Law School Discussion


« on: February 23, 2006, 06:03:04 PM »
How does an LLM differ from an SJD?  I was under the impression that both are more advanced Law degrees, typically earned by people intending to enter legal academia.

Re: LLM v. SJD
« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2006, 01:36:33 AM »
JSD is the highest law degree awarded. Think of it as the "PhD of law," which it is; only not a Doctorate of Philosophy, but a Doctorate of Science, "Juridical Science" to be exact.

The differentiation is based on the same principle from which the distinction between BAs and BSs, and an MAs and MSs originates. One set is more abstract and philosophical (BA, MA) and the other is more technical and pragmatic (BS, MS)

In actuality, PhDs are awarded across fields that award either MA or MS degrees. There's no "science" or "art" distinction at the PhD level. If you get that far you're smart, period, and have a robust understanding of both the art/humanities/philosophy side of your chosen field as well as the scientific/pragmatic/technical side.

So, as every rule has an exception, a JSD (theoretically, the PhD of Law) does make the distinction between "art/philosophy" and "science/technicality," although it is arguable that the theoretical level at which a JSD graduate is operating is decisively more philosophical than scientific with regard to their cognitive processing.

I'd say that a JSD is no more "scientific" than a PhD is "philosophical." For the most part, they're labels that probably had some distinguishing meaning in the past but are more or less equivalent now. They're both Doctoral degrees.

But as one last anomoly, we have the JD, our beloved Juris Doctorate. Why this degree has the word "doctorate" in it is beyond me. It's more equivalent to a Master's degree than a PhD, so the use of doctorate seems misplaced. One has to receive an undergraduate degree to apply to law school just as one must receive an undergraduate degree to apply to graduate programs, many of which are 3 year programs (like JD programs) and award either an MA or MS degree. Many PhD programs "symbolically" award an MA or MS as a milestone after completing the first 3 years of the longer doctoral program (typically 6-8 years). Since a law program is 3 years (fulltime), it is more like a Master's-level program than a Doctorate-level program.

But I digress.

The LLM is akin to an "MA in Law," the weird placement of the JD in the academic heirarchy aside, and no, that's not shorthand for mother-in-law. Foreign law students hoping to practice in the US are required to earn an LLM in order to take the Bar Exam if  I'm remembering correctly. Non-foreign students pursue the LLM for a number of reasons... as a way to get a deeper understanding of a specialized area of law for their individual practices or in order to teach a particular subject at the collegiate level, simply for the "prestige" of the degree, or as a prerequisite to applying to a JSD program.

I'm still working on the lowly JD myself.

Good luck to you.


Re: LLM v. SJD
« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2006, 03:07:35 PM »
I would disagree on a few minor issues.

First, I would say that the JSD is truly more a post-doctorate doctorate. The JSD is head and shoulders above a "mere" Ph.D. Typically, the JSD holder must also get an LLM before the JSD (the top schools at least have this requirement).
So, your JSD holder would have, at minimum:

Likely a MA/MS in there too.

Contrast that with

Not to trivialize the Ph.D in anyway, it's just not as hard as the JSD.

In faculty profiles, I see a lot more JD & Ph.Ds than JSDs. My school (top 30) has, I think, only 3 JSDs but 13 LLMs. I've looked at the Harvard/Yale profiles before and do see a lot of the Ph.D rather than the JSD. Who knows.

I am also in the opinion that the JD is on par with the Ph.D. I could piss out a Master's Degree, it is no where close to the workload of law school.
As noted in by the ABA (obviously a slightly biased party in this argument), the Ph.D requires 60 hours of courses. JD is at least 84, usually 90. The only difference is the dissertation and if you combine all the 1L briefs, Appellate Briefs, Moot Court, etc, I think you would be hard pressed to say that the Ph.D is harder.
The remaining JD/Ph.D difference is time spent in pursuit of the degree. As noted by some, the reason the Ph.D takes so long is that one usually teaches/does research along with the Ph.D. JD is 3 years, balls to the wall, with no teaching English 101 or trying to find more evidence that Bacon actually wrote King Lear.

You also get all the cool doctoral gear for when you graduate. I like the stripes.

