Ph.D. Program Details
In addition to offering an opportunity to study and contribute to the evolution of law as an academic field of study, the Ph.D. in Law program provides an excellent pathway to a career in legal scholarship and law teaching. Whether it is right for any individual candidate depends on a variety of factors. If you are trying to decide between the Ph.D. in Law program and a fellowship or a visiting assistant professorship (VAP), you should keep in mind a number of considerations, including that the Ph.D. in Law program is a three-year course of study beyond the J.D. and that it provides a more structured program—including coursework, qualifying exams, and close faculty supervision—than do most fellowships or VAPs. The Ph.D. in Law program requires coursework, a written and an oral comprehensive exam, a dissertation—which may take the form of a traditional monograph or three law review articles—and teaching experience. You should also consider the availability of appropriate mentors in different programs. At Yale Law School, you will have a three-member faculty committee advising you throughout your time in the Ph.D. program, and you will have an opportunity to work closely with a wide range of Yale faculty in your courses and in your research and writing. In addition, you will have the opportunity to engage fully in the intellectual life of Yale Law School and Yale University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
If you are trying to decide between the Ph.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in another discipline, many of the same considerations come into play. Please keep in mind that Ph.D. programs in economics, political science, history, and other fields train scholars to produce research responsive to the questions central to those disciplines. The scholarship produced by law faculties—and expected of candidates for teaching positions at law schools—is largely motivated by different sets of questions. While many students are able to apply their training in other disciplines to the study of law, a significant advantage of the Ph.D. in Law program is that it is designed specifically to prepare students for careers in legal scholarship, rather than in scholarship in another field. We should also stress that the Ph.D. in Law program welcomes applications from candidates with interdisciplinary research interests—significant advanced training in other disciplines as a part of the Ph.D. in Law program is encouraged, where appropriate.
Applicants to the Ph.D. in Law program should know the area of law in which they would like to specialize and should be prepared to articulate that interest in a research proposal. Applicants’ research proposals, however, are not expected to be as refined as a dissertation prospectus, and it is anticipated that the nature of students’ projects and interests will evolve over their time in the program. Each student will have a faculty Advisory Committee, which will work with the student to develop the research project into a dissertation prospectus and, eventually, a dissertation—which may take the form of three significant, publishable articles that might appear in a leading law review, or a single, book-length manuscript.
The First Year
Most students will dedicate much of their first year in the program to coursework. Students will work with their Advisory Committees to select as many as six courses that will best prepare them to carry out their research projects. In cases where students have already completed relevant graduate training, their Advisory Committees may waive up to four of the six required courses.
All first-year Ph.D. candidates will be required to take a two-semester pro-seminar on legal scholarship and methodologies. The first semester of this pro-seminar will be dedicated to reading and discussing canonical works of legal scholarship. The second semester will be devoted to the presentation and discussion of student papers in a workshop format. The pro-seminar, required of all Ph.D. candidates, will be the cornerstone of a genuine intellectual and professional community, serving as well as an opportunity for students working in different areas of law to interact with and to learn from each other and from the faculty leading these and other seminars and workshops.
During their second semester, all Ph.D. candidates will complete the first of two qualifying examinations. The pro-seminar will constitute the primary preparation for this first, written, examination. During their second semester and first summer in the program, students will also work with their Advisory Committees to prepare for a second qualifying exam in their area of specialization. Unlike the first qualifying exam, which measures the breadth of a candidate’s knowledge, the second is an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the candidate’s area of specialization. The second qualifying exam will be conducted orally by the candidate’s Advisory Committee members and ordinarily will be administered at the beginning of the third semester in the program.
The Second Year
After passing the second qualifying exam, candidates will assemble a faculty Dissertation Committee. This committee often will—but does not have to—include the same faculty members who served on the candidate’s initial Advisory Committee. In their second year, students will work with their Dissertation Committees to bring their dissertation prospectus to fruition. The dissertation itself is expected to take the form of either a book-length manuscript or three publishable law review articles; it will usually constitute a portfolio of writing which students can use on the job market. Once the dissertation prospectus is approved, students are expected to spend the remainder of their time in the program, including summers, researching and writing the dissertation.
Each candidate in the Ph.D. in Law program also will gain training and experience in teaching, and will be required to participate in two semester-long teaching experiences. There will be a number of ways in which students may fulfill the teaching requirement. These may include (1) serving as a teaching assistant for a Law School course; (2) serving as a teaching assistant for a course in Yale College or another school at Yale; (3) co-teaching a class with a Yale Law School faculty member; (4) leading a Yale Law School Reading Group course; (5) teaching an independent seminar in one of the Yale Residential Colleges; or, (6) in unusual situations, teaching their own course. In all cases, students completing their teaching requirements will have faculty supervision, as well as close contact with and feedback from their advisors. The particular teaching assignment and the timing of this requirement will be determined by the candidate in consultation with his or her Advisory and/or Dissertation Committee, but ordinarily candidates will complete the first of their teaching requirements in the second semester of the second year of the program.
The Third Year
Those students interested in pursuing a career as a professor of law generally should expect to go on the job market during their third year in the program. Ph.D. candidates will be offered access to the same wide range of support in this endeavor as Yale Law School currently provides to its students, alumni, and fellows who enter the law teaching market. Students will otherwise devote the third year to completing their dissertation and, in many cases, completing a second teaching experience.
Students will generally be expected to complete the program after three years, but requests to extend the course of study beyond three years will be considered on a case-by-case basis. In such cases, funding may be limited.
Yale Law School has enjoyed tremendous success in helping its students secure law teaching positions. The Law School often places 25-40 of its graduates in tenure-track positions at law schools each year. Despite its relatively small size, Yale Law School has produced approximately ten percent of all professors currently teaching in American law schools. A recent study found that of the 189 faculty at the top sixteen law schools who had received their J.D. in the preceding fifteen years, a plurality—80 professors—graduated from Yale Law School. Many deans at law schools across the country and around the world also are Yale graduates.
The Law School provides comprehensive support to all its students, alumni, and fellows, guiding them through all stages of the legal teaching job market. Ph.D. in Law candidates enjoy access to the full range of support services currently available to Yale Law School students, alumni, and fellows.
For more information, consult the Law Teaching Program’s website.
Ph.D. in Law candidates will receive a full-tuition fellowship and a living stipend at an amount set by the Graduate School, Yale Basic Health coverage, and a Health Award covering the cost of hospitalization and specialty coverage. Financial support is conditioned on the student's making satisfactory academic progress. The Ph.D. in Law program is administered jointly by the Graduate School and the Law School. More information on financial aid and the cost of living in New Haven can be found on the Graduate School's website.