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The Juris Doctor and How It Came To Be

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 May, 2014, 3:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 May, 2014, 5:06pm

With the multitude of law degrees currently available: Juris Doctor, Bachelor of Law, Master of Law, Postgraduate Certificate in Law, pupillage, the educational landscape of law might seem convoluted, but consider the alternative. Just a few centuries ago, legal training consisted of copying out by hand reams and reams of legal documents, day after day, without analysis. Not an especially interesting form of study nor the most adroit method of creating the kind of common law expert that you might wish to represent you. In response to increasing demand for lawyers, solicitors and barristers, a more satisfyingly rigorous programme has developed with the Juris Doctor, combining professional practicality with scholarly analysis.

The Juris Doctor is a two to three year programme of study which sits as an alternative to the Bachelor of Law (LL.B). Both courses prepare students for final qualifications, which allow them to practice law. While the overall legal structure of common law countries was inherited from the UK, the Juris Doctor in particular was devised in the US.

At one time, universities thought common law a topic unworthy of serious attention and taught law only from a philosophical perspective, while the people who practiced law learnt by rote the oftentimes haphazard laws of their locale. Standards varied. A scientific approach was missing. Christopher Colombus Langdell, dean of Harvard Law School between 1870 – 1895, aimed to synthesise the two types of learning to create university educated practitioners. His ideas eventually took off in the US and spread throughout common law countries like Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan.

The same methods are still at the heart of Juris Doctor programmes today. Of their course programme, Hong Kong University states, "The emphasis of the programme is not on rote learning of legal rules, but on critical appreciation and assessment of the underpinnings of these rules." Through studying landmark cases and examining the reasoning of the courts in such cases, students gain a critical perspective on the jurisdiction that they learn.

As the course was developed in response to a practical need for more learned practitioners, the structure and status of the course has also shifted for practical reasons in the countries where it is offered. Courses in different countries vary depending on their practical versus academic orientation, but in no country is the course sufficient in itself for full legal accreditation.

The two most common law programmes in Hong Kong are:
● Bachelor of Law (LL.B), followed by Postgraduate Certificate in Law (PCLL), then solicitor traineeship or barrister pupillage.
● Non-law undergraduate course, Juris Doctor (J.D.), Postgraduate Certificate in Law (PCLL) then solicitor traineeship or barrister pupillage.

Both the LL.B. and J.D. feature research components, but neither are considered 'research degrees.' The main difference between the two routes is that the Juris Doctor takes less time to complete than the Bachelor of Law. It's for people who study something else at undergraduate level then decide to study common law.

The course has its foundations in the ever-improving professionalism of practical careers. The world continues to change and adapt and so the course too has adapted to meet these changing needs. The Juris Doctor professional doctorate helps students develop a keen and critical eye of the jurisdiction that they will work within, making it a far more viable career choice for these changing times.

*Image courtesy of suphakit73 /