So, get that JD, pop your collar, and tell that girl at the bar to call you doctor. Might sound pretentious but no more pretentious than some anthropology Ph.D doing the same. 

Re: LLM v. SJD
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2006, 04:46:11 PM »

Yeah, your hierarchy makes sense. The only wrinkle is the fact that most law students are fresh out of an undergraduate program and so the JD program is analogous to an MA/MS program in their academic progress/development. It doesn't seem logical that one could collect their BA/BS and just skip the whole MA/MS phase on their way to a doctorate (your concept of the JD). There's a gap there.

I think a lot of the difference has to do with the fact that JDs are considered "professional" degrees. They're hands-on and practical. Schools don't spend much time (if any) talking about the "philosophy" of law. That comes later in LLM and JSD programs. JD programs are all about “pragmatics.” Here's what your appellate brief should look like. Here's how you do research using the Court Reporters or Westlaw. Here's the rule for Anticipatory Repudiation in Contract.

So, I think (and please bear with me, this is all my own take from my general knowledge and experience in the vast realm of academia) that the JD would be better characterized as an advanced kind of baccalaureate degree with a "science" bent for it's technical and practical nature, a JS, a BS in Law? The latter seems highly appropriate in my opinion. To some degree it’s in a class of it's own. I mean you have to hold a BA/BS to go to law school, and the rigor of the curriculum is more akin to a MA/MS level program, but the next step up is the LLM (Master of Laws), then, of course, the coveted JSD (Doctorate of Juridical Science). Seems like an extra step in there to me, coming from the more traditional academic understanding of the heirarchy… BA/BS, MA/MS, PhD, PostDoc fellowship…

I did the BA, MA, now JD route and I have to take issue with the idea of "pissing out" a Master's degree in anything. I mean, my MA program was in Critical Rhetoric, basically an advanced Communication degree. And we all know that Communication isn't rocket science. Hell, it's the degree for people who either aren't smart enough for computer science or physics, don't have the talent to pursue art/music/theater or lack the interest to become philosophers...or a combination. It's a slacker degree, like English or Anthropology, and I admit it, I was a slacker... albeit a slacker with an interest in philosophy and a basic understanding of science/mathematics, so that helped.

Anyway, even my slacker MA degree in Critical Rhetoric was damn hard. Even though we didn't write as regularly as we do in my JD program, we wrote a ton at the end. My thesis was 72 pages of stuff that would put you to sleep in about 3 paragraphs, and I researched it for half of my last (3rd) year and wrote (and rewrote and rewrote ad nauseum) for the last half plus part of the summer (slacker, remember?) I feel like the reading workload was very similar in both my MA and JD programs. Plus we had regular exams and, of course, finals. It was no walk in the park. And, yes, I taught as well. 

Keep in mind too, that the anecdote we got in graduate school of the rigor of a subsequent doctoral program (even in Communication) goes something like this… “Your thesis ends up being a chapter in your doctoral dissertation.” Now that’s a shitload of writing. Dissertations are like non-fiction novellas of completely incoherent and unintelligible gibberish. Wait, maybe there is an appropriate comparison to law there… But altogether, I’d say the amount of writing throughout the career of an attorney (JD, LLM or JSD) and an academic PhD is comparable, albeit very different in nature.

As for your stats, a PhD is 60 hours BEYOND the 30 required for an MA/MS, so 90 in total. But a simple tally of numbers falls short of making an appropriate comparison between JD and PhD degrees. Law courses, while they do increase somewhat in difficulty as the program progresses, are basically all the same. We learn rules and their exceptions and (hopefully) how to apply the rules to new fact patterns that we encounter (in hypos, exams, the Bar and practice). Some areas of law (and hence, courses) are more difficult because there are simply more rules (and/or exceptions). In this sense it's a much better comparison to BA/BS programs which are all about learning the rules at work in the particular domain of any academic major.

Compare this to an MA/MS program that builds on the rule-based pragmatic knowledge accumulated in an undergraduate program. Graduate programs attempt to “get behind the curtain” of rules we learned in undergrad and start picking at them asking the “What if…?” questions and growing exponentially more abstract and theoretical as the program progresses. And while JD courses do build on each other, it’s not an abstract or philosophical sort of development. It’s just that later courses add more rules on top of those we learned in earlier courses, in a very linear sort of growth as compared to the exponential and reflexive nature of courses and their increasing complexity in graduate and post-graduate doctoral studies. 

