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The Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) is Harvard Law School’s most advanced law degree, designed for aspiring legal academics, from the United States and abroad, who wish to pursue sustained independent study, research, and writing. Candidates are expected ultimately to produce a dissertation that will constitute a substantial and valuable contribution to legal scholarship. Graduates of the program are expected to contribute to the furtherance of knowledge and understanding about law and legal institutions through their dissertations and other academic work.

Awarding of the S.J.D. degree is conditioned on the candidate’s fulfillment of seven academic requirements:

  1. Submission of an approved study plan, including arrangements for course work and reading lists, in the first year
  2. Completion of the first year of study in residence at the Law School, under the supervision of a faculty member and an orals committee, reading for fields, and completing at least eight credits of course work (normally on an audit basis)
  3. Successful completion of an oral (general) examination, in each of the fields outlined in the study plan
  4. Two presentations at the S.J.D. Colloquium
  5. Submission and acceptance of the doctoral dissertation
  6. Successful oral defense of the dissertation
  7. Provision of two copies of the final dissertation to the Graduate Program Office for deposit with the HLS Library

The first of these requirements—preparation and submission of a study plan—is completed in the initial months of study. Successful completion of the oral (general) examination is also often accomplished during the first year of study, but must be completed by no later than the 19th month from the beginning of S.J.D. study (for most candidates, this would mean by March of the second year). The S.J.D. candidate normally completes the remaining requirements—presentations at the S.J.D. colloquium, submission and acceptance of the dissertation, and oral defense of the dissertation—during the 36-month period following completion of the oral examination. (See “Completing the S.J.D. Program: An Illustrative Timetable” in Section III.)

Faculty Supervisor, Periodic Consultation, and Supervision

Each S.J.D. candidate pursues the degree under the supervision of a faculty member selected by the candidate and approved by the Committee on Graduate Studies. This principal supervisor should be a tenured member of the Harvard Law School faculty.

It is essential that S.J.D. candidates consult periodically with their faculty supervisors not only during the first year of residence but continually until the dissertation is completed. The purpose of these consultations is to examine whether the candidate’s research and writing-in-progress are likely to lead to an acceptable dissertation.

Preliminary Dissertation Discussion: The first of these meetings should take place no later than two months after completion of the oral examination. It is the candidate’s responsibility to arrange this meeting.

In the preliminary discussion, the S.J.D. candidate is expected to describe the general themes and direction of the dissertation and the progress that has been made on the dissertation. Discussion will proceed from an outline of the dissertation, a statement setting forth the author’s approach to the subject and probable conclusions, a revised dissertation prospectus, or other similar materials.

Subsequent Periodic Meetings: Following the preliminary dissertation discussion, candidates should meet or consult regularly (at least once every two months) with their principal supervisors. An effective way to ensure that the principal supervisor is aware of the approach, themes, and direction of the dissertation is to prepare an outline at an early stage and to submit draft chapters as they are written. Usually, principal supervisors find it easier to deal with chapters of a dissertation from time to time rather than receiving very large portions of the dissertation at once. This will also help ensure that the candidate is proceeding in the right direction.

In some instances, S.J.D. candidates have submitted dissertations written without adequate consultation. In these cases, the principal supervisor was unable to approve what the candidate considered to be a completed dissertation. This has sometimes led to rejection or a very substantial reworking of the dissertation.

Candidates are advised to keep the Graduate Program apprised of their meetings with their principal supervisors. If a candidate finds that, despite reasonable efforts, the student is not receiving adequate supervision from a principal supervisor, the problem should be brought to the attention of the Graduate Program, who will apprise the Committee on Graduate Studies.

Special Provisions for Non-Resident S.J.D. Candidates: All non-resident candidates must stay in periodic oral and/or written communication with their principal supervisors concerning the progress of their dissertation work. Non-resident candidates also are strongly encouraged to return to Cambridge at least once a year for consultations with their principal supervisors. If, in the opinion of a candidate’s principal supervisor, the candidate is not maintaining adequate contact, the Committee on Graduate Studies may require the candidate to submit periodic written reports of the student’s progress, actual dissertation chapters, or other appropriate work.

