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Recent Law Graduates Skeptical of New Yale Law Ph.D.

But the dean of Yale Law School says the program will improve legal education.

Yale Law School will soon become a second home for legal Ph.D. students.
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Despite their jurisprudence doctorates, it's even snootier for J.D.'s to call themselves doctors than to append "esquire" to their names, according to Elie Mystal. "A lot of lawyers would like to equate one year of fear and learning followed by two years of waiting to take the bar exam with nearly a decade of in-depth study and writing, but it's really not the same," writes the Above the Law blog editor. 

This fall, Yale University Law School will accept applications from J.D. graduates of U.S. law schools for a first-of-its kind Ph.D. in law, which will open in fall 2013. The program promises tuition waivers and living expense stipends for students and to add academic teeth to a professional discipline. 

But the jury is still out on whether J.D.'s actually want or need to go back to graduate school. 

"Three years of law school is enough for me, and I am ready to continue my education outside of the classroom," says Andrew Bruskin, a 2012 College of William & Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law J.D. 

Yale also won't receive an application from Ruth Carter, a 2011 Arizona State University O'Connor College of Law J.D. and owner of Carter Law Firm in Phoenix. "I told myself when I graduated from law school that I have officially run out of degrees to get and that I'm not allowed to resolve my next career crisis by going back to school," she says. 

Paul Campos, a University of Colorado—Boulder Law School professor, only prescribes the new Yale program to students with "top J.D. credentials" and the financial flexibility to spend three more years not making money, and who are "willing to take the risks inherent in trying to have an academic career under present circumstances." 

Committing to more schooling after a combined seven years of college and law school is "way too long of a career-launching track except for a small subset of people," says Campos, who writes the blog Inside the Law School Scam

[Read about how legal master's degrees can lead to specialized jobs.] 

Campos says he wouldn't have applied for a legal Ph.D. if one had existed when he was a student, and he doesn't expect most other law schools to follow Yale's lead. "The cost of legal education is starting to come down, and hiring people with a dozen years of post-high school education is an unnecessary cost for 95 percent of law schools," he says. 

Robert Post, the dean of Yale Law School, says he doesn't "do prognostications" but adds that there are good reasons for other schools to create legal Ph.D.'s, particularly given changes in legal academia. "I would imagine probably that some schools will decide to do it. Time will tell," he says. 

When he was a student, law schools hired new professors based on their potential, says Post, who holds a J.D. from Yale and a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University. But legal academia has "changed radically," and even second- or third-tier law schools today expect prospective faculty to have published multiple scholarly articles, he says. 

[Learn why executives recommend business doctorates amidst MBA inflation.] 

By giving law professors-to-be ample time to write and gain academic training, Yale's law Ph.D. will help make legal education more legally focused, Post says. 

"We're reclaiming law as a discipline. Right now, the great number of our best graduates go get a Ph.D. in another field, and it's hard to bring them back to law." 

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