This is where the LLM and JSD come into play. In some sense, even many LLM courses are simply more-of-the-same when it comes to the “kind” of learning and approach they require. They delve into finer subsets of rules and exceptions of an area of law (such as taxation or international business) that was only covered facially in the JD program. But, more abstract concepts start working their way into the program as well, foundational materials, the philosophy of law, etc…

Then the JSD seems to me to be something like the Grand Puba of academia, combining the practical and technical nature of Law with the theoretical and abstract nature of Philosophy. Truly a daunting and excruciating program which is the reason there are so few of them. I imagine most are Mensa members too.

Here’s an interesting Wikipedia section of the longer JD entry that discusses the  comparison between the Juris “Doctorate” and other types of doctoral degrees.

I haven't read it yet, just googled "hierarchy of academic degrees" and this popped up. Should be a good read.

Thanks for your interesting post. I enjoy the exchange.


Re: LLM v. SJD
« Reply #4 on: July 02, 2006, 03:44:35 PM »

Couple of thoughts.  First, "why is the JD a doctorate?"  Because it is the highest degree necessary to practice law.  Much like an MD is the highest degree to practice medicine (acknowledging that there are other veins of medicine, such as the DO). 

Second:  "I think a lot of the difference has to do with the fact that JDs are considered "professional" degrees. They're hands-on and practical. Schools don't spend much time (if any) talking about the "philosophy" of law."  You are right on the first part.  The JD is a professinal degree, like the M.D. (contrast with a Ph.D. in medicine, which is a research doctorate.  But having practiced law for over 10 years, I think you have the second part backwards.  Much of the JD program is philosophical, NOT practical.  You are learning *some* practical stuff, of course, such as how to research matters and how to do "legal writing" (much of which you must unlearn after school and instead learn how to write persuasively in English).  But 90% of law school is theory.  The theory of torts, contracts, etc.  You don't really learn the practical stuff until  you are in practice.  First, much of the law is different in practice than in school because state law varies from the common law or uniform laws largely taught in school.  Second, the real practical stuff, like "how do I file a brief" and "how do a serve a complaint," just aren't taught in school.

Third:  "So, I think (and please bear with me, this is all my own take from my general knowledge and experience in the vast realm of academia) that the JD would be better characterized as an advanced kind of baccalaureate degree with a "science" bent for it's technical and practical nature, a JS, a BS in Law?"  That is true in the UK, where the barristers/solicitors have the LL.B. degree.  It is a fresh-out-of-high-school degree, like our B.A. and B.S. here, but for practicing lawyers.  In the US, though, we require our lawyers to first go through a B.A. or B.S. program.  A J.D. should *not* be a baccalaureate degree, then (it was that way not so long ago in the US).  Should it be a master's program then?  No, because it is the terminal degree.  Thus, by definition, it is a doctorate.

But to return to the thread topic, LLM v. SJD.  deFuturo has it right.  It depends on what you want a degree for.  As deFuturo said, the LLM student seems to fall into 2 categories:  those with foreign degrees (e.g., an LL.B.) who want to practice in the US (getting an LLM from an ABA accredited school usually meets that requirement, which isn't bad since most LLM's are 1-year programs), and those with US JD degrees who want to learn more in a particular field (e.g., LL.M. in taxation, in litigation, etc.) (LLMs are normally pursued by those who have NOT been in practice long b/c once you are in practice, it is hard to find time to leave the "real world") (and yes, as deFuturo said, there are those who get the LLM for presitige -- I know a JD from a state school who then got an LLM from Harvard, so he of course highlights that he's a Harvard graduate.....).  The JSD is almost exclusively for those who want teach (though it is not at all requried for teaching).  I frankly have never met anyone with a JSD.  We just don't see it in practice.

So, that's a rough comparison.  The key comes down to, "What do I want a law degree for?"  To be a lawyer?  Then get a JD.  But you're a lawyer from a foreign country already?  Then get the LLM.  To teach?  Well, that depends on how long you want to be in school.   ;)