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Sunday, May 23, 2010


I've just finished up a JSD degree and thought it might be useful for some of this blog's readers to hear one person's perspective about whether it is worth it for those interested in law teaching jobs to pursue this course.  A JSD or SJD is a degree offered by a few law schools, ostensibly aimed at and designed for people who are interested in an academic legal career.  Admission always requires having completed an LL.M., sometimes at the school from which one is seeking admission to the JSD.

A couple of qualifications.  These thoughts relate to candidates with U.S. JD degrees who are interested in a position in an American law school.  JSD programs often attract foreign applicants who are interested in positions outside the United States (where a doctoral degree is required for obtaining a position), and those folks populate the ranks of many JSD programs.  I'm not familiar enough with the academic hiring culture abroad to know what value a JSD is perceived to bring.  My thoughts also are directed to people who are interested in the JSD at least in some measure to burnish a CV with a JD from a non-elite law school (say, a school outside the top 5 or 7).  If you graduated with a JD from Yale and decided to pursue the Yale LL.M. and JSD too, this post isn't really for you (though they are rare, I've seen people who are in, if not this exact category, something like it).

One last point before the thoughts.  I absolutely loved my LL.M. and JSD experience.  It gave me just what I wanted and I will always look back with deep fondness on the faculty and friends I got to know, as well as on the extended period of study and reading.  But there programs have benefits and risks, and I think it's right to be open about them.

 1. Go for the professors.  By far the most important reason to do a JSD is that you want to spend a significant period of time interacting with and having your work read and criticized by teachers whom you admire and who are interested in being mentors to you.  This is the single greatest value of the JSD experience.  One may ask, 'But how do I know who those professors are, in advance of applying for the JSD?'  One way you will come to know is by pursuing the LL.M. at the same institution.  If you are thinking about a JSD, you ought to use the LL.M. year to gather as much information about your prosepctive JSD professors as you can.  That means that before you even apply for the LL.M., you ought to have a quite distinct idea about the field of study that you want to pursue, the range of courses (seminars, primarily) that you will take, who teaches those seminars, what those professors have written, how those professors are generally regarded by students, and, how those professors are regarded by their peers.  You should have a sense for how important those professors are, and how strong the school's reputation is, for your chosen field.  It's also a good idea to make contact with those professors before arriving.  Chances are that they won't immediately respond to your inquiries, so keep after them.  Try to get a sense for whether they are receptive to LL.M. students taking their seminars.  Even shove a little bit of your writing at them, to see if they are open to taking a look.  That's all before even getting to the law school. 

All of this means that before you go, you ought to know what you want to specialize in, have read as much as possible in that field, know who the professors are at the University with whom you want to study, know and have read what those professors have written in the field, and know as much as possible about those professors and the academic reputation of the school in your desired area of expertise. 

After you get there, recognize that you need to begin in earnest to connect with those professors and immerse yourself in the literature with which they are expert.  In fact, it's better if you begin this immersion before you arrive at the school, because the moment you arrive, you will begin to need to impress.  And that means, you will need to be presenting written work product, rather quickly and in a consistent stream, for them to evaluate. You will need their warm recommendation when you apply, first, for the JSD program, and, second, for a position later on.

2.  Go to write, not only to read.  The mistake that I think some people make with these programs is to think of them as a period where you can sort of just read for years in the subject of your choice, undisturbed and at your leisure.  Deep reading within your particular, chosen field is an important component of the JSD experience.  But if you want to get an academic position after the JSD, it is absolutely vital that you write, and write constantly.  The reason is not only that you want to use the time to get published.  It is also, and even more importantly, that you want to develop a scholarly relationship with your chosen mentors/professors.  The only way really to do that is to be producing work in a steady stream -- that's the only way to cultivate a scholarly repartee with your professors, and it's absolutely crucial that they begin to think of you in these terms -- as young scholars, rather than as one of their JD students (or perhaps as something less than that) -- as quickly as possible after your arrival.

