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Academics: S.J.D. Candidates begins here:
Faculty Supervisor; Periodic Consultation and Supervision; The First Year of Study; Presentations at the S.J.D. Colloquium

Dissertation Requirements

Within 36 months of successful completion of the oral examination, the S.J.D. candidate must complete and submit a dissertation on a subject previously approved by the Committee on Graduate Studies and the candidate’s principal supervisor. Each dissertation must represent a sustained and substantial scholarly effort and must be suitable for publication.

Prohibited Submissions: Commissioned studies, committee reports, and writings of joint authorship will not be accepted in fulfillment of the dissertation requirement.

Permission and Required Format for Multiple-Essay Submissions: The dissertation is generally expected to be in the form of a monograph. In cases where the dissertation explores law and another discipline, a series of related essays may be acceptable with the approval of the Graduate Committee. Where this format is approved, the candidate must also submit for approval an introductory and/or concluding essay that draws on and comprehensively synthesizes the other essays by establishing a general thesis supported by these essays.

To request permission to submit a dissertation in the form of multiple essays, candidates should present for the Graduate Committee’s review—as soon as possible but in any event no later than six months before the intended graduation date—a petition that:

  • sets forth the substance of the dissertation project as a whole and an explanation of why a multiple-essay format is more appropriate than a monograph in light of the nature and focus of the dissertation project and the norm for dissertations in the relevant discipline
  • acknowledges the requirement to include a synthetic essay that draws on the other essays and establishes a general thesis supported by the essays
  • sets forth in sufficient detail the substance of the synthetic essay (or the student may submit a draft of the synthetic essay)

Candidates should also ask their principal supervisors to provide a statement of support for the multiple-essay format in light of the norm for dissertations in the relevant discipline.

NOTE: While such requests—when presented in a timely manner and in compliance with the above specifications— are generally granted, candidates should not assume that requests for multiple-essay submissions are automatically granted.


While there is no prescribed length, a majority of dissertations are approximately 250 to 300 pages (the equivalent of a book-length manuscript), but in certain areas such as law and economics the norm tends to be shorter. Length is in part a function of the subject chosen and should be discussed with the principal supervisor.

The manuscript should have a margin of 1½ or 1¾ inches on the left side of the page to allow for reader comments and to permit binding. While there is no predetermined format for the cover page, each candidate should check with that candidate’s principal supervisor for specific requirements or preferences. At a minimum, the candidate’s name, the dissertation title, the principal supervisor’s name, and the date of submission should be included.

Candidates should not at any stage submit permanently bound copies of the dissertation; dissertation copies do not require hard covers. Once the principal supervisor and second reader approve the dissertation (see “Evaluation of Dissertation” below), and corrections, if any, are made, two unbound copies printed on acid-free paper must be submitted to the Graduate Program for deposit with the Law School Library. At this time, a Library Authorization form must also be signed. The Library will arrange for permanent binding.

NOTE: Please also see “Permission and Required Format for Multiple-Essay Submissions” above.


Once the principal supervisor deems the dissertation complete, the principal supervisor will certify to the Committee on Graduate Studies that the dissertation is ready to be defended and subjected to a final evaluation (see “Evaluation of Dissertation” below).

Deadline for Certification: This certification must be made not later than 36 months after the completion of the oral examination. Dissertations submitted after the expiration of this 36-month limit will be accepted only if prior approval for an extension has been obtained from the principal supervisor and the Committee on Graduate Studies (see “Extension of Dissertation Period” below).

Further information regarding deadlines and degree dates is available from the Graduate Program Office.


Following certification by the principal supervisor, the principal supervisor and a second reader will evaluate the dissertation. The second reader should be a Harvard Law School faculty member, selected by the candidate in consultation with the supervisor, who has expertise in the candidate’s area of study. It is the candidate’s responsibility to report the name of the second reader to the Graduate Program Office as soon as that reader has been selected.

The candidate should submit one copy of the dissertation to the principal supervisor and one copy to the second reader. The candidate should retain the original. Both the principal supervisor and the second reader provide written comments on the dissertation; final approval may be conditioned on further revisions by the candidate.

