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Harvard Law School marks the 100th anniversary of the S.J.D. program

S.J.D. 100th Anniversary

The Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) is Harvard Law School's most advanced law degree, designed for aspiring legal academics who wish to pursue sustained independent study, research and writing.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the S.J.D. program at HLS.

In commemoration, Harvard Law School’s S.J.D. Association hosted a three-day Global Legal Education Forum to examine the impact of globalism on legal education and the practice of law. (See related story)

Many of the nation’s great legal scholars have earned an S.J.D., yet the degree is not nearly as well known as the J.D. or even the LL.M.

In 2007 and 2008, Gail Hupper, who was assistant dean for Harvard Law School’s Graduate Program and now serves as director of the LL.M. and International Programs at Boston College Law School, wrote several articles on the founding and history of the S.J.D. Below is a brief summary of the history of the S.J.D. at HLS, excerpted from two of her articles: "The Rise of an Academic Doctorate in Law: Origins to World War II", American Journal of Legal History 49 (2007): 1-60 and "The Academic Doctorate in Law: A Vehicle for Legal Transplants?" Journal of Legal Education 58 (September 2008): 413-454.

Prior to the Civil War, many universities were essentially liberal arts colleges run by ministers who focused on a curriculum of Latin, Greek, mathematics and moral philosophy. Some schools had “law schools” loosely attached but legal education was accomplished primarily through an apprentice system.

With the rise of industrialization after the Civil War, university leaders came to believe that the existing teaching methods could not support the “abstract thought” needed to negotiate the legal world. Charles Eliot, who would go on to become president of Harvard, was greatly influenced by what he saw abroad in Europe. The continental universities were engaged in experimentation and hands-on learning. When he returned to Harvard, Eliot worked hard to bring similar approaches into the curricula of the professional schools, particularly the law school and medical school.

The original S.J.D. was a one-year, course-based degree that concentrated on “cultural subjects, public law and legislation.”  The degree program at Harvard was not originally envisioned as a teacher-training program, but under the deanship of Roscoe Pound the focus shifted. When Pound became dean in 1916, he made the S.J.D. a central priority, aligning the school’s traditional teacher training function with his own “sociological jurisprudence.”  In this way the degree assumed a missionary function bringing the methods of Langdell to other law schools. Between 1924 and 1933, HLS awarded 135 S.J.D. degrees; two-thirds of these S.J.D. graduates went on to become professors.

Notable graduates include Morton Campbell, Paul Freund S.J.D. ’32, Henry Hart S.J.D. ’31, James Landis S.J.D. ’25, Manley Hudson, Francis Sayre, and Harry Schulman S.J.D. ‘27, all of whom would go on to teach at Harvard.

Around the 1930’s however, the focus of the degree shifted slightly towards research. By the 1950’s, as many as 20 percent of the HLS faculty held the S.J.D. degree; today, roughly the same percentage holds advanced degrees in other disciplines, such as economics or political science.

Increasingly, those seeking the S.J.D. have come from outside the U.S. At many foreign law schools, a greater percentage of the professors hold S.J.D. degrees. At Tel Aviv University a quarter of the law faculty hold S.J.D.s. At Seoul National University the S.J.D. holders make up 17% of the law faculty. Today, the primary focus of the S.J.D. is to train new law teachers. This has continued to attract many foreign students.

Alumni of HLS’s S.J.D. program have distinguished themselves as leaders in academia, government, the judiciary, and private practice in more than 80 countries around the world. Recent alums include Thomas Buergenthal LL.M. ’61 S.J.D. ‘68, former judge of the International Court of Justice; Navanethem Pillay LL.M. ’82 S.J.D. ’88, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Lobsang Sangay LL.M. ’96 S.J.D. ‘04, prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile; and Ma Yingjeou S.J.D. ‘81, president of Taiwan.

Current faculty members who have received the degree include Lucian Bebchuk LL.M. ’80 S.J.D. ’84; Gabriella Blum LL.M. ’01 S.J.D. ’03; Jody Freeman LL.M. ’91 S.J.D. ’95; Holger Spamann S.J.D. ’09; and Roberto Mangabeira Unger LL.M. ’70 S.J.D. ’76.

Sophy Bishop


Hupper, Gail J.  "The Rise of an Academic Doctorate in Law: Origins through World War II," American Journal of Legal History (2007), v. 49, p1-60

Hupper, Gail J.  "The Academic Doctorate in Law: A Vehicle for Legal Transplants?," Journal of Legal Education (2008), v. 58, no. 3, p413-454.)

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