3.  Only go to the absolute top schools in the country.  Since you are using the JSD as a way to polish up what will be perceived as some ugly soiling on your CV, you must only go to one of the best schools in the country.  I won't create some sort of artificial line of demarcation here, but Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and NYU all have strong programs in graduate legal education.  When I applied, I was under the impression that Chicago's JSD was open only to foreign graduates, but I just checked their site and saw that the LL.M. is open to domestic types and didn't see any limitation on their JSD site.  At all events, since you will be using the JSD as a cleansing agent, you want to get as clean as possible.  It is also generally (not universally, but generally) the case that professors at higher ranked schools have achieved a greater reputation among their peers.  If you will be investing 4-6 years in this venture, you want to take advantage of all of that.

4.  Do not think that the JSD is the equivalent of a Ph.D.  It plainly and unequivocally is not.  A Ph.D. trains you systematically in the methods and substance of a discrete non-legal field.  A JSD does not do this.  In a few JSD programs, there is some formal coursework related to legal history, legal methods, legal theory, perhaps even jurisprudence, but there is no standardized formal training that compares to the Ph.D.  By and large, the person who should do the JSD is someone who already has zeroed in on a particular legal field and has identified legal scholars in that field with whom he or she wants to spend several years in an extended academic 'conversation.'  By the end of a Ph.D., my impression is that graduates have command of an entire extra-legal discipline and thorough knowledge of a sub-discipline in that subject.  By the end of a JSD, graduates will have deep knowledge of particular features or elements of a legal sub-discipline.  The increasing specialization of legal knowledge, and the heightening pressures on entry-level candidates to be sub-sub-disciplinary experts from the get-go, make the degree worth pursuing for those with the time and inclination.  But it isn't removely the same as a Ph.D.

5.  Know that the JSD degree itself will not be universally respected by academic employers.  Because it is not a Ph.D., some legal academic employers will not know what to make of the degree.  It will be incumbent on you to explain why you pursued it and what you gained from it.  In my case, it was without question the chance to work closely with and get to know the faculty that were my mentors -- to know their work inside and out, as well as the sub-disciplines of which their work formed a part, and to begin to think systematically about something large that I wanted to say in one or more of those sub-disciplines.  It was also the chance to participate in the intellectual life of a law school -- to get to know its customs and manners of interaction.  Perhaps unlike the Ph.D., this all needs to be spelled out clearly when one is coming with a JSD (or as a JSD candidate).    

In all, I think the JSD experience can be a very worthwhile one.  Time will tell whether it catches on for more domestic JD graduates.  But it is definitely one that needs somebody with an internal motor and some-what laser-like sense of what one wants to get out of the experience, right from the get-go.  It also takes a kind of willfully mule-like cheerfulness, because if you really take to heart all those people telling you that you'll never get a job with a JSD, you won't.

Posted by Marc DeGirolami on May 23, 2010 at 02:19 PM | Permalink


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anotheranon: the goal of fellowship committees is to select people with good research potential. We assume that all applicants are decent writers, so the point of your writing sample is not to show that you can write, but to show that you have good "academic" ideas and know your field well enough to execute them. Thus, your clerkship memo is not useful at all, unless it constitutes an early draft of your "academic" project. But if the latter is the case, just spend a few days turning a memo into a rough draft of a paper and go with it. Whatever you do, remember that you goal is to convince people that you have great ideas and know a lot of stuff. You don't want to come across as a guy who is so desperate for ideas that he's converting practitioner memos into articles.

Posted by: lawanon | May 28, 2010 7:04:05 PM

Thanks, Marc and lawanon. That's an excellent, important point. In a perfect world, I'd be able to do my Ph.D. work at the same university, which I think would facilitate keeping up existing law school connections and developing new ones (my clerkship and practice experiences have shifted my research interests, which are different than most of my law school coursework, unfortunately.) But while we're here, I wanted to ask an additional question:

I'd like to apply for (Climenko/Bigelow style) fellowships this fall, but I don't have a ready-to-go academic writing sample. I will have one a year from now, because I'll be spending the next year in a (non-Ph.D.) program that will allow me to prepare one. However, I'm not sure, given the demands of my current job, that I'll have one ready to go this fall. Will I be at a significant disadvantage for fellowships if I was to use a different type of writing sample - for instance, an analytical piece prepared during an appellate clerkship, with the relevant judge's permission? (Of course, this would be coupled with a research agenda that would detail my WIP for the 2010-11 academic year, as well as what I'd like to work on during my fellowship years.)