The submitted dissertation will be approved only if, in the judgment of the principal supervisor, the second reader, and the Committee on Graduate Studies, it constitutes a substantial and valuable contribution to the scholarship in its field. The dissertation would be considered to constitute such a contribution, for example, if it explored new areas of intellectual inquiry, provided new insights or analyses, or offered a new conceptual framework for understanding the subject area. A dissertation that merely surveys, catalogs, or compiles relevant literature, legislation, case material, and/or the ideas of others would not satisfy the standard. It is the candidate’s responsibility to ensure that the principal supervisor and second reader submit written evaluations of the dissertation to the Graduate Program Office. When the principal supervisor and second reader have both approved the dissertation, the oral defense should be scheduled.


Following completion of the dissertation, each candidate must pass an oral defense examination in his or her principal field of research (including but not limited to the subject of the dissertation). The examination is to be given by a dissertation defense committee, consisting of the principal supervisor, the second reader and, if necessary, a representative of the Committee on Graduate Studies.

NOTE: It is the candidate’s responsibility to schedule a time and location for the oral defense with the dissertation defense committee members. Once scheduled, the date must be reported to the Graduate Program Office at least two weeks in advance of the date of the defense.

The defense is normally conducted at the Law School within two months of the submission of the dissertation. In extremely rare cases where the Committee on Graduate Studies, acting in consultation with the principal supervisor, is satisfied that a candidate has achieved an extraordinary command of the principal field of the candidate’s research, the oral defense examination may be waived.


In order to determine whether to recommend to the Law School faculty that a candidate be awarded the S.J.D. degree, the Graduate Committee must receive written reports from the principal supervisor and the second reader evaluating the dissertation, as well as a report of the oral defense. These reports—as well as the final version of the approved dissertation (for deposit with the HLS Library)—must be received by no later than September 30 to qualify for a November degree, January 20 to qualify for a March degree, or May 4 to qualify for a May degree. (Please note: Reports on the oral (general) examination, described here, should already be a part of the candidate’s file.) The Committee on Graduate Studies will not entertain recommendations from supervisors after the relevant dates listed above.

The following chart illustrates the applicable completion milestones leading up to each of the University’s key graduation dates:

S.J.D. Degree Completion Timeline
Intended Graduation Date Submit Final Dissertation to Supervisor ans Second Reader Reports and Dissertation due to Graduate Program Office
 November 14, 2017  Early August 2017 (or earlier if supervisor prefers)  September 30, 2017
 March 13, 2017 December 2017 (or earlier if supervisor prefers) January 20, 2018
May 24, 2017 February or early March 2018 (or earlier if supervisor prefers) May 4, 2018


Extensions for completion of the S.J.D. dissertation beyond the 36-month period following the oral exam will be granted only in cases of special need. Except as provided below (for candidates pursuing second doctoral degrees), under no condition will extensions be granted beyond 72 months from the end of the first year of S.J.D. candidacy.

To apply for an extension, candidates and their principal supervisors must submit to the Committee on Graduate Studies a written request for an extension. The request should explain why an extension is necessary and should provide the expected completion date. Receipt of this request will initiate Committee review; the results of the Committee’s review will be reported to the candidate shortly thereafter.

Candidates Pursuing Second Doctoral Degrees: The Committee may grant extensions of up to (but under no circumstances exceeding) 108 months from the end of the first year of S.J.D. residency if both of the following pertain:

  1. the candidate has been pursuing a second doctoral degree concurrently with the S.J.D. candidacy
  2. the candidate has completed the other doctoral degree within 72 months after the end of the first year of S.J.D. residency

Completing the S.J.D. Program: An Illustrative Timetable

Candidates must complete all course requirements during the first year of study (the required year in residence). Candidates must complete the oral examination no later than the 19th month from the beginning of S.J.D. studies, which for most candidates would mean March of the second year of study (see “The Oral (General) Examination” in Section III). The period for completion of the S.J.D. dissertation will be influenced by a number of factors, including whether field research is involved. An illustrative timetable follows.


Discussion with principal supervisor and orals committee members

Assemble and consult with members of the orals committee; prepare study plan

September 30:
Submit study plan to Graduate Program Office

October 31:
Final revisions, if any, to the study plan are due

Completion of eight credits of course and seminar work; oral examination held; orals committee sends oral examination report to Graduate Program Office

NOTE: Candidates should discuss their progress with their principal supervisors and orals committee members regularly throughout the year.


Begin research and writing

Preliminary dissertation discussion with principal supervisor

Continuation of research and writing
First presentation of work at the S.J.D. Colloquium (by the 28th month from the beginning of S.J.D. studies or 12 months from the completion of the oral examination, whichever is earlier)

NOTE: Candidates should meet or consult with their principal supervisor at least every two months throughout the year.


