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SJD Degree Requirements

The SJD is an advanced law degree requiring the written submission and oral defense of a major piece of independent research that makes an original and substantive contribution to legal scholarship (“the dissertation”).  An LLM thesis may be incorporated into the doctoral dissertation, if appropriate.

Completion of the SJD ordinarily will be within three years following admission to the program, although the SJD candidate may petition for an extension.  The Graduate Programs Committee, with the approval of a student’s dissertation committee, may grant extensions to students in good standing.

First Year

All SJD students are required to spend the first full academic year of their SJD program in residence at the Law School. During the first year, students are expected to:

  • Secure the consent of a faculty member from among Penn Law’s standing faculty to serve as an adviser. The adviser will also serve as the chair of the student’s dissertation committee;
  • Complete and submit to his/her adviser a revised research proposal and a bibliography that substantially builds on the initial proposal submitted with the student’s application;
  • Complete two one-semester courses in their area of specialization chosen from among those offered to upper level JD students.
  • In addition, first year SJD students may apply to serve as legal writing fellows who assist LLM students.  SJDs who are accepted to be legal writing fellows typically receive a small stipend.

Second Year Requirements

If the faculty adviser approves the proposal, during the second year the student is expected to:

  • Submit a dissertation outline to his/her adviser;
  • Assemble his/her full dissertation committee, which must consist of three members, two of whom (including the chair) must be members of Penn Law’s standing faculty. The third dissertation committee member may, in appropriate cases, be selected from outside the Law School. Determinations regarding the inclusion of a committee member from outside the Law School shall be made by the student’s adviser in consultation with the Deputy Dean for International Affairs.

Third Year Requirements

If the faculty adviser approves the outline, during the third year the student is expected to:

  • Submit a draft dissertation to his/her committee (target deadline –October 1);
  • Submit a completed dissertation to his/her committee (target deadline– February 15);
  • Orally defend his/her dissertation before the dissertation committee.

Dissertation Requirements

Dissertations must make an original and substantial contribution to legal scholarship. This requirement is ordinarily satisfied by work equivalent in scale and quality to a book, extended monograph, or series of scholarly articles reflecting intensive and creative research with respect to a specific topic, problem or area of law. The work, both in content and form, must be of publishable quality.

The oral defense of the dissertation occurs after the members of the dissertation committee determine that the dissertation substantially satisfies the requirements of the program.

Following a successful dissertation defense, an SJD candidate must submit three copies of his/her dissertation to the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs for placement in Biddle Law Library.


An SJD student’s program may be terminated  if:

  • If a student’s primary adviser, in consultation with the Graduate Programs Committee and the Deputy Dean for International Affairs, determines that the student is not making satisfactory progress toward the completion of the dissertation, the student may be dismissed from the program;
  • If a student fails to pay the required tuition and fees, the student may be dismissed from the program in accordance with University policy; and
  • Termination decisions may be appealed to the Committee on Academic Standing.