(Note: I'm not sure how usual it is to consider doing both a fellowship and a Ph.D. Right now, my plan is to apply for both this fall and to see what results I get.)

I'd appreciate any insight - thanks again.

Posted by: anotheranon | May 28, 2010 5:48:31 PM

I strongly second the last comment by Marc. If you get a JD first and PhD later, you *must* keep in touch with your law school supporters and make sure they are familiar with your post-JD work. A few years ago, there was a candidate on an entry-level market, who I thought was the star of the year in his (and my) field. Sadly, he first went to a (top) law school, and then, to a (top) grad school, and his law school references had no idea about his post-JD work. So, his PhD advisers gave him glowing reviews, but his law school advisers said something lukewarm like "I don't know much about him; he got a good grade in my big lecture class, but I only know about this because he sent me his transcript last week; I'm not familiar with his current research, etc." He ended up at a good place, but could have done a lot better if he cultivated his law school relationships. (Surely appointments committees were at fault also on this one, but this comment is meant as an advice to entry-level hopefuls, and I am assuming you guys don't have a power over appointments committees).

Posted by: lawanon | May 27, 2010 11:02:14 PM

Anotheranon -- thanks for the comment. This was also the case for me as I went through my JD program. I simply wasn't ready, at that point, to think about law teaching and was considering other options. It sounds like the Ph.D. may well be the right course for you. But be sure, as you go through your program, to (re)connect with your law school professors (or to make new connections!) and show them your Ph.D.-related work. When it comes time to apply for law school jobs, you will want to be in a position to have the support of law professors (as well as of your Ph.D. people), since the market generally puts a premium, I believe, on the good word of legal academics.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | May 27, 2010 4:12:49 PM

Marc, thanks for this extremely helpful post (and the resulting colloquy). I'm an aspiring law prof (HYS grad/well-regarded circuit clerkship, thus far), who is leaning towards the Ph.D. route. My instinct - largely confirmed by this thread - is that the Ph.D. is probably the right choice for me, because the SJD isn't quite a "Ph.D. in law" (which is an option that I really wish we Americans had).

You've captured my law school experience in a nutshell with this: "Most JD students do not have the sort of experience with their law school professors that I describe. They are either (a) not ready for a graduate student experience in law school, or (b) not thinking about academic law when they do their JD, or (c) too busy with just fulfilling the core requirements to think about writing and scholarship when they are going through law school, or some combination of the above . . . But many -- even those that are academically inclined -- have their heads in different places as they go through the JD experience. They are not thinking academic law, and they are not ready for it. They only come to realize later, after they have graduated, that they are interested in teaching."

That's exactly where I find myself. I've looked back at my law school experience in recent months with frustration, because I feel I "should have known" to engage in law school in more of a "pre-scholarly" way, if you will. It's reassuring that there are options out there for those of us who (for whatever reasons) weren't quite able to engage with the law in that way the first time around.

Posted by: anotheranon | May 27, 2010 3:36:56 PM

All, thanks for the discussion. I'll chime in briefly just to say that the points that I'm seeing lawanon make are views that are shared by a good number of people in law school hiring. I'm grateful to lawanon for making them, and all of the other anonymoi here who are considering this degree should take careful note of them.

