Why is it called JD?

Hey there! As a tech geek always exploring the latest digital trends, I wanted to dive deeper into an interesting question – why is a law degree called a Juris Doctor or JD? This professional doctorate label has an intriguing history behind it. Let me walk you through the full story!

First, it helps to understand what "Juris Doctor" actually means. In Latin, it translates to "Teacher of Law." Makes sense, right? The critical point is that it signifies a professional doctorate, similar to a Doctor of Medicine (MD). So law students aren‘t just doing an undergrad bachelor‘s degree – the JD represents advanced graduate-level training.

This wasn‘t always the case though! Up until the 1960s, the main law degree in the U.S. was called the Bachelor of Laws or Legum Baccalaureus (LL.B.). This was usually an undergraduate program that students entered straight from high school.

But the American Bar Association and law schools increasingly saw the LL.B. as problematic. As ABA consultant William Johnson said in 1960, the LL.B. title didn‘t "appropriately describe what the program was."

You see, legal education had become much more robust and doctoral-like. The ABA wanted a degree title that better reflected the true academic standing and rigor of modern legal training.

So in the late 60s, there was a massive shift. Between 1960 and 1970, nearly all law schools transitioned from conferring LL.B.s to JDs. Some noteworthy examples:

  • Harvard Law School changed in 1967
  • Yale Law School changed in 1967
  • Columbia Law School changed in 1968

Professor Robert Stevens of Yale called it "part of the professionalization movement to upgrade the status of lawyers." The JD helped portray law as a true graduate-level profession like medicine rather than just an undergraduate major.

The numbers reflect this major shift. Back in 1947, only 1% of law students had an undergraduate degree before starting law school. By 1967, a whopping 90% of incoming law students had bachelor‘s degrees. The JD label aligned with this doctoral-level preparation.

By the 1972-1973 academic year, there were 146 ABA-approved law schools. Only one still used the LL.B. degree – the University of Chicago Law School, holdouts to the end!

Now let‘s dive into some key statistics on JD degrees:

  • Over 43,000 JD degrees were conferred by 204 ABA-approved law schools in 2021.
  • That‘s down from previous decades like 2013-2014 when over 46,000 JDs were awarded.
  • To compare, only about 21,000 new MD degrees were granted in 2021. So JDs outnumber medical doctorates issued!

When it comes to top JD programs, you can‘t beat the prestigious Ivy League law schools:

Law School 2022 US News Ranking
Yale Law School #1
Stanford Law School #2
Harvard Law School #3
Columbia Law School #4

And the JD opens up amazing career opportunities. Law firm jobs for JD graduates had a median starting salary of over $155,000 in 2021!

But if the JD signifies a professional doctorate, why don‘t lawyers get to be called Dr? Well, the tradition is that lawyers add "Esq." (Esquire) after their name instead. This maintains the distinction between academic PhDs and professional doctorates in law or medicine.

Some critiques arose about replacing the LL.B. with the JD too. Back in the 1960s, Harvard Law Professor Arthur Sutherland complained the switch was "specious" and "depreciates the honor of doctor.” But the JD title has certainly caught on since then.

As a tech geek, I‘m fascinated by innovations bringing law and technology together. Programs like Legal Tech at MIT and Stanford CodeX teach JD students to build solutions like legal research AIs. The JD surely helps prepare lawyers to be leaders in our digital era.

So in summary, the JD represents advanced graduate-level training for legal practice. This professional doctorate reflects the true academic rigor and prerequisites of law programs today. The American Bar Association thought the old LL.B. undergraduate degree label was inadequate.

Switching to the Juris Doctor was about elevating law to the same doctoral profession status as fields like medicine. And I think the numbers speak for themselves – with over 40,000 JDs awarded annually, this professional doctorate degree is here to stay! Let me know if you have any other questions!

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