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Course of Study

A timeline of the course of study toward the Ph.D. in Law is available here.  

When students apply to the Ph.D. program, they will be expected to know the area of law in which they would like to specialize and to propose a research project. Students’ 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 him or her 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 six courses that will best prepare them to carry out their research projects. In cases where students have already completed the relevant graduate training, a student’s advisory committee may waive up to four of the required courses.

All first-year Ph.D. students will be required to take a two-semester pro-seminar on legal scholarship and methodologies. The first semester of the 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 as well as 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 their 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 breath of a student’s knowledge, the second is an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the candidate’s area of specialization. The second qualifying exam will be an oral examination, conducted by the faculty who serve on each candidate’s advisory committee, and will ordinarily 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 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 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, a student will be expected to spend the remainder of his or her time in the program (including summers) researching and writing the dissertation.

Each student in the Ph.D. in Law program also will gain training and experience in teaching, and each candidate 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 faculty member; and, (4) in unusual situations, teaching their own class. 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, alums and fellows who enter the law teaching market. (For more information, see the Placement and Support page.).  Students will otherwise devote the third year to completing their dissertation and, in many cases, completing a second teaching experience. 

Students will be generally 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.