The strongest point against them, in my view, is the one made by one of the anons up there. And that is, that it doesn't make sense to me not to put any value in the fact that someone has spent 3-5 years studying, reading, and writing extensively in a particular sub-discipline of the law, with the guidance and under the supervision of excellent scholars, before even putting his or her name up for the market. I understand entirely that it is a different sort of value than one would assign for a Ph.D. -- categorically different. But given a record of scholarship within the chosen discipline, and glowing references from one's supervisors, why not believe that those years devoted exclusively to deepening one's knowledge of a sub-discipline, reading everything about the field, and engaging with professors at a top place, would be an asset to a school looking to hire someone who has promise to become a strong scholar in that area? In my initial post, I noted what I take to be the increasing specialization of legal knowledge and the correlated pressure on entry-level candidates to have deep command of a legal sub-discipline (just look at the way we scrutinize candidates' job talk papers these days -- these are entry-levels, people!!). The JSD responds to this market pressure, in many cases admirably (depending on the candidate, of course), as it offers the chance to acquire just such deep and broad knowledge. Now, one might say that you can do this on your own -- just read a bit between billing cycles at your Wall Street firm, or take that one-year VAP and squeeze in some theory when you aren't preparing for your first time teaching property. This may be possible at the margins, but in the main, I just don't think that the level of theoretical engagement will be the same -- it can't be, given the time demands of these other endeavors. Thanks again, all.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | May 26, 2010 7:41:03 AM

Anondude, my point was descriptive, not normative. Whether to get a JSD is not a "simple matter" because this would not be a helpful conversation to have with a student:
US JD: "I want to be a legal academic. Should I get a JSD?"
Me: "Yes! Look at how JSDs have placed on the job market! They do great!"

Posted by: anon2 | May 26, 2010 3:02:46 AM

Lawanon: A few points.

1. At top law schools--and you mentioned that you are on the faculty of one--a J.D. is not a prerequisite for teaching (see, e.g., Jules Coleman, Steven Shavell, etc.). So it would appear that there is little need to establish service course readiness in the way you describe at such schools (and since when is teaching a concern at top schools??). Those without a J.D. generally have a Ph.D., and certainly foreign applicants are just as capable of gaining entry into PhD programs as domestic applicants. So again, why claim that the SJD is good enough for a foreigner but not an American? It suggests that you think foreigners can't cut it at PhD programs, but you nevertheless believe that we ought to cut them some slack.

2. It is extremely odd that you would draw that "only" inference from an American SJD-holder. Do you draw that same inference from JD-only candidates, who are still commonplace in the legal academy (top schools included)? If not, and I doubt that you do (especially since you're speaking from the point of view of the "market"), then you are arguably taking an extremely controversial position: SJDs are not only valueless, they hurt a candidate.

If you really believe this, then the top schools are doing a disservice by offering the degree at all. They should instead allow foreigners simply to get J.D. degrees regardless of whether they have some sort of law degree from a foreign school. Why? Because, as you suggest, a SJD is merely a JD substitute, so why distinguish between them? And this is being charitable; in a JD you get three years of doctrine, rather than one (as in most SJD programs--see below), so the JD is actually the superior degree and ought to be the sole offering. I seriously doubt that you would advance this view at your next faculty meeting ... thank goodness for anonymous posting!

This "only" inference is also controversial because it is likely at odds with the conventional approach to law teaching hiring--namely, that pedigree is a distant second (or even third) to scholarship quality. Your inference is undoubtedly quite strong--it has to do with smarts and diligence after all!--so it is probable that you read a candidate's scholarship with this coloring or, worse yet, that you use it as a reason not to read the scholarship at all. I hope not, but if so, that's a rather careless shortcut, and one that I doubt the market makes. It is just as likely that the market would view a candidate's willingness to engage in long-term study of law through a SJD as a sign that she is committed to an academic life (at least relative to the JD-only candidate that spent time in practice or doing government work)--a valuable signal.

3. The notion that a SJD would make the candidate service course-ready whereas a LLM would not is simply false. Most SJDs are finished with coursework after the LLM year, and thereafter they do not work on learning doctrine. Rather, they tend to focus on academic literature, theory, extra-legal methodologies, etc. In short, their focus is on scholarly writing rather than teaching core courses. Furthermore, the LLM is adequate for service course-readiness; it is certainly adequate for practice at top law firms, where knowledge of doctrine is put to the test in high-stakes situations (and which, incidentally, is better doctrinal training for service courses than JD courses, but that's another matter entirely). Hiring faculty at top schools are certainly aware of this because they offer SJD degrees. So they must be hiring these SJD holders over JD holders for some other reason, and the most obvious choice is that their scholarship and recommendations are better (and this is a direct result of enrollment in the SJD program).

