The Doctor of the Science of Law (J.S.D.) degree program at Cornell Law School is designed for students who hold a first degree in law as well as an LL.M. (or its equivalent) who want to pursue an academic career. By earning a J.S.D., students conduct original research into specific legal topics of individual interest.
Pursuing a J.S.D. at Cornell Law School
The J.S.D. program at Cornell Law is an exceptional opportunity for students to deepen their understanding of American domestic law, international law, and comparative law, particularly in areas in which Cornell's faculty is world renowned.
As a J.S.D. student, you will be integrated into the academic life of the Law School and have the option of attending the weekly faculty speakers' series and other academic events.
Unlike other law school programs, Cornell Law's J.S.D. is conferred by Cornell University, not the Law School, and is comparable to a Ph.D. This makes the degree more rigorous as the J.S.D. program is run in accordance with Cornell's graduate school policies.
JSD Application Requirements
Applications to the J.S.D. program are welcomed from applicants who have completed LL.M.-level work. Except in unusual circumstances, however, students are admitted to the J.S.D. program only after earning an LL.M. degree at Cornell Law School, in which they must have received all honor and high honor grades.
Out of an average of 40 applicants, only 1 to 3 J.S.D. students are admitted per year.
The factors we consider for admission to the J.S.D. program include:
- Prior academic performance
- Letters of recommendation from professors, lecturers, or instructors who know your academic capabilities and can compare your work to that of others they have taught
- Special academic honors you have received, and publications you have authored or co-authored
- Your written statement of interest
- Your work experience and community activities
- If English is not your native language, your English language proficiency
English proficiency requirement
Because Cornell Law's J.S.D. program is writing-intensive, all applicants must have exemplary English skills. If you are a Cornell Law LL.M. student, you do not need to submit additional proof of your English proficiency.
If you are not a Cornell Law LL.M. student, you must demonstrate English language skills sufficient to complete doctoral work.
How to Apply
Application Deadline: May 1.
All applications must be submitted through the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) LL.M. Credential Assembly Service. To register, visit the LSAC website.
The LL.M. Credential Assembly Service simplifies the application process by centralizing the collection of application materials and distributing them in an electronic report to all law schools to which you apply. This means that if you are applying to multiple law schools, you will only have to submit application materials once. And because Cornell receives all required materials electronically from LSAC, we can process all applications faster and more efficiently.
Unexpected delays do happen. We strongly advise that you register with LSAC four to six weeks before your first application deadline, and ensure that application materials that must be mailed to LSAC are received at least two weeks before the application deadline.
The completed Cornell Law School JSD Application form and supporting documents include:
- Statement of interest-A statement of approximately 750 words explaining your purpose for obtaining the degree, your research and study interests, and their relation to your previous education and professional goals. Include your full name on the top of each page of the statement of interest. You must also include a detailed and footnoted research proposal of no more than 3,000 words.
- Transcripts/degree certifications-Complete official transcripts of all previous college, university, and graduate/professional school study, including work done at Cornell. We strongly recommend that you use LSAC's Document Assembly and International Transcript Authentication and Evaluation Services.
- Letters of recommendation-Two letters of recommendation from faculty members acquainted with your work in the major area of study. If that work occurred more than three years ago, or if such letters are not obtainable because of circumstances beyond your control, recommendations from those familiar with your professional performance are acceptable.
- Demonstration of English proficiency-Proficiency in English is required for admission and your level of proficiency, as demonstrated by all aspects of the application, is a significant factor in our decision-making process. If your native language is not English, you must take the TOEFL or IELTS unless you have received a waiver.
- Application fee-Payment of the nonrefundable $80 (USD) application fee.
Documents in languages other than English must be accompanied by a certified translation. Our committee will review complete applications only.
JSD Degree Requirements
During your first year in residence, you must take an active part in one required course, the Cornell Graduate Colloquium, in which you will present your research in progress. In addition, you may be required, by your Special Committee, to take specific courses. Beyond this, no specific courses are required. However, you must meet certain requirements by the end of your first year of the J.S.D. program to be admitted to candidacy for the degree. A minimum of two semesters of residency at the Law School are required, though completion of the degree normally requires six to eight semesters (not necessarily all in residence).
You will work under the direction of a Special Committee of your choosing. Your committee chair and at least one other member must be members of both the Cornell Law School faculty and the Graduate School faculty in the Field of Law. At least three members must be members of the Graduate Faculty. Learn more here.
During your first year, your Special Committee chair may require that you successfully audit or complete specific courses or seminars deemed useful for your development as a scholar.
You must successfully submit and orally defend a dissertation prospectus before your Special Committee or Special Committee chair and at least one other member of the Graduate School faculty in the Field of Law. The prospectus, which should be submitted by the end of the first year, must outline in detail the structure, content, and methodology of your proposed dissertation.
To earn a J.S.D., you must pursue and complete with distinction the program of study and investigation as set forth in the prospectus, producing a dissertation that constitutes a significant contribution to legal scholarship. Following submission of the dissertation to your Special Committee, you must pass a final examination (usually on the subject matter of the dissertation) and any other examinations that the Special Committee requests. Following the examination and the Special Committee's approval of the dissertation, you must submit the dissertation to the Graduate School of Cornell University.
Contact us to learn more or request a copy of our J.S.D. Field Handbook.