Online Doctorate Degree in Legal Studies

A doctorate in legal studies prepares you for an advanced career in legal scholarship and teaching. In general, this degree is designed for professionals who already hold a juris doctor and wish to make critical contributions to their field. While a juris doctor qualifies graduates to practice law in the U.S., a legal studies doctorate prepares students for careers in research and education.

The BLS projects that jobs for professors will grow 15% by 2026.

As global, national, and local politics evolve and become more complicated, legal studies experts play critical roles in many different industries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for lawyers are more competitive and difficult to obtain. Consequently, earning a doctoral degree in legal studies can give you an edge in the job market. A doctorate can also qualify you for law-related careers, such as college professor. The BLS projects that jobs for professors will grow 15% by 2026. By comparison, the BLS projects that jobs for lawyers will grow only 8% in the same timeframe.

Choosing a Doctorate in Legal Studies

An online doctorate in legal studies focuses on the relationship between law and various races, cultures, and socioeconomic classes. The degree also covers the history and the current state of the U.S. legal system. Occasionally, individuals may refer to a doctorate in legal studies as a doctorate in law or a doctor of juridical science. Students in these programs typically design, pursue, and present research in their chosen topic. Some legal studies programs allow you to specialize in areas such as ethnic studies, psychology, or public policy. Students pursuing doctoral legal studies degrees online also write dissertations about their findings.

While researching online doctorate in legal studies programs, keep in mind that the location usually affects program cost. Attending an in-state school is typically cheaper than attending an out-of-state school, since in-state schools often offer discounted tuition for residents. Pursuing an online program instead of an on-campus program may also help you save money. Online courses allow you to live anywhere and work from home. Consequently, you can avoid transportation costs and the higher costs of living in some college towns.

Legal studies programs may follow an online, hybrid, or on-campus format. Fully online programs allow you to complete your coursework from anywhere, according to your own schedule. Hybrid programs combine the freedom and flexibility of online programs with certain in-person components. Completely on-campus programs provide the most structure and hands-on guidance.

Sample Courses for a Doctorate in Legal Studies

Courses vary depending on which online doctorate in legal studies you choose. Most online legal studies degrees require intensive independent study, one-on-one work with an adviser, and supervised teaching or research. The list below describes a few courses you might encounter.

Example Courses

Legal Scholarship and MethodologiesThis seminar focuses on canonical legal scholarship. Students examine foundational research texts and strategies in legal studies. The course also prepares students to complete any qualifying exams.
Directed Reading CourseCandidates usually complete additional reading in their chosen areas of dissertation research. Faculty advisers or other mentors work with students to research, write, and revise their dissertations.
Doctoral Colloquium SeriesThis course allows doctoral candidates to share their dissertations and other research projects with each other. Throughout this course, candidates may participate in formal presentations and collaborate on projects.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Doctorate in Legal Studies?

Students can complete an online doctorate in legal studies in three to six years. Program length largely depends on the time you take to complete your dissertation. Students complete dissertations independently, although they often receive assistance from a faculty member. Candidates typically take between one and four years to research, write, and defend their project.

Delivery format can also affect program length. An individually paced program allows you to complete coursework as quickly or slowly as you would like. In a cohort learning program, students move through courses at the same time as a group of their peers. Program length can also vary based on teaching practicums, internships, or other fieldwork requirements.

Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Legal Studies Graduates

Graduates who complete a legal studies degree online can take on advanced leadership roles in research and academia. Many graduates find employment with colleges and universities, teaching both undergraduate and graduate students. Many government agencies also hire lawyers and other law professionals with advanced degrees. According to the American Bar Association, the government agencies that hired the most lawyers in 2011 were the Social Security Administration, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Justice.

The BLS reports that professionals with doctoral degrees earn around 25% more than professionals with only master’s degrees.

Professionals with doctorates in legal studies hold an advantage over professionals who only have juris doctor degrees. The BLS reports that professionals with doctoral degrees earn around 25% more than professionals with only master’s degrees. According to PayScale, experienced lawyers, including lawyers with doctorates, earn nearly $50,000 more than entry-level lawyers.

What Can You Do with a Degree in Legal Studies?

Professionals with online doctorates in legal studies work in a variety of fields, including government, business, and medicine. Successful legal professionals are usually highly articulate and have excellent written communication and listening skills. Legal professionals also possess strong analytical and research skills. They should be passionate about justice and knowledgeable about their particular speciality.


Lawyers advise individuals on their legal rights and advocate for their clients both inside and outside of court. Lawyers must earn a juris doctor and pass the bar exam. A doctorate in legal studies can give these professionals a significant edge in the job market. The degree may lead to higher salaries and competitive jobs with private corporations or government agencies.

Professor of Law

Professors usually hold a doctoral degree in their area of expertise. These professionals teach undergraduate and graduate students, write and publish articles, and conduct independent and collaborative research projects.

