Advanced Degrees

Holding an advanced degree in addition to a J.D. may enhance a candidate’s chances of landing a law teaching job. A word of caution here: pursuing an advanced degree merely for the sake of increasing one’s marketability is not recommended. First and foremost, candidates must have a genuine interest in the discipline in which they are contemplating earning the degree.

That said, the most common degrees held by law faculty are Ph.D.s or the equivalent (e.g. S.J.D., J.S.D., D.Phil.) A recent compilation of data suggests that about 50% of the entry-level faculty hired in 2018 had either a Ph.D. or equivalent degree, a general increase from about 26% of candidates in 2011.*

Anecdotally, the people most likely to pursue an advanced degree in order to become a law teacher are those who:

  • Want to expand their legal training with intensive training from another discipline;
  • Have not had the opportunity to publish any scholarly writing; and/or
  • Have good, but not stellar, badges of teaching ability (for example, they performed well academically but attended a less selective law school).

Interview with Aman Gebru, a recently hired professor at Duquesne University School of Law who holds a doctoral degree and was a VAP at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Advantages

One advantage of earning an advanced degree, particularly a Ph.D., is that it provides the opportunity to produce a body of scholarly work. Although the number of years spent earning a Ph.D. depends on the program, it always will be longer than a one-year LL.M. program or a two-year fellowship or VAP; hence, there simply is more time to write and publish articles.

A Ph.D. also may boost your standing in the eyes of hiring committees if your J.D. is from a less selective law school. It is less clear that an LL.M. will function the same way.

For schools seeking to encourage interdisciplinary work, having a Ph.D. from another discipline could be a market advantage.

Challenges

Earning a Ph.D. certainly will take longer than doing a law fellowship or a VAP. Depending on the field of study, the writing for a dissertation may not be similar to law review writing. In some disciplines, the writing may be more descriptive than normative, while normative writing is a characteristic of much legal writing. Not having the opportunity to teach can be a disadvantage, both in terms of the marketability of your candidacy and the practical impact of not having taught a law school course should you land a job. The salary during a Ph.D. program may be lower than the salary paid to a law fellow or VAP.