4. I understand that this is blog writing, so perhaps some latitude should be granted, but you and some others act as though any PhD is better than any SJD. All PhD programs are not created equally. Some have rigor, and some don't. Were the choice between obtaining a SJD from Harvard or a PhD in a soft discipline at a considerably lesser institution, the better choice could very well be the former.

5. There's a troubling self-loathing that informs the anti-SJD view. Legal academics have, for decades, assumed that they lack the rigor of their peers elsewhere in the university. They even worry that there might not be a distinctly legal ontology, methodology, typology, etc.

Fortunately, this appears to be changing. Higher salaries in law and position cuts in other disciplines have made the study of law more attractive to the finest academically-inclined minds. There is no reason to assume that law schools have not, and cannot, create an in-house doctorate that has intrinsic worth. Even now, one-on-one study over several years with the very best law professors has to have some value. And if you don't think so, you might want to reconsider whether you entered the right line of work.

Posted by: anondude | May 26, 2010 12:18:21 AM

"Compare that to American candidates: when an American gets an SJD, the market infers only one thing -- s/he was not smart enough, or diligent enough, to get a real academic degree (PhD). That's why the market treats US and non-US SJDs very differently."

Why does the market (i.e., law professors) continually make this inference? It's patently false for a variety of reasons. If you want, I can list several of them, but why waste everyone's time? I just assume profs know the inference is false but make it anyways for the sake of tradition. That strikes me as decidedly un-academic. Anyone want to explain *why* such an inference is made.

Posted by: anon1 | May 26, 2010 12:07:02 AM

Anondude: the market treats American and non-American SJDs very differently. There is a good reason for this: the degree serves very different purposes for those two groups. For all candidates, we care about two things: (1) good stream of research projects, and (2) basic competence in US law (for teaching purposes). US candidates come with JDs, which we treat as a presumption of teaching competence. Foreigners don't have that. So, for foreigners, SJD is a way to learn American law and gain the cred of being a competent teacher. LLM is considered too brief; JD is often unavailable to people with foreign law degrees; SJD is just right. We've hired several foreign-born SJDs and never cared about the "advanced" content of their SJD program. We simply treated their SJDs as a signal that we can put that person to teach a "service" course. That's a valuable signal. Compare that to American candidates: when an American gets an SJD, the market infers only one thing -- s/he was not smart enough, or diligent enough, to get a real academic degree (PhD). That's why the market treats US and non-US SJDs very differently.

Posted by: lawanon | May 25, 2010 10:56:16 PM

Excellent stream, and very thoughtful discussion so far. Thank you Marc. What would you make of the "cleansing" value of a T14 JSD (in other words, outside of the elite T5)? Candidate holds a T35 degree, and aspires to land a tenure-track job at (preferably) a third tier school, writing up from there. My sense is "cleansing value" = sticker shock, just a name. So, theoretically, a JSD from an Ivy law school outside of the T5 is similarly marketable/attractive from the perspective of the lower tier schools. Thoughts?

Posted by: anonfuturejsd | May 25, 2010 9:00:09 PM

Anon2: That's a distinction without a difference: when they were candidates on the law teaching market, the degree they had that mattered was the S.J.D. rather than their J.D. equivalent. Why, then, would we say, "well, since you're foreign, the S.J.D. is good enough, but if you happened to be a U.S. citizen, we would have had higher standards for you?" Seems a bit jingoistic to me. The degree's value is the degree's value regardless of nationality.

Posted by: anondude | May 25, 2010 8:58:57 PM

anondude--of the JSD/SJDs listed on Solum's 2009 report, all except Marc were foreign. (Margaret M. deGuzman appears to be incorrectly listed as having an SJD; if you check her website, she has a PhD.) This is quite common, and does not shed light on whether a US grad should get a JSD/SJD (which is what I take Marc's post to be addressing).

Posted by: anon2 | May 25, 2010 8:35:49 PM

Isn't this a simple matter? Look to see how SJD/JSDs place on the job market.

