Legal Dictionary

Doctor of Laws

Legal Definition of Doctor of Laws

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Definition of Doctor of Laws

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Doctor of Law or Doctor of Laws is a doctoral degree in law. The application of the term varies from country to country, and includes degrees such as the LL.D., Ph.D., J.D., J.S.D., and Dr. iur.

European and Commonwealth usage

In the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, 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 Oxford, 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.

United Kingdom

In the UK, the degree of Doctor of Laws is a higher doctorate, ranking above the Ph.D, 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 LL.D., however some universities 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 Law" refers to the degree of Juris Doctor (J.D.), which in the U.S. is the only first professional law degree, and to 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 the research doctorate in law, and as such it is generally accepted as comparable to the more commonly awarded research doctorate, the Ph.D. The S.J.D. is described as the "highest degree in law" by the University of Virginia, 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, New York University 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, while the degree may be the highest research doctorate in law, the J.D. is also a doctorate (the highest professional doctorate in law), as evinced by universities' description of the S.J.D. as a a "postdoctoral degree." The American Bar Association has issued a Council Statement stating that the J.D. be considered as being equivalent to the Ph.D. for employment and educational purposes. 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); Judge William Henry Hastie (Harvard, 1932); Justice Bernard Jefferson (Harvard, 1934); Pauli Murray (Yale, 1965); Ma Ying-jeou (Harvard, 1981) and Ayala Procaccia (University of Pennsylvania, 1972).


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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