SJD Dissertation

The SJD is a research degree. There is no formal requirement for candidates to pursue additional course work, whether for credit or otherwise, other than required participation in a non-credit, ungraded colloquium for SJD students during their first year in the program. However, a candidate may be required by his advisor to take or audit courses and participate in seminars and discussions which will further the student’s understanding of his or her field of knowledge and its relation to other fields. Each candidate will be allowed 2-4 years to complete the program, the first year of which must be spent in residency at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. The year of residency is in addition to the LLM year for Pitt Law LLM graduates. A candidate is required to conduct rigorous research and produce an original dissertation that will contribute significantly to legal scholarship and further understanding of the law. Specifically, a candidate is required to submit a dissertation overview, defend that overview, submit a doctoral dissertation, and successfully defend the dissertation.  

The degree will be completed under the supervision of a full-time faculty adviser. You must follow the procedures described under the “Admissions” tab of this page in selecting a prospective faculty advisor.

The faculty adviser will consult with the student to plan a program of study and research. The adviser may require coursework within the Law School or outside the department as appropriate. The faculty adviser will also be required to supervise the student’s research, approve the dissertation, and serve as chair of the dissertation committee.

The dissertation committee for each candidate shall include a minimum of three, and a maximum of four members. At least two members of the committee shall be members of the faculty of the School of Law. At least one other member shall be a member of a graduate faculty of the University of Pittsburgh outside the School of Law. The committee may also include a practicing lawyer, judge, or faculty member of another law school. Each candidate will be responsible for selecting and organizing his or her committee. The faculty adviser must approve the dissertation committee, and serve as its chairperson. The faculty adviser is also responsible for obtaining approval for the doctoral committee from the Director of the Center for International Legal Education and the Dean of the School of Law.

The dissertation committee’s role is to advise a student as the student researches and writes his or her dissertation. The committee has the authority to request revisions of the dissertation, conduct the final oral examination, and determine whether the dissertation meets acceptable standards and makes a significant contribution to the legal field. A student must meet at least once a year with the committee. During these meetings, the committee will assess the student’s progress and discuss objectives and a timetable to complete degree requirements. This program does not have formal preliminary and comprehensive examinations.

The dissertation must establish the historical context upon which the research is based and identify how the student’s work contributes to the field. The dissertation must analyze and synthesize a broad body of literature and present a clear explanation of the area of research. The work must be of publishable quality and of sufficient detail to allow other scholars to build upon this work. The characteristics of the dissertation are set out in the University of Pittsburgh Regulations Pertaining to PhD Degrees. The candidate is required to publicly defend the dissertation overview at the end of the first academic year, and to defend the dissertation at the conclusion of the process. The overview will provide a complete projection of the body of the dissertation. Both the dissertation overview meeting and the dissertation defense shall be open to the public, with reasonable notice given in advance to the Law School faculty. The announcement of the dissertation defense must appear in the edition of the University Times whose calendar of events includes the date of the scheduled defense. The dissertation shall result from work completed substantially during the student’s enrollment in the SJD Program, and shall not be based on work substantially completed prior to admission.

After completion of the year of residency, students must register as full time dissertation to remain active in the program for each semester until graduation. Students using University facilities must register each term for a minimum of one credit, and may register for additional courses if recommended by their advisor. The per credit rate for additional courses will be the same as that of the LLM Program. Students must pay mandatory University of Pittsburgh fees for each year of their candidacy.