Degrees to Become a Law Professor

by Anne Wallace, Demand Media

The minimum academic credential for a full-time, tenure-track law school professorship is a Juris Doctor. However, the J.D. is just part of a picture that may include judicial clerkships, bar admission, practice and doing work for publications. A review of faculty directories indicates that many recent hires have doctorates, master’s degrees and degrees from foreign universities. Some law schools show a preference for graduates of other law schools. The profile that emerges varies significantly among institutions.


Some law schools have adopted a more interdisciplinary approach to law. These are schools where professors are more likely to have doctorates in other disciplines like economics, psychology, sociology, political science or history. Usually this is in addition to a J.D., but sometimes it is in lieu of it. The Doctor of the Science of Law or Doctor of Juridical Science is a doctorate in law, designed for those specifically interested in an academic career. One of the advantages of any doctorate is that it provides an opportunity for publishable scholarship.

Master's Degrees

The Master of Laws is a master’s degree in law, a graduate degree that follows the J.D. LL.M.s are often offered in specific disciplines like tax or international law. Less common among law school faculty are master’s degrees in public administration, philosophy, accounting, business administration, public policy or public health. A master’s degree, like a doctorate, allows a lawyer to develop greater depth in a particular subject area, but it may not present the chance for publication.

Foreign Degrees

As well as an interdisciplinary approach, some schools have adopted an international focus. Many professors hold undergraduate or graduate degrees from the London School of Economics, Oxford University, Cambridge University or the University of London. Less common are French, Italian, Canadian or Taiwanese degrees. Graduates of law schools in countries with a common law tradition, generally former British colonies, may have an easier time competing in the American market than those from countries with a civil law tradition.

Law School Preferences

Some law schools hire their own alumni; others seem to have no preference. In general, a large percentage of recent hires seem to come from the top 25 percent of graduates from prestigious law schools -- Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Chicago -- with a few more from Columbia, Michigan, and Virginia. With a J.D. from a lesser-known law school, you may want to add a graduate degree to your portfolio or focus your attention on building a good record of publications.

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About the Author

Anne Wallace teaches in Indiana’s community college system, including courses in business law, business writing and paralegal studies. She has practiced law, specializing in pension and health care plans and published in "Benefits Quarterly," "National Underwriter" and "Benefits and Compensation Management." She has a bachelor’s in English from Wellesley College, and a J.D. from Fordham Law School.

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