A quick review shows that they do quite well ... and perhaps as good as (or better than) PhDs in last year's Solum report:


Georgetown, Berkeley, UVA, BC, and Fordham, among others ain't bad! Frankly, the proof's in the pudding, and those who disrespect the degree seem to be a bit anachronistic.

Posted by: anondude | May 25, 2010 7:32:06 PM

"As a hiring chair, I put no weight on a JSD - as you pointed out in your original post,it's a cleansing agent, just like an LL.M from Yale. I just don't see the point of going beyond the LL.M."

I don't really understand this. It does seem that a fellowship or VAP provides great teaching experience, but to not afford *any* weight to a JSD seems strange. Doesn't it matter that someone spent another year or three thinking deeply and writing about problems in his/her field at a top institution?

Posted by: anon1 | May 25, 2010 1:19:39 PM

Thanks, AnonJD, yes, looks like you are correct and that essentially knocks out Stanford as a possibility for US grads. All of this would need to be checked out by some more complete research. My recollection is that UC Berkeley also offers the degree for US grads, but I'm not certain.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | May 25, 2010 12:45:10 PM

FWIW, Stanford's JSD program looks like it is open only to foreign students. Stanford's web site says that the JSD program is only open to graduates of its SPILS program, which is "oriented toward international candidates" and seems to have no U.S. JDs in the program at the moment.

Posted by: AnonJD | May 25, 2010 12:30:42 PM

Anon prof, thanks -- I take your view to be a fairly common one. I don't agree with it (of course, I wouldn't!) for some of the reasons I've offered. But the rest of your comment about teaching seems by and large correct to me.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | May 25, 2010 10:52:11 AM

Marc - as you go down the US News ladder, a VAP or fellowship is probably even more valuable than the JSD because the VAP or fellowship provides teaching experience. Even if that teaching experience is unrelated to your area of expertise, it's valuable. In fact, everyone should teach legal writing to appreciate both the reasoning and writing schools that our first year students have and the work that our legal writing colleagues do on a daily basis.

As a hiring chair, I put no weight on a JSD - as you pointed out in your original post,it's a cleansing agent, just like an LL.M from Yale. I just don't see the point of going beyond the LL.M.

Posted by: anonprof | May 25, 2010 10:17:37 AM

Lawanon, thanks for the comment -- what you say might well be right at the very top schools. But it's exceptionally difficult to reach those schools at all, whether one has a Ph.D. or not -- one's academic credentials have to be in Jesus-like territory anyway in order to get that kind of school's attention. Once one descends the US News ladder, I begin to doubt the advice that Ph.D.s are the ne plus ultra and that it really does make sense in all cases to opt for the Ph.D. over other avenues, including the JSD. I just don't think that's universally the case outside the very top-most schools. That does not mean that people should not seriously consider the Ph.D. -- they should. But in making their decisions, they should also consider their own backgrounds, where they are likely to be marketable, and what different sorts of options might bring them.

At all events, I sometimes do wish I'd returned to finish my Ph.D.! Then I remember that my dissertation was going to be something along the lines of a micro-analysis of Guicciardini's wonderful work on Machiavelli's discourses, and I wonder exactly how much more profitable (market-wise, across the board) that would have been for me than the experience I did have learning about the law and theory of religious liberty. I really do hope that someday I'll go back -- but not for a bit.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | May 25, 2010 8:24:04 AM

I teach at one of the top law schools that heavily emphasizes inter-disciplinary work. We have several PhD's and an occasional foreign SJD, but we've never hired an American SJD. The overwhelming perception is that SJD is not a serious academic degree, surely inferior to a PhD. So, if you are considering SJD versus a fellowship, SJD might be a good option, especially if SJD is at a top school while a fellowship is at a lesser school and involves a lot of time-consuming non-specialty teaching (legal research) with little faculty contact. But if your choice is PhD versus SJD, get a PhD. There is simply no comparison. PhD involves a much rigorous training and is treated with a lot more respect on the market. I bet Marc would have done more good to his academic credentials if he went back to school to finish his romance languages PhD instead of doing an SJD. (Of course, I am not saying PhD programs are universally more enjoyable or fulfilling -- just that confer a more marketable degree).

