FAQs About the J.D./M.A. Program in Legal History

FAQs About the J.D./M.A. Program in Legal History

The dual-degree (J.D./M.A.) program in legal history is one of the Law School’s most popular joint-degree programs. Almost every year for the last four decades, a handful of students from each class have participated in the program. The reasons for its popularity are both intellectual and practical: The program enables students to broaden and deepen their legal training by taking courses in the world-class Corcoran Department of History and from some of the top legal historians in the country.  At the same time, the program enables students to secure two advanced degrees (the J.D. and an M.A. in history) in the same three-year period, and with the same tuition burden, that the J.D. requires on its own. We encourage students or prospective students who are interested in applying to the program to read more below about how it works and what it entails. 

Mission and Curriculum

Why is the dual-degree program worth doing? Is it just for people who want to be law or history professors?

The program is designed for any student who is curious about law — about why we have the legal regimes we do today and how they have changed over time. In one sense, all law-school classes aim to provide answers to such questions, because the nature of law is such that it inevitably builds on, or reacts to, the past. But whereas most classes focus primarily on how past cases or statutes have shaped the way courts apply legal doctrine today, courses in legal history take a broader view. They show how law has both shaped, and been shaped by, social, political and intellectual life. In so doing, they help students see alternative possibilities for how the law might have developed under different conditions (and how it still could do so in the future). The dual-degree program is intended for students who are interested in those broader and deeper kinds of questions about law.

Because the program offers students the opportunity to write a substantial, 40-page research paper under the guidance of a thesis advisor, it is well suited to students who think they may be interested in pursuing careers in legal academia, as several of our graduates have done. But many more of the program’s graduates go on to practice law in firms, public-interest organizations and government. In other words, the aim of the program is for its graduates, whatever their future career plans, to leave the Law School with a deeper understanding of law than they would have been able to secure through a more conventional legal education. 

What does doing the dual degree in legal history involve? How much more work does it require than the regular J.D. program?

The program has three main components: (1) Students take 30 credits towards the M.A. degree; (2) they write a roughly 40-page master’s thesis; and (3) they take an oral examination at the end of their third year. Because 18 of the 30 credits required for the M.A. count towards the J.D. as well, securing the J.D./M.A. requires only 12 more credits (98) than does the J.D. degree alone (86). That is why it can be done in in the same three-year period as the J.D. What this means in practice is that dual-degree students take roughly one additional 3-credit class in each semester of their latter two years of law school. Six of those 12 credits are allocated to fulfilling the other two dual-degree requirements (i.e., writing the master’s thesis and preparing for the oral examination). The other 6 credits are typically fulfilled by taking one of the many legal history courses offered in the law school or history department. See details of all the program’s requirements. See a list of legal history courses recently offered at the Law School.

Will I still be able to take regular law school classes? How much of the coursework is devoted to legal history or history?

Dual-degree students typically take a normal course load their first year in law school, which includes those courses required of all J.D. students: Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, and Legal Research and Writing in the fall, and Constitutional Law, Property, and Legal Research and Writing in the spring. After the first year, over half of a dual-degree student’s overall course load is composed of regular J.D. courses that are unrelated to their M.A. degree.

Admissions and Financial Aid

How and when would I apply to the program? Can I apply while I’m in law school?

In order to become a dual-degree candidate, students must be admitted separately to both the School of Law and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS). Typically, applicants first apply to the Law School and then apply to the dual-degree program during their first year in law school. The deadline is May 1, and students find out if they are admitted within a few weeks. To learn more about how to apply to the law school, click here.  To apply to the GSAS, click here.

Do I need to take the GRE?

No. Applicants to the dual-degree program may use their LSAT scores in lieu of the GRE.

How does financial aid work? Does the dual-degree program cost more than a regular J.D.?

No. The tuition for the dual-degree is the same as for the regular J.D. During all three years of the program, students pay tuition to the Law School. Similarly, law students who apply for financial aid are treated the same as regular J.D. students. Find out more about the Law School’s financial aid policies.

Mechanics and Administrative Details

How do grades work? Will my courses count toward my law school GPA?

Most of the classes taken for the dual-degree do not count toward a student’s law school GPA (though 12 of the credits do count toward the 86 credits required for the J.D. itself). Specifically, of the 30 total credits required for the M.A., only 6 are factored into the student’s law school GPA. 

If I enroll in the program, may I drop out without it negatively affecting me?

Yes. At any point during a dual-degree student’s time in the law school, the student may decide that he or she no longer wishes to pursue the M.A. in history. At that point, the student will continue pursuing the J.D. and will then only be required to satisfy the normal requirements for the J.D., which will likely include credit for some of the work already completed toward the M.A. (The reverse is also true: The student may decide that he or she only wants to complete the M.A., though that happens less frequently.)

How can I learn more about the dual-degree program?

For more details about any aspect of the Dual-Degree Program in Legal History, see the full description of the program, or contact the faculty advisor for the program (and one of its graduates), Professor Charles Barzun.