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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do you look upon practice experience in applicants?

Practice experience can be a useful qualification for admission, but is not required. Applicants must have their J.D. degrees when they apply for admission to the Ph.D. program. For that reason, applicants for the Ph.D. in Law will have had at least one year of post-law school experience of some kind. Often that experience will be a clerkship, but it may also be experience of a different kind, including law practice, a public interest fellowship, government work, or even experience in a pursuit largely unrelated to law. The Ph.D. admissions committee also welcomes applications from candidates with a number of years of post-law school experience. Applicants who have spent more than a couple of years after law school in practice should relate their practice experience to their scholarly agenda or use their personal statements to explain their change in direction.

2. I have a clerkship, or intend to apply for clerkships, following graduation. Can I take a leave from the Ph.D. program to take a clerkship?

As explained above, all Ph.D. students will have spent at last year one year between finishing law school and beginning the Ph.D. program. That year is an ideal year to clerk.

Applicants to the Ph.D. program should be candid about their clerkship plans in their applications and should keep the application committee informed of any developments that occur after they submit their applications. If an opportunity to clerk arises after a Ph.D. student has enrolled in the program, the Ph.D. Committee will consider requests for a leave of absence on a case-by-case basis. Requests to defer commencement of study toward the Ph.D. will also be considered on a case-by-case basis, but generally such students will be asked to submit a new application to the Ph.D. program and that application will be considered de novo.

3. What should I submit as my writing sample? Can I submit a brief or other piece of practical legal writing?

Your writing sample should be the piece of writing that is the strongest evidence that you will complete an excellent dissertation on the subject you have proposed. This might be a paper you wrote in law school, a student note, or even a law review article you have already published. Your writing sample need not be on the same subject as your research proposal, but it may be helpful if it is.

Except in unusual circumstances, co-authored works will not be accepted.

If you wish, you may submit a piece of practical legal writing as an additional writing sample, but you should also submit a piece of legal scholarship. The Ph.D. in Law is designed to prepare candidates for careers in legal scholarship, and your prior legal scholarship is the best evidence of your future potential.


Please note that since your writing sample should be no longer than the equivalent of 30 published pages (or roughly 15,000 words), you may need to select an excerpt from a longer article or paper.

4. I do not have a J.D. degree from a U.S. law school, but I have a first law degree from a university outside the United States. Can I apply for the Ph.D. in Law program?

No, the Ph.D. program is designed specifically for candidates with J.D. degrees from United States law schools. You may, however, consider applying for admission to the LL.M. program and study toward the J.S.D. degree. For more information, consult the LL.M. program's webpage.

5. How is the Ph.D. degree related to the J.S.D. degree?

Both are Doctoral degrees, which are the highest academic degree in law awarded by Yale University, but have different structures and are designed for different purposes. The Ph.D. program is designed specifically for students whose first degree in law is a J.D. from a United States law school and is formally awarded by the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. The J.S.D. degree is designed principally for students who received their first degree in law from non-U.S. institutions and subsequently received their LL.M. at Yale Law School. Unlike the Ph.D., the J.S.D. is awarded by Yale Law School and not the Graduate School.

6. What if I have more questions? Whom should I contact?

If your question is not answered on this website or on the Graduate School’s website, you may e-mail questions to Gordon Silverstein, Assistant Dean for Graduate Programs at gordon.silverstein@yale.edu.