The First Year of Study

All S.J.D. candidates must be in residence at the Law School during their first year of study (please see “Residency Status” in Section III).

The first year of study is designed to prepare candidates in the various fields of study that will form the basis for the dissertation. During this first year, all candidates must attend courses and read in three or four fields under the guidance of a faculty orals committee (see “The Orals Committee” below). In conjunction with this study, candidates may also pursue interdisciplinary work at other faculties of the University.

First-year S.J.D. candidates who are hired as Teaching Fellows or Teaching Assistants elsewhere at Harvard University may not undertake more than one section of any course in a given semester.


The study plan represents the candidate’s academic itinerary for the period of time (typically the first year of study) leading to the oral examination, and should lay a foundation for later work on the dissertation. An acceptable study plan should be built around the candidate’s specific fields of study and should include a combination of courses, readings, and other academic work. The oral examination must take place by no later than the 19th month from the beginning of S.J.D. study (which for most candidates would mean March of their second year). The study plan must also include the candidate’s deadline for completion of the oral (general) examination (see “The Oral (General) Examination” below). The study plan should be organized around three or four fields chosen with reference to the candidate’s dissertation proposal and future teaching plans. These fields normally include one interdisciplinary field—a field that seeks to combine study of the law with insights from another discipline (such as anthropology, economics, history, philosophy, or political science).

Fields: Definition of fields is difficult and in all cases requires careful consideration. Candidates should use the field definition stage as an opportunity to engage their principal supervisors and orals committee members to clarify their academic projects. General guidelines for field definition are listed below:

  1. Field definition goes together with creating a bibliography. By and large, a field is defined by a community of people who communicate with each other in writing.
  2. Fields should not be so broad that they would be impossible to master in one year; however, the opposite may apply when fields are defined too narrowly. A good way to think of a field is that it should be sufficiently extensive to form the framework of a course on the subject.
  3. The typical number of fields in a study plan is three. This usually means that a candidate will have three orals committee members, including the principal supervisor acting as the orals committee member for one of the fields. In appropriate cases, a faculty member may be responsible for supervising more than one field. However, any candidate proposing more than four or fewer than three fields, and any candidate proposing fewer than three orals committee members, must petition the Committee on Graduate Studies for approval.
  4. In general, skills areas (languages, statistics, calculus, etc.) are not appropriate subjects for fields. These are skill deficiencies that should be made up during the first year of S.J.D. study. Appropriate exams should be scheduled to ensure acquired proficiency.
  5. Once the study plan has been approved and filed with the Graduate Program, any changes a candidate proposes to a field (i.e., addition or deletion of a field or the applicable field supervisor, change of field title, etc.) require prior written approval by the principal supervisor, the supervisor(s) of the field(s) in question, and the Committee on Graduate Studies.

Course Work: S.J.D. candidates in the first year must normally complete course work carrying a minimum of eight credits (normally on an audit basis) at the Law School or, if appropriate, at other departments of the University. Arrangements for course work must be set forth in the study plan.

Any S.J.D. candidate who does not hold a primary degree in law from a U.S. law school:

  1. must complete, during the first year of S.J.D. studies or during the LL.M. year, at least one course in U.S. law
  2. is strongly encouraged to complete, during the first year of S.J.D. studies or during the LL.M. year, at least one course in legal history, legal process, or legal thought

The content of courses pursued in connection with the fields of study will typically be examined in the context of the oral (general) examination.

S.J.D. candidates usually complete course work on a nonregistered (audit) basis. Any student interested in auditing a Harvard Law School course must submit an audit request form to the Office of the Registrar. The form requires the signature of the instructor of the course. The form will be held in the Registrar’s office until the end of the Add/Drop period (see “Add/Drop and Waitlist Processing” in Section IV). If space becomes available, the student will be notified that they may attend the course. Potential auditors may, subject to available seating, sit in on the course until an official decision is made. Audited courses do not appear on student transcripts. Exceptions to the policy on auditing procedures may be made only with the approval of the Office of Academic Affairs.

Course Work Undertaken for Credit: If a principal supervisor advises a candidate who has waived the LL.M. degree (see “LL.M. Waiver” in Section III), or who is beyond the first year of study, to complete certain course work for credit, the candidate must petition the Committee on Graduate Studies for approval to complete such work for credit. First-year candidates who have not waived the LL.M. degree and who wish to take courses for credit need not petition the Committee.

