Is a J.D. a Doctorate?

The answer is yes, a JD is a doctorate.

The JD was established as a professional doctorate in the United States in 1870, just a few years after the first research doctorate (PhD) was established. According to wikipedia, professional doctorates are awarded in certain fields where scholarly research is closely aligned with a particular profession, such as law, medicine, or psychology. (source)

Does this mean you are allowed to call yourself Doctor so-and-so after you graduate law school? Yes, as you are free to do anything that isn’t illegal, but expect to rapidly lose friends. Note also that calling yourself a doctor and doing anything outside your training can expose you to fraud charges.

The lay understanding of the word “doctor” is that it applies only to doctors of medicine and psychiatry, and to a much lesser extent to doctors of research who are professors. In the USA, the general rule is that unless you have patients, you are probably better off not calling yourself a doctor.

Some might even quibble with you if you argue that a JD should be considered the full equivalent of a PhD. For example, Elie Mystal, a blogger at Above the Law takes exception to the ABA’s resolution that JD’s working in academia be treated the same as anyone holding a PhD in this piece.

The debate over the relative merits of different post-baccalaureate programs can get a little heated, but just remember that the debate changes nothing about the innate value of a law degree no matter what it is called. The legal profession, titles aside, is an ancient and venerable one and is likely to remain so.

2 Comments

  1. Law degrees, and all professional degrees, regardless or their title are taught at the bachelor level. The level does not progress beyond that because the first degree field of study is not a prereq. In Australia, they have 3 year graduate entry LLB’s. Exactly what the JD is. I vote they end all professional degrees ie MBA’s MD’s JD’s and a bunch or others. Colleges are doing it to suck people in and professional assocations love it because they get to think they are better than every other field of study. They should all be replaced with BA’s, MBBS’s and LLB’s. This would correct the situation over night and pull everyones head out of their ass. Your a lawyer and you want to be a doctor? Do an LLM and then a LLD or a SJD.

    • That’s actually not true. A JD program has significantly evolved and developed throughout the years to become a full doctoral degree. Although some course content such as the first year may be foundational doctrinal courses that overlap an undergraduate course, law schools none the less are taught at a graduate level with the same graduate 80-90 units required after a bachelors degree resembling the same units of a formal PhD program (~90 units). The years it takes to complete a PhD should not be the variable considered, since it is a self-paced funded/not funded research endeavor that may take years to complete but the bottom line units are the same as a JD. Additionally, past the first year of law school, students are required to take advanced legal course work with practical training and applied legal research elements, that allows the lawyer to in fact be a gatekeeper in the profession. Also, mind you, 7 years is just the minimum, I myself will be in school for 12 years before earning a JD (I completed a masters along the way). A JD is a full doctoral degree.

Leave A Reply