Posted by: lawanon | May 24, 2010 10:50:38 PM

Thanks, Marc. Great advice! (Last post was an accident)

Posted by: anon | May 24, 2010 5:23:53 PM

Thanks, Marc. Great advice! One thing that

Posted by: anon | May 24, 2010 5:23:14 PM

Sorry, I meant JSD, fellowship, and VAP as the trifecta.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | May 24, 2010 1:54:34 PM

Anon, I can't give you a single answer. It will depend on the nature of the experience and what you can get out of it. As a general matter, I think both would be great, and all three (LL.M. fellowship, and VAP) would be ideal -- I went with the trifecta and think it helped me, but I was lucky on a number of fronts. I think Brad Wendel said it on his (terrific) advice page best -- as a matter of surface appearance, you want to have as many prestigious looking things on your CV as possible. But below that surface, and most of all, you want to have a record of strong writing and recommenders who will say very warm things about you and your scholarly ability and potential.

I do think that the JSD can provide you with something that (most) VAP positions (especially one-year positions) don't, and that is years of in-depth study in a particular area and opportunities for sustained, long-term interaction with faculty members, all directed at making you a better scholar over a period of years (whether you have this kind of experience will, of course, depend on who your professors are -- and who you are, too!). Whether hiring committees always recognize this as a salient and important difference between a VAP and a JSD degree is a different story. And the VAP gives you (again, usually) some teaching as well.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | May 24, 2010 1:53:18 PM

Thanks for this post. As someone who'll be entering an LL.M. program at one of the aforementioned law schools. I'm curious whether you think a JSD/SJD or fellowship/VAP would be more valuable from a hiring standpoint.

Posted by: anon | May 24, 2010 11:02:28 AM

Now JD, thanks for the comment. My own experience was that the LL.M. was not funded, but the JSD was completely funded. I think, but do not know, that most JSD/SJD programs are completely funded. Maybe it's worth mentioning that I was once in a Ph.D. program for Romance Languages and Literature and completed my generals, so I remember a little bit about the funding set up way back then (late '90s). My recollection is that some MAs were funded and some were not -- it was only when one started in on the Ph.D. years that universal funding kicked in (but maybe others with more recent and more thorough knowledge can chime in).

I'm not counseling anything, and all of these avenues are laden with risks, as well as different sorts of rewards. I think that the Ph.D. makes sense for many people. But the time investment for a JSD/SJD is shorter, especially if you are very focused. And there's the other matter that if your aim is really to secure a law teaching position, rather than any academic position, I'm not certain that any Ph.D., at any institution and no matter what your JD background, is the surest bet and should be chosen against a JSD/SJD at a top institution.

Lastly, I should also emphasize something that was maybe implicit in ths post but should be made explicit. Most JD students do not have the sort of experience with their law school professors that I describe. They are either (a) not ready for a graduate student experience in law school, or (b) not thinking about academic law when they do their JD, or (c) too busy with just fulfilling the core requirements to think about writing and scholarship when they are going through law school, or some combination of the above. The value of a JSD or SJD is really to engage with those law school professors, over an extended period, in the way that a graduate student would engage with his or her professors in a different discipline. Yes, some JD students are able to get this experience in law school. But many -- even those that are academically inclined -- have their heads in different places as they go through the JD experience. They are not thinking academic law, and they are not ready for it. They only come to realize later, after they have graduated, that they are interested in teaching.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | May 23, 2010 9:54:23 PM

So, how does funding work for the SJD/JSD? I ask in part because it is not universally respected by academic employers, and PhD programs almost all come with (and should only come with) full funding for their graduate students. I guess my question is: are you actually counseling people to go way further into debt to maybe clean up their CV enough to possibly get some credibility on the academic job market? I am quite sure there are people for whom the degree makes sense, but I think it is unlikely to be very many people. Shouldn't most people think about a PhD instead if they want further graduate education?

Posted by: Former PhD Candidate, now JD | May 23, 2010 9:27:28 PM

I found my S.J.D. experience at Virginia to be very rewarding. I think that the most important aspect in making an S.J.D. rewarding is to have a very focused scholarship project.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | May 23, 2010 2:47:31 PM

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