J.S.D. Degree Requirements and Rules

The J.S.D. degree is awarded to persons who have completed an approved program of study, research, and writing with distinction. Each candidate is required, within six academic years of enrollment in the program, to submit a dissertation and to pass an oral defense of the dissertation. The dissertation can take the form of a unified work or a set of three articles with a unifying essay.

The basic aim of the J.S.D. program is to provide opportunity and encouragement for distinguished scholarship through advanced seminars and colloquia, facilities for independent research, and the advice and guidance of members of the Faculty of Law. Doctoral candidates are provided workspace at the Law School during their period of residence at Columbia. In addition to the special committee of faculty advisors designated for each candidate, other members of the Faculty of Law and other faculties of the University are generally prepared to offer assistance to J.S.D. candidates when called upon to do so. To find more specific information on subjects related to requirements, click on each subject below.


During the fall term, the Graduate Committee assigns an Advisory Committee to each J.S.D. candidate. At a later stage, the Advisory Committee may become the candidate’s examination committee. In close and frequent consultation with the chair and other members of the Advisory Committee, the candidate is expected to undertake substantial preliminary research to determine the scope of the proposed dissertation. The candidate should take the initiative in consulting with the chair of his or her Advisory Committee. Two formal meetings of the Advisory Committee are held each year during the candidate’s period of residence, in December and April.

Also during the fall term, J.S.D. candidates register for the J.S.D. Workshop as well as for a seminar or directed reading course in the candidate’s area of research under the direction of a member of the candidate’s faculty Advisory Committee. They typically do not register for other classroom work. The balance of the J.S.D. candidates’ programs consists of research on their respective dissertation topics. J.S.D. candidates are free to audit, with the instructor’s consent, any course or seminar pertinent to their interests. 

A J.S.D. candidate receives no grades for academic work, the only transcript notation being that work either was or was not of doctoral caliber.  J.S.D. candidacy is subject to termination at any time by the Graduate Committee acting upon the advice of those colleagues most familiar with the candidate's work. In case of such termination, the candidate may be permitted to continue in residence until the end of the academic year in the status either of an LL.M. candidate or of a Special Student (non-degree status).

J.S.D. candidates are required to spend one academic year of full-time study and research in residence at the Law School. They are encouraged, but not required, to spend a second year in residence. Extended presence at Columbia without formal residence can also be arranged, as it can for other university doctoral candidates; office support ordinarily cannot be provided for these periods, however.  Doctoral candidates seeking significant education in other disciplines through other schools at Columbia University may request an extended residence period in which to do so.  J.S.D. candidates on a student visa who wish to remain in the United States beyond the formal residence period should check with the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) on whether they would be able to extend their visas. 

A J.S.D. candidate who submits a satisfactory research paper or Master’s Essay in proper form based on doctoral research by December 31 of the calendar year in which the candidate completed his or her first year of residence is eligible for award of the LL.M. degree without termination of the doctoral candidacy. This essay may, but need not, be an integral and verbatim portion of the dissertation. The essay must fulfill the criteria for the LL.M. by Writing, i.e., it must constitute a very substantial piece of original research and writing that is equivalent to a lead article in a law review, as determined by a member of the J.S.D. candidate’s Advisory Committee and a second faculty reader not previously involved in the student's research. The candidate must produce a detailed outline of the research project during the spring semester of the first year of the J.S.D., for final submission by Dec. 31 of that same year. The paper or Master’s Essay will not be graded on a letter basis, but rather, on a credit/fail basis. If the candidate submits a Master’s Essay, it need not be published but will be deposited in the Law Library. The deadline for obtaining the LL.M. degree cannot be extended under any circumstances.

In order to remain in good standing, a candidate no longer in residence must maintain regular official contact with the Advisory Committee. This requires a minimum of two written annual communications, one of which must be at least 500 words (two pages) in length and countersigned by two members of the Advisory Committee. The latter report must be accompanied by the J.S.D. Annual Progress Report Form and be on file with the Office of Graduate Legal Studies by May 31 of each academic year following the period in residence.

When a candidate has completed the dissertation or an installment of it, the Graduate Committee will appoint an examination committee consisting of members of the Faculty of Law and, in appropriate cases, members of other faculties of the university best qualified to evaluate the candidate’s work and to aid the candidate with constructive suggestions and criticism. Ordinarily, the committee is made up of members of the Advisory Committee who have advised the candidate during the period of residence at Columbia.

Whether the J.S.D. dissertation takes the form of a unified work or the equivalent of three articles, it must represent the sole authorship of the candidate. A candidate seeking approval of an entire dissertation or any installment thereof must submit copies to his or her Advisory Committee members. If the submission is in article rather than unified form, the candidate must write an additional essay that draws on the three essays and establishes a general thesis supported by them. In either case, the dissertation must be written in English. The length of the dissertation shall be sufficient to present a thorough and comprehensive treatment of the approved subject or topics; typically, this requires at least the space that would be allotted to three articles suitable for law review publication. The quality of the dissertation must be such as to make it, in the opinion of the Advisory Committee, a meritorious and original contribution to the science or literature of the law. If submitted in the form of articles, it must be of such quality as to be acceptable for publication in an American law review of national circulation and influence.

The Advisory Committee may approve the dissertation as submitted, may require minor or major revisions as a condition of approval, or may withhold its approval. When only minor revisions are required, the chair (acting on behalf of the entire committee) is authorized, upon receipt of satisfactory revisions, to give final approval. In case of major revisions, the Advisory Committee as a whole must approve the revised draft. In cases in which the committee withholds its approval of a revised submission, the candidacy is terminated.

An oral dissertation defense occurs before approval of either a single dissertation or the concluding portion of a dissertation that has been submitted in installments.  The formal defense of the dissertation must take place in person (or, if necessary, by teleconference) before four members of an examining committee (the sponsor, second and third readers of the Advisory Committee, together with a fourth faculty member from outside the Advisory Committee).  A formal report of the defense shall be made by the sponsor or, when appropriate, one of the inside readers and placed on permanent file.  A vote of at least three to one is required to recommend approval of the candidate to the faculty for award of the J.S.D. degree. 

An acceptable dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the J.S.D. degree must be filed within six years of enrollment in the J.S.D. Program. A single extension for one year only has occasionally been granted to candidates who have demonstrated their capacity to complete thesis work within that time. Further extensions are not available absent the most compelling of reasons.

Degrees are conferred three times a year, in May, October and February. A candidate who has completed the dissertation should contact the Office of Graduate Legal Studies at least four weeks ahead of the conferral date to receive instructions for the preparation of the dissertation and the necessary forms which the candidate must complete. The Office of Graduate Legal Studies will obtain the necessary approvals from the chairs of the candidate’s committee and the Graduate Committee. The dissertation must be properly deposited with the University’s Dissertation Office before the degree can be conferred.