

In deciding whether to reinstate the student, in addition to these materials, the graduate program admission committee will consider the performance of the student prior to dropping out and will consult with university faculty members who supervised the student’s dissertation research.

Students who withdrew from the program before completing a dissertation research proposal and passing the first-year oral exam must submit the following:

  • An application for reinstatement available online or
  • from the registrar’s office;
  • A statement describing the circumstances under which the student left the program and the changes in
  • circumstances that suggest that the student now will be able to successfully complete the requirements for the doctoral degree;
  • A description of the research the student proposes to conduct for the doctoral dissertation;
  • A statement from a Stanford Law School faculty member agreeing to serve as the chair of the student’s dissertation committee, plus a statement from at least one other faculty member who agrees to serve on the first-year oral exam committee.