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Postdoctoral researchers must have doctoral degrees. They usually assist tenured professors in universities or labs. Postdoctoral research associates that focus on legal studies may work for government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Justice. Job duties include teaching and conducting both independent and collaborative research.

Corporate Counsel

Corporate counsels offer legal advice to businesses and other organizations. They have an exceptional knowledge of law within their areas of expertise, including corporate and business law, tax law, product and service liability, insurance law, or environmental law. While a doctoral degree is not required, it can give job candidates a significant advantage.

Law Librarian

Law librarians conduct legal research, analyze information, and assist lawyers and paralegals. Most employers require these professionals to have a master’s degrees in legal studies and library science. However, doctoral degrees can often help law librarians secure higher-paying jobs.
Occupations and Salary for Online Doctorate in Legal Studies Graduates
Job TitleOverall Median SalaryMedian Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years)Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years)Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (>20 years)
Postdoctoral Researcher$46,731$46,231$48,560$49,000
Corporate Counsel$111,209$91,998$122,389$149,354
Law Librarian$59,919$55,303$66,000$79,000
Source: BLS, May 2017

Licensure and Certification

Colleges and universities typically require law professors to hold a doctorate in legal studies or a related field. While high school educators need a state license, college educators do not need any sort of state certification. A doctorate in legal studies also qualifies you for a career in research and law scholarship.

In order to practice law, you must first earn a juris doctor from a law school that is accredited through the American Bar Association (ABA). After graduating, you must pass your state’s bar exam. Some lawyers choose to continue their education by earning legal studies degrees online.

Accreditation for Online Doctorates in Legal Studies

While researching legal studies degrees, make sure your chosen programs hold adequate accreditation. Accreditation ensures higher education institutions meet certain academic standards. These schools must undergo a rigorous evaluation process. Most employers and universities only accept or hire individuals with degrees from accredited programs. Additionally, most funding opportunities only grant assistance to applicants with degrees from accredited schools.

Nonprofit, degree-focused colleges and universities typically receive regional accreditation. Look for doctorate in legal studies degrees from schools with regional accreditation.

There are two main types of institutional accreditation. National accreditation is less widely recognized and requires lower standards. For-profit schools, religious schools, and trade schools typically receive national accreditation. Regional accreditation requires higher standards and a rigorous multi-year process. Nonprofit, degree-focused colleges and universities typically receive regional accreditation. Look for doctorate in legal studies degrees from schools with regional accreditation.

Law schools and legal studies departments can also earn specialized accreditation. Law students must earn their juris doctors at ABA-accredited schools in order to sit for the bar exam. Students should look for doctorate in legal studies programs with ABA accreditation. For more information about accreditation, see the U.S. Department of Education’s list of accrediting agencies.

Financing Your Online Doctorate in Legal Studies

You can pursue many financial aid opportunities to pay for your online doctorate in legal studies, including federal and private loans, grants, scholarships, and fellowships. Students do not have to pay back awards earned through grants, scholarships, and fellowships. However, graduates must pay back all loans, including interest. Grants assist students primarily based on financial need. The federal government offers several grants, including the Pell Grant for low-income students. Students may earn scholarships based on both academic merit and financial need. Fellowships typically require students to complete some kind of work related to their field.

Many online and on-campus doctorate in legal studies programs offer full funding. Students typically earn funds through teaching assistantships, research fellowships, and other opportunities related to their academic interests. In addition to the standard funding for doctoral students, most colleges and universities also offer scholarships, fellowships, and grants for conferences and research-related travels. Outside organizations such as the American Association of Law Libraries, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the National Institute of Justice often offer grants and fellowships to students in legal studies and related fields. For more information about federal funding opportunities, be sure to fill out a FAFSA form.

Legal Studies Scholarships

scholarships are an excellent way to pay for school. Unlike loans, students do not need to pay back any portion of a scholarship. Businesses, organizations, agencies, and schools may award scholarships based on merit or need. Check with your program to find out if your school offers any special scholarships. The list below describes five scholarships for graduate and doctoral students in legal studies.

Scholarships for Legal Studies Students

Mariam K Chamberlain Award $8,500

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be first-generation female doctoral students pursuing a degree at an accredited university. View Scholarship

American Indian Graduate Center Fellowship $1,000-5,000

Who Can Apply: Recipients must be enrolled members of an American Indian tribe or have documentation of at least one-quarter Native American ancestry. The fellowship assists students with financial need who are pursuing graduate or professional degrees. View Scholarship

Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship $25,000

Who Can Apply: The fellowship assists students in research-based Ph.D. programs who have excellent academic records. Applicants should have an interest in research and teaching. View Scholarship

American Association of Law Libraries Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be graduate students seeking a career in legal information or law librarianship. View Scholarship

Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund Up to $10,000

Who Can Apply: Candidates must be undergraduate or graduate students pursuing a career in justice and peace. Applicants should demonstrate financial need. View Scholarship

Top Online Doctorate in Legal Studies Programs