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Doctor of Laws is a doctoral degree in law. The application of the term varies from country to country, and includes degree such as the LL.D., Ph.D., Dr. iur., D.C.L., and S.J.D. or J.S.D. (Scientiae Juridicae Doctor in Latin).

By country


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's 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 who of 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 conferr 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 thesys 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 thesys as a precondition for the award of the degree. Nevertheless, copies of the thesis must be delivered to the instutution's library. Usually, doctoral thesis are published by especialized 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 thesys 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 wether the work done by the candidate adheres to the minimum standards of quality that are usually required by a Brazilian univeristy when granting doctoral degrees.

Admission to doctoral courses is usually reserved to holders of a Master's degree (the Master's in Brazil is a graduate degree and is not the first professional degree). 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.


The term "Doctor of Laws" may be used in Canada to refer to either the professional doctorate Juris Doctor, or to the academic LL.D. or S.J.D. .

As in the United States, many law schools in Canada award graduates the designation "Juris Doctor". All Canadian Juris Doctor programs consist of three years, and have similar content in their mandatory first year courses. As with U.S. J.D. programs, such as that of the New York University Law School, . the mandatory first year courses in Canadian law schools outside Quebec include "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, Aboriginal law, etc.[89]

Separately, some Canadian universities award the academic designation "LL.D.". Most of these universities award it only as an honorary degree. However,when awarded by a law school, it is an earned degree. Of the universities in Canada that offer earned academic doctorates in law, four (University of Ottawa, University of Montreal, Laval University, and University of Quebec at Montreal) offer LL.Ds, three (University of British Columbia, Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, and University of Victoria) offer Ph.Ds, three (University of Toronto, and Dalhousie University) offer J.S.D./S.J.D degrees (Doctor of Laws), and one (McGill University) 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.

European and Commonwealth usage

In the United Kingdommarker, Australia, New Zealandmarker, 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 Oxfordmarker, award a Doctor of Civil Law degree instead. In South Africa, the LL.D. is awarded by many university law faculties as the highest degree in law, also based upon research and completion of a Ph.D. equivalent dissertation like in most European countries. The LL.D. may also be awarded as an honorary degree based upon a person's contributions to society.


In Finlandmarker, the Doctor of Laws ( ) is the highest degree in law, based on 40 credits of course studies and, most importantly, successful completion of a doctoral dissertation. The dissertation can take the form of a monograph of 250–300 pages in length, or of a series of published articles. A successful oral disputation is also required.

The degree of the Doctor of Laws does not qualify its holder for judicial offices. Instead, the degree of the Master of Laws ( ) 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.


Officially referred to as Doctor of Jurisprudence (Doktor der Rechtswissenschaften) by most German law schools, the Doctor of Law (observe the singular) is the terminal degree in law, awarded as Dr. iur. (Doctor iuris). It is conferred based on a thesis consisting of a suitable body of original academic research. The thesis must have been published as a book or 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 Laws (now note the plural), awarded as Dr.iur. utr. (Doctor iuris utriusque) 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 Law 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.

Czech Republic and Slovakia (former Czechoslovakia)

In the Czech Republicmarker and Slovakiamarker the Doctor is a postgraduate degree awarded as JUDr. (Juris Utrisque Doctor) based upon research and completion of a dissertation. This dissertation differs from a Ph.D. dissertation in its lesser time and work (approx. 2 - 3 years for full time candidates, 5 years for distance candidates). The Ph.D. is chosen by candidates interested in an academic career since it comprises the capacity for teaching at universities.


In Italy, the title of "Doctor of legal science" (Dottore in scienze giuridiche) is the title given to anybody who graduates from university having completed a normal course of undergraduate studies in law (3yrs), also known as corso di laurea triennale [77883]). These can be compared to the British Bachelor of Laws degree.The title of "Doctor of law" (Dottore in giurisprudenza [77884]) is the title given to students who, after first level degree, complete the master degree in law (Laurea magistrale [77885]) (+2 years), and, previously, this was the title given to the students that completed the old courses of studies in law (4 years).The Ph.D. title (Dottore di ricerca [77886]) can be earned after (+3 years) of schooling, by students that have a master in law (Laurea specialistica) and are "Doctor of law".Once a prospective lawyer has been awarded the "doctor of law" (Dottore in giurisprudenza), and worked two years like 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).


In Maltamarker, 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, 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". 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 Maltamarker (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. 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), and Dr. Lawrence Gonzi (current Prime Minister of Malta).

United Kingdom

In the UKmarker, the degree of Doctor of Laws is a higher doctorate, ranking above the PhD, 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 LLD, however some universities (such as Oxfordmarker) 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. 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

The term "Doctor of Laws" typically refers to the degree of Doctor of Laws (LL.D.), which in the U.S. is now only an honorary degree , and to the the S.J.D. (Scientiae Juridicae Doctor or J.S.D., the degree name in English or Doctor of Juridical Science).The S.J.D. is a research doctorate, and as such it is generally accepted as equivalent to the more commonly awarded research doctorate, the Ph.D. It is considered the "terminal degree in law" by Indiana University and Harvard Law School and as the "most advanced law degree" by Yale Law School, Georgetown Law, and Stanford University. 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." However, there are other views that these terms refer to its status as the highest research doctorate in law only and does not mean that the J.D. is not also a doctorate (the highest professional doctorate in law), which may very well be why Stanford on its website also refers to the J.S.D. as a "postdoctoral degree." The S.J.D. typically requires three to five years to complete, and requires an advanced study in law as a scientific discipline and a dissertation, which serves as an original contribution to the scholarly field of law. Notable recipients of the degree of Doctor of Juridical Science include: Harvey L. Strelzin (New York U., 1906);Charles Hamilton Houston (Harvard, 1923); Lowell Turrentine (Harvard, 1929);Justice William Henry Hastie (Harvard, 1932);Justice Bernard Jefferson (Harvard, 1934);Pauli Murray (Yale, 1965)Judge Navanethem Pillay (Harvard).

See also

Notes and References

  2. Osgoode Law School "Dean Patrick Monahan on the Growing Number of Canadian Law Schools Switching from the LLB to JD Degree Designation" [1].
  7. Osgoode Law School "Dean Patrick Monahan on the Growing Number of Canadian Law Schools Switching from the LLB to JD Degree Designation" [2].
  8. Canadian law school concentrations, certificates and joint-degree programs [3].
  21. Squibb, G.D. : The High Court of Chivalry : Oxford University Press, London : ISBN 0198251408
  35. 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

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