Continuation of research and writing


NOTE: This timetable applies to May degree candidates; for November and March degrees, see “Degree Deadlines” above.

Continuation of research and writing

Second presentation at the S.J.D. Colloquium

Tentative completion of dissertation and submission to principal supervisor

Certification by principal supervisor to Committee on Graduate Studies that dissertation is ready for evaluation

Review of dissertation by second reader and oral defense

Revision of dissertation

May 4:
Completed dissertation (two copies) and written reports from faculty readers due in Graduate Program Office

Awarding of S.J.D. degree

NOTE: Candidates intending to finish the dissertation within 24 months of the end of the required residency period should follow the “Fourth Year” schedule during their third year.

Compliance with Requirements

S.J.D. candidates who fail to meet or consult periodically with their principal supervisors or to submit required reports, or to pay all fees each year, or who otherwise violate residency or other requirements may be withdrawn from the S.J.D. program.

Residency Status


Beyond the mandatory first year in residence, four different enrollment statuses are available to S.J.D. students: Resident, Traveling Scholar, Leave of Absence, and Enrolled Full-Time at Another Harvard School. The latter three categories are collectively referred to as “non-resident.”

  • Resident Students are those students who, for the entire academic year or semester in question, are physically resident in the Cambridge area and are engaged primarily in their S.J.D. studies. Such students have full access to Harvard’s resources and facilities, including residence halls and Harvard-owned housing, and are eligible for Harvard visa sponsorship. Only Resident students are eligible for such benefits as Graduate Program-sponsored fellowships, and conference funding (see “Miscellaneous” below). All first-year S.J.D. students must register for Resident status.
  • Traveling Scholars are those students who are physically located outside of the Cambridge area but are engaged primarily in their S.J.D. studies. Such students have full access to Harvard’s online resources and access to Harvard’s library facilities during their visits to campus, and are also eligible for Harvard visa sponsorship. Traveling Scholars are not eligible for Graduate Program-sponsored fellowships nor conference funding, and are eligible for financial aid only after the needs of Resident Students have been met.
  • Leave of Absence students are those students who are devoting less than half of their time to their S.J.D. studies, regardless of their physical location. Such students retain their Harvard e-mail accounts only; they do not have access to Harvard’s other resources and are not eligible for Harvard visa sponsorship, conference funding, Graduate Program financial aid, or Graduate Program-sponsored fellowships. Students in this category with outstanding student loans may have to begin repayment.
  • Students Enrolled Full-Time at Another Harvard School will retain their Harvard Law School e-mail accounts, but are not eligible for Graduate Program financial aid, conference funding, or Graduate Program-sponsored fellowships. Access to other Harvard resources (including library privileges and visa sponsorship) will be available through the Harvard school in which they are enrolled full-time.

NOTE: Students must update their residence status each summer (even if it will not be changing) and may change their status on a semester-by-semester basis, but not more frequently.


The Registrar’s Office administers an online registration check-in process that is available for all S.J.D. candidates who plan to be in residence during fall 2017. This process will be available online by no later than August 7, 2017. All continuing S.J.D. students who will be in residence during 2017-2018 must complete this online registration process by no later than September 8, 2017. S.J.D. students will receive an e-mail in August from the Graduate Program Office with detailed information on how to complete the online registration/check-in process. Please note that all new S.J.D. students must complete this online registration process by August 31 ,2017. Otherwise, a late registration penalty of $250 will be assessed. Please note that first-year S.J.D. students are also required to check in with the Graduate Program in person by appointment; appointment requests may be sent to

In order to register for Resident status, continuing S.J.D. students should also obtain financial clearance from the Graduate Program office by 4 p.m. on September 8, 2017. Otherwise, they will be subject to a $250 late financial clearance fee, and their Resident status will be suspended until they complete their financial clearance.

All S.J.D. students who will not be in residence during the 2017-2018 academic year must have completed the Application for Non-Resident S.J.D. Status and submitted it to the Graduate Program office no later than June 30, 2017. This form indicates, among other things, the student’s planned activities for the coming academic year, where the student expects to be physically located, and the status for which the student plans to register (e.g., Traveling Scholar or Leave of Absence). In order to be valid, the form must be signed by the student’s principal supervisor; in the case of students holding a non-U.S. passport who wish to be non-resident, the form must also be signed by a representative of the Harvard International Office. Failure to submit a properly completed form by the applicable deadline will result in the student being placed on Leave of Absence status by default.



