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July 18
JD is the degree

One of life’s great indulgences is the cognoscente’s feeling of smug superiority when others get some inside-baseball bit of information wrong. It’s a heady amalgam of emotions—lamenting how the world is going to hell while simultaneously assuring yourself that it is, at any rate, not YOUR fault. And I have noted in my own case that the impulse is exacerbated when I learned the key bit of information relatively late in life. I suppose the increased degree of smugness is borne of overcompensation. There are things that I can actually remember learning as an adult, and yet they still elicit a quick, happy disdain in my heart when someone else gets them wrong.

I’m not alone in this, I’m sure. Once, while out of town for a law school conference, I had dinner with a faculty member—let’s call him Professor Black—who might reasonably be described as combative; he also invited someone from another law school. At dinner, Professor Black told a little story using the term “schadenfreude”; when our dinner companion chuckled, Professor Black challenged him, gleefully: “Do you even know what schadenfreude means?” No, the dinner companion was compelled to confess; he did not. It is hard to describe the level of exultation this confession elicited in Professor Black—the word “cackling” comes to mind. Meanwhile, I contemplated stabbing myself in the eyes with my dinner fork. My bystander-mortification didn’t stop me from retailing this story as soon as I returned to Michigan, mind you. And that’s how I learned, from the first person I told (we’ll call him, let’s see, Professor Schmiller), that he had introduced Professor Black to the word schadenfreude a mere week or so before. I’m happy to report that Professor Schmiller’s resulting glee and exultation in learning of his colleague’s behavior surpassed even Professor Black’s at the time of the incident.

Hilarious though it may be, this behavior is not attractive. Clearly, we should all struggle to better ourselves and overcome such impulses. But I haven’t reached that plane of development. I’m a flawed individual, and this flaw happens to be right up my alley. While I aspire to self-improvement, it just hasn’t happened yet. (Let’s be honest; it may never come. I don’t try as hard as I ought.)

So let me throw up my hands and share with you a mistake that elicits an unbecoming smirk in me. The degree people get when they graduate from law school is a JD. What does it stand for? Juris doctor. It does NOT stand for juris doctorate. “Juris doctorate” is not an actual thing.

The fact that many people get this wrong has been striking me forcibly of late, as I am involved in three separate searches for administrative positions to be filled at the Law School. The number of job applicants who erroneously identify themselves as possessing “juris doctorates” has been astonishing—although somewhat less astonishing than the fact that if you Google the term “juris doctorate,” you will find webpages of multiple law schools touting that degree.

But now I have performed a small public service, perhaps decreasing the number of people who might have made that mistake, which in turn might lead to fewer instances of bad behavior on my part. And who knows? Maybe someday I will actually improve my fundamentals.

-Dean Z.
Assistant Dean for Admissions
and Special Counsel for Professional Strategies
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Professor, Would You Agree . . .

. . . that a Juris Doctor is one of a category of degrees properly labeled doctorate degrees (or, "nouning the adjective", simply doctorates)?
 on 7/21/2011 12:40 AM

RE: Professor, Would You Agree . . .

Well, Wikipedia ( says it’s something called a “professional doctorate,” but frankly, that sounds like an invented term to me! Since it’s not the highest degree offered by law schools (that’s the SJD), and since it doesn’t require a dissertation, I think calling a JD a doctorate is a bit of undeserved inflation.  Slapping on “professional” in front of doctorate doesn’t really seem to clarify anything for me. I’d just call it a professional degree.  (And while I’m obsessing about terminology, let me clarify one more thing… I’m a mere assistant dean rather than a professor.)

-Dean Z.
 on 7/21/2011 9:13 AM


While in law school I was once (well, often) in a tif with the "national office" of a student organization, let's call it SCHMALSA. Our chapter was considering applying for the honor (and horrendous duty--this was not my idea) of hosting the organization's national moot court competition. Because I was always irritated with them, and because they had just completely redone the competition rules and bylaws in such an obnoxious and student-governmenty way, I tersely pointed out to them that their requirement that a school have on faculty a full-time professor who taught a specific subject and possessed a "Juris Doctorate" would likely bar all schools from hosting the competition because very few, if not zero, people anywhere possess that "degree."

The University of Oregon, does, however, bestow upon their graduates, the title of "Doctor of Jurisprudence." Yet they still go by "JD." I assume. They probably don't go around telling people they are DJs.
 on 8/2/2011 3:45 PM

J.D. person

Dean Z, thanks for the post.  I found it googling "juris doctorate."

I had recently began to notice bios on law firm websites claiming award of a "juris doctorate."  My thought was, as you stated, that "is not an actual thing."  I appreciate the confirmation.  Leave it to lawyers to create a fiction to attempt to make themselves sound important.

 on 8/25/2013 11:01 AM


I know what you mean. I'm sure reading "retailing" in your post elicited an unbecoming smirk from me. Surely you weren't selling your story?
 on 9/18/2013 10:03 AM

Dean Z. responds: Retailing

Fair point, but well—um—actually, yeah, sort of, I was! I tend to treat a good story as legal tender in our commerce of human interactions, whether I’m buying or selling. That was the connotation I was hoping to convey to the reader when I selected “retail” over “retell.” In any event, the handy-dandy includes “to relate (gossip, scandal, etc) in detail, esp persistently” as one definition of retail, so I feel reasonably good about that word choice.

-Dean Z.
 on 9/19/2013 8:14 AM

Re: JD is the degree

In keeping with the smug self-satisfaction of observing the foibles of others, I gleefully note what I presume to be your error in "retailing" the Professor Black story.  I imagine "re-telling" it gave you similar enjoyment.

 on 4/12/2014 2:59 PM

Dean Z Responds: Re: JD is the degree

See supra--the same criticism has been previously offered, and rejected.

Fair point, but well—um—actually, yeah, sort of, I was! I tend to treat a good story as legal tender in our commerce of human interactions, whether I’m buying or selling. That was the connotation I was hoping to convey to the reader when I selected “retail” over “retell.” In any event, the handy-dandy includes “to relate (gossip, scandal, etc) in detail, esp persistently” as one definition of retail, so I feel reasonably good about that word choice.

-Dean Z.
 on 4/15/2014 2:38 PM

Thank you!

My class was admonished, on the first day of orientation, to correctly refer to the J.D. as "Juris Doctor" rather than "doctorate."  Since then, I've reacted to the incorrect usage of "doctorate" as if the speaker\writer were dragging fingernails across a chalk board.  So much for the law being a learned profession!
 on 9/24/2014 8:01 PM

Thank you

Dean Z,

Thank you for educating me. Though only in my first quarter of community college, I can admit to feeling somewhat ashamed for my erroneous use of the term "Juris Doctorate" and appreciate the early correction. When asked henceforth of my educational intent, I shall properly reply, "Juris Doctor."

As an aside, I both recognized and appreciated your use of "retail" and have very much enjoyed reading your post and replies. I aspