Ph.D. Common Questions

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

Practice experience can be a useful qualification for admission, but it is not required. Applicants must complete their J.D. degree before enrolling in the Ph.D. in Law program. This means that students may apply during their third year of law school, but most applicants 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 include 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 I intend to apply for clerkships, following graduation. Can I take a leave from the Ph.D. program to take a clerkship?

While we are pleased to welcome applications from students in their third year of law school, many applicants will have spent at least one year after law school in a clerkship. We recognize that the continuing disarray in the clerkship market has affected the post-graduate planning for many students, and we will offer the possibility of a leave of absence during the program to take up a clerkship opportunity. Applicants to the Ph.D. program should be candid about their clerkship plans in their applications and should keep the Law School's Assistant Dean for Graduate Programs informed of any developments that occur after they submit their applications.

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 program 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 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?

The Ph.D. in Law program at Yale Law School is designed specifically for candidates with J.D. degrees from U.S. law schools. You may, however, consider applying for admission to Yale Law School's LL.M. degree program. For more information, please consult the LL.M. program's website.

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

Both are doctoral degrees, which are the highest academic degrees in law awarded by Yale University, but the programs have different structures and are designed for different purposes. The more structured Ph.D. program is designed specifically for students whose first degree in law is a J.D. from a U.S. law school, and the Ph.D. is formally awarded by Yale University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The J.S.D. degree is designed principally for students who received their first degree in law from a non-U.S. institution and subsequently received their LL.M. at Yale Law School. Unlike the Ph.D., the J.S.D. is awarded by Yale Law School, 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