Current Harvard LL.M. students applying to the S.J.D. program are permitted to “waive” the LL.M. degree prior to graduation. If admitted to the S.J.D. program, an applicant who waives the LL.M. degree will not be awarded the LL.M. degree. However, the student will be permitted to count the tuition paid for the LL.M. year in satisfaction of the Harvard University requirement that a student pay at least one year’s full tuition for every degree that the student receives. For the first year of S.J.D. studies, students who have waived the LL.M. degree are charged tuition of $1,000. Otherwise, tuition for the first year of S.J.D. studies is the same as tuition for the LL.M. degree. The election to waive the LL.M. degree has no effect on admissions decisions or the academic requirements for the S.J.D. degree. Waiving the LL.M. degree does, however, preclude the applicant from taking courses for credit during the S.J.D. studies. (In exceptional cases, the Committee on Graduate Studies may approve a candidate’s petition to take a particular course for credit if the candidate’s supervisor supports the request on academic grounds.) The waiver is also permanent. An admitted candidate who waives the LL.M. degree may subsequently elect to receive the LL.M. degree only by withdrawing from the S.J.D. program. The LL.M. waiver option is not available to those who have already received their LL.M. degrees from Harvard when applying to the S.J.D. program.

S.J.D. students who have waived their Harvard LL.M. degree should reflect their LL.M. studies on their résumés and in similar contexts by language such as the following: “Harvard Law School LL.M. Program [date] (requirements completed, degree waived).” Under no circumstances should they represent themselves as having actually received the LL.M. degree.


The Graduate Program has some funding available for Graduate Program Fellowship positions such as LL.M. Advisor, Writing Workshop Teaching Assistant, Graduate Forum Coordinator, Harvard Empirical Legal Studies, and the like. Selections for these positions are made based on an application process held in the spring of each academic year. Application materials for these positions become available in April.

In addition, each year the Graduate Program offers a limited number of Byse Fellowships, named in honor of the late Byrne Professor of Law Clark Byse. These fellowships are intended to help fund the dissertation work of S.J.D. students who have completed their oral examinations. Fellows are expected to teach a one-semester Graduate Program workshop of their own design and to be in residence for the entire year of their appointment. The Program currently selects Byse Fellows for the coming academic year in June of each year. Application materials for these positions become available in April.


S.J.D. students are eligible for limited funding to cover certain expenses related to their studies. First, resident S.J.D. students may apply for a stipend of up to $750 each academic year (the period beginning on July 1 and ending on June 30) for expenses incurred to attend academic conferences outside of the Boston area. Requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis; submission of a stipend request does not guarantee approval. In order to be eligible for this stipend:

  1. the student must be in residence
  2. the student must seek written permission from the Graduate Program at least four weeks in advance of the planned travel
  3. the travel must be for a conference that takes place within the academic year in which the student is in residence (from July 1 through June 30)
  4. the requisite post-travel paperwork, along with receipts, must be submitted to the Graduate Program Office no later than three (3) weeks after the applicable conference date

Second, the Graduate Program will reimburse orals committee members who are affiliated with an academic institution outside the Boston area up to $500 for expenses incurred for travel to Cambridge for the student’s oral examination, as appropriate, if the examiner’s own academic institution will not bear the cost of such travel.

Requests for reimbursement must be submitted at least four weeks in advance of the intended travel. Reimbursement is made after the fact upon presentation of actual receipts and completion of forms required by Harvard University. Please note that requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis and that a request does not guarantee reimbursement of travel expenses for conference attendance or for outside examiners.


Office space is made available to S.J.D. candidates in September of the second full academic year of S.J.D. residence (without regard to LL.M. waiver status). Office assignments are made for the academic year or for a single term; office occupancy begins in September and ends in May. S.J.D. candidates who wish to remain in their assigned offices during the summer must send a request to the Graduate Program office no later than April 15; where possible, these requests will be accommodated. Due to the limited number of offices, however, most S.J.D. candidates who are eligible for space will be required to share offices. Candidates in their first year of S.J.D. residence and non-resident S.J.D. candidates are not eligible for office space. Students are entitled to office space for a period of two years, normally during the second and third years of S.J.D. residency. The Graduate Program may extend this privilege to students beyond the third year, but only as space permits.