Sterling Law Building, 203.432.1696
M.A., Ph.D.

Heather Gerken

Director of Graduate Studies
Robert Post

Fields of Study

The Ph.D. in Law program prepares students who have earned a J.D. from an American Bar Association accredited law school to enter law teaching or other careers that require a scholarly mastery of law. The program is designed to provide a broad foundation in the canonical texts and methods of legal scholarship and to support students in producing original scholarship in the form of a dissertation. The program strongly encourages, but does not require, interdisciplinary approaches to the study of law.

Special Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree

Each student will have a faculty advisory committee, which will help the student select appropriate courses. In their first year, students take a mandatory two-term seminar on the foundations of legal scholarship, legal theory, and methods (or its equivalent) and as many as four additional courses. Students may take other courses in the Law School or in other departments or schools at Yale University. Each student’s advisory committee may waive up to four courses. The foundations seminar may not be waived and must be taken for a grade, not audited.

Each Ph.D. student must take two qualifying examinations. The first, administered before the start of the second term in the program, is a written examination based on materials studied in the first term of the foundations seminar. It will test the student’s breadth of knowledge across the legal canon, including knowledge of canonical texts, methods, and principles. The second is an oral examination administered by the student’s advisory committee at the beginning of the second year and no later than October 15 of that year. The oral examination tests the student’s knowledge of the scholarship, theories, and methodologies relevant to the student’s area of study. Both qualifying examinations are graded on a pass/fail basis. A student who fails a qualifying examination will have one opportunity to retake the examination in the following term.

After completion of the second qualifying examination, the student will assemble a faculty dissertation committee and prepare a dissertation prospectus. Upon approval of the prospectus, usually by the end of the fourth term, the student will devote the remaining time in the program to writing a dissertation, which may take the form of a traditional monograph or three publishable scholarly articles. The final dissertation must be approved by both the student’s dissertation committee and the director of graduate studies (DGS).

Students in the Ph.D. in Law program are also expected to meet additional academic requirements in each year of the program, specified below and outlined in greater detail in the Ph.D. in Law Program Manual available from the Graduate Programs Office at Yale Law School. Students who fail to meet program requirements will not be in good standing and may be withdrawn from the program.

All required written work must be judged satisfactory by the student’s advisory committee, in consultation with the assistant dean for graduate programs and the director of graduate studies (DGS). A satisfactory article or chapter is one that the student’s advisory committee, the assistant dean, and the DGS agree is appropriate and ready for professional presentation at an academic workshop, and one that offers the promise of meeting the standards expected by leading law reviews or academic presses.

First-year requirements include satisfactory performance in course work, including the foundations seminar (or its equivalent); passing the first qualifying examination; and completion of a first dissertation article or chapter. Students also must submit an approved reading list for the second qualifying examination to the assistant dean and the DGS no later than the final day of the spring examination period.

Second-year requirements include submission of the first dissertation article or chapter for publication no later than the first day of classes for the fall term of the second year and successful completion of the second qualifying examination by October 15 of that year. Second-year students shall complete a second satisfactory dissertation article or chapter by December 1 and complete their first required teaching experience by the end of their second year in the program. They shall submit their dissertation prospectus to the assistant dean and the DGS by June 1 of the second year.

In the third year, students are required to complete and submit a draft of their third dissertation article or chapter by August 1, and to workshop their article or chapter at the Law School no later than September 20 in preparation for the academic job market. For those who plan to graduate in May of their third year, a final and complete dissertation must be submitted to the assistant dean, the DGS, dissertation committee members, and the Graduate School registrar no later than March 15. Students must also satisfactorily complete their second teaching experience during their third year in the program. Both teaching experiences will typically be reviewed in person or via recorded media with the assistant dean and/or the committee chair and the DGS.

The program is designed to be completed in three years and two summers, but students who do not expect to complete all program requirements before the conclusion of their third year in the program are invited to petition the Law School’s Ph.D. Policy Committee for permission to enroll for a seventh and eighth semester in the program under Extended Registration or Dissertation Completion Status (DCS). Those enrolled under Extended Registration are full-time students and receive, as before, Yale Basic Health coverage and a Health Award to cover the cost of Yale Health hospitalization/specialty coverage, but they do not receive stipendiary support. Instead, they are eligible to teach in Yale College or, in exceptional circumstances, to assist a Yale Law School faculty member in their teaching to support their living expenses. Teaching opportunities are coordinated by the Graduate School’s Teaching Fellow Program. 

Students on DCS are less than half-time students who retain their Yale NetID in order to access electronic library resources and their Yale e-mail accounts. Students in this category are not eligible for stipendiary support nor a Health Award from the Graduate School or the Law School; they should consult with the Graduate School on other services and resources that may not be available to them as less than half-time students. 

Those on both "Extended Registration" and "Dissertation Completion" status are responsible for paying the Continuous Registration Fee ($790 per term for the 2023–24 academic year). (Note that the Graduate School provides a fellowship to cover the cost of the Continuous Registration Fee for those teaching in Yale College.) 


As part of their training, Ph.D. students must complete two terms of teaching experience. There are a number of ways to fulfill this requirement, depending on the availability of teaching experiences from year to year. They include: (1) serving as a teaching assistant for a Law School course; (2) serving as a student organizer for a Law School reading group; (3) serving as a teaching fellow for a course in Yale College or another school at Yale; (4) co-teaching a Law School course with a faculty member; and (5) in unusual situations, teaching their own course. In all cases, students engaged in teaching will have faculty supervision and feedback from their advisers.

Master’s Degree

M.A. The M.A. degree may be granted to Ph.D. in Law students who are not completing the program, but who successfully complete the two-term foundations seminar and at least two additional courses, pass the two qualifying examinations, and submit an academic paper that is judged to be of publishable quality. Students may substitute a third course for one of the two qualifying examinations. The degree is available retroactively to students who matriculated from September 2013 onward.

Program materials are available upon request to the Graduate Programs Office, Yale Law School, 127 Wall Street, New Haven CT 06511.


For Law School courses, see the Law School bulletin, online at For courses in other schools at Yale University, please see their respective bulletins or Specific course selections will be approved by the student’s advisory committee and by the DGS.