All Harvard Law School academic work—with the exception of specified courses offered on a credit/fail basis—will be graded Honors, Pass, Low Pass, or Fail (H, P, LP, or F). S.J.D. candidates taking courses for credit must receive a minimum grade of Pass (P) in any given course offered at Harvard Law School.

Class Attendance and Participation: S.J.D. students who enroll in courses are subject to the Class Attendance and Participation guidelines set forth in Section V.


In the course of preparing the study plan, S.J.D. candidates must assemble an orals committee consisting of the principal supervisor and two or three other faculty members. Members of the orals committee should be selected with a view to the fields that the candidate intends to pursue in the study plan (see “Fields” above). Orals committee members (other than the principal supervisor) may be selected from the Law School faculty, from other departments of the University, or from other universities. Candidates pursuing an interdisciplinary field or fields are encouraged to choose their orals committee members from faculty who are specialists in those fields, which may involve selections from within or outside Harvard University.

The principal supervisor and orals committee members will be responsible for consulting with the student throughout the year and administering the oral (general) examination. Normally, each member of the orals committee is responsible for supervising one of the fields of study set forth in the candidate’s study plan. Orals committee members (other than the principal supervisor) do not participate in the supervision or oral defense of the dissertation, unless they have individually agreed to do so.

Candidates should consult with their principal supervisors, with Jeanne Tai, and/or with members of the Graduate Committee concerning any questions on the selection of members of the orals committee.


Candidates must submit drafts of their study plans to their principal supervisors and orals committee members early in September of the first year of study, and should discuss with them the desirability of pursuing specific courses, selected readings, interdisciplinary study, skills enhancement (e.g., languages, mathematics, statistics), and other academic projects in their specific fields of study. On the basis of these discussions, candidates must put their study plans in writing, following the guidelines in “Preparation of the Study Plan” above, and have them approved by their principal supervisors. Candidates are strongly encouraged to avail themselves of the assistance of Dr. Jane Fair Bestor, Special Assistant to the Graduate Program, in formulating this study plan. The study plan must be submitted to the Graduate Program Office, for review and approval by the Committee on Graduate Studies, by no later than September 30 of the first year of study. Upon review, the Committee on Graduate Studies may request adjustments to the study plan. These adjustments should be made and the study plan re-submitted no later than October 31 of that same year.


It is essential that S.J.D. candidates consult regularly with the members of their orals committees during the course of their first year of study and up to the time of the actual oral examination. The frequency of meetings with faculty during the year will vary. Typically, candidates meet with their advisors every two to three weeks. Some faculty may prefer to meet less often but more intensely; others may prefer to meet in small groups rather than individually. More importantly, candidates should keep their supervisors and orals committee members informed of their progress and engage them substantively on the materials in prescribed readings and courses.


Candidates must sit for the S.J.D. oral (general) examination in their fields of study during the first or second year in the S.J.D. program. The examination must be completed before starting work on the dissertation. In rare cases, a written examination may be substituted for an oral examination in one or more of the fields. Any changes in field supervision, content, structure, or title made to the fields between the time the study plan is submitted and the time the oral examination takes place must be approved in writing, in advance of the oral examination, by the faculty supervisor(s) and the Committee on Graduate Studies.

The purpose of the S.J.D. general examination is to test the candidate’s competence in the fields set out in the study plan. The oral examination is conducted by a panel consisting of the principal supervisor and the supervisor of each field covered in the study plan. Typically, half an hour is devoted to questions in each field. Candidates may be examined on any of the material covered in the study plan and are typically questioned on the more salient themes developed during consultations with their supervisors and orals committee members.

Each student and his or her principal supervisor will agree on a target month (no later than the 19th month from the beginning of S.J.D. study, which for most candidates would mean March of the second year) for completion of the oral examination at the time the student develops his or her study plan. In selecting a date, the parties should take into account such factors as the student’s background in the fields, whether the fields should be tailored more narrowly towards a dissertation or more broadly towards the student’s teaching interests, the amount of time the student can spend in residence, and other relevant factors.

Students who have not completed the examination at the beginning of the 13th month of S.J.D. study, typically September 1 of the second year, will meet with a representative of the Committee on Graduate Studies during that month. In that meeting, the Committee representative and the student will discuss the student’s progress in an effort to determine whether the student’s original timetable is still appropriate. If the original timetable is still appropriate, the student will complete the oral examination by no later than the original deadline. If the original timetable is no longer appropriate, the student and the Committee representative will discuss an appropriate new target date, in no event later than the end of the 19th month, which for most candidates would mean March 31 of the second year of S.J.D. studies.

NOTE: It is the candidate’s responsibility to schedule a time and location for the oral examination with the candidate’s orals 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 exam.

Upon completion of the oral examination, the faculty supervisor will prepare a brief report for the Committee on Graduate Studies providing a grade for each field (Distinguished, Good, Pass, or Fail, with pluses and minuses as appropriate), an overall grade of “Pass” or “Fail” for the examination, and comments on the candidate’s performance. The overall grade of “Pass” or “Fail” for the examination will appear on the candidate’s transcript. If the overall grade is “Pass,” the transcript notation will indicate the specific fields of study in which the candidate was examined. Apart from the “Pass/Fail” result, oral exam grades are not made available to the candidate and may not be disclosed beyond the Graduate Program. Once the oral examination has been completed, the Graduate Program Office will schedule a date for the first colloquium (as described below).

Presentations at the S.J.D. Colloquium

Twice during the program, S.J.D. candidates are required to present their dissertation work at the S.J.D. Colloquium, a weekly gathering of S.J.D. candidates, members of the Committee on Graduate Studies, the presenter’s principal supervisor, and other faculty members (including, among others, those invited by the candidate). The S.J.D. Colloquium Series is facilitated by a faculty member or a senior member of the Graduate Program administration.

The first presentation must take place after completion of the oral examination, and by no later than the 28th month from the beginning of S.J.D. studies (which for most candidates would mean by December of the third year) or 12 months from the completion of the oral examination, whichever is earlier. At this stage, the expectation is that S.J.D. candidates will present selected themes of their work in progress, whether research findings, methodological considerations, or some additional challenges of their doctoral projects. Final conclusions or exhaustive expositions on the dissertation are not encouraged. The presentation should last for no more than 20 minutes, and will be followed by a question and answer period.

The second presentation must be completed prior to graduation and may take place anytime during the last year of study (preferably well before the dissertation is finalized so that the student can still benefit from feedback given at the Colloquium). It is a formal presentation of the completed dissertation (or, in certain circumstances, a paper emanating from the dissertation research) to academic colleagues, similar in form to a job talk or conference paper. The presentation should last for no more than 20 minutes, and will be followed by a question and answer period.

For presenters of the First Colloquium, a dissertation prospectus or written abstract, which includes a brief overview of the candidate’s work along with a summary of the presentation, must be submitted to the Graduate Program no later than two weeks prior to the scheduled event. For presenters of the Second Colloquium, a chapter of the dissertation (or a paper emanating from the dissertation research), accompanied by an abstract or précis, must be submitted to the Graduate Program no later than eight days prior to the scheduled event. These documents will be distributed to other Colloquium participants one week prior to the scheduled events. In all cases, the abstract or précis, which should be no more than seven pages in length, is designed to encourage thoughtful and grounded exchange during the presentations.

The schedule for presentations is made at the beginning of each academic year. In order to ensure that graduating students are able to present at the appropriate stage of their work, Colloquium presentations in April and early May of each year are reserved for students expecting to graduate in May. Subject to the timeline described above, the Graduate Program will assign each candidate a date for the First Colloquium following completion of the oral examination. Students for whom the longest time has elapsed since their oral exams will be required to present their first colloquia before other candidates. It is the responsibility of the S.J.D. candidate to schedule a Second Colloquium date before the appropriate deadline.

Academics: S.J.D. Candidates continues here:
Dissertation Requirements; Completing the S.J.D. Program: An Illustrative Timetable; Compliance with Requirements; Residency Status; Miscellaneous (LL.M. Waiver, Graduate Program Fellowships, Conference and Outside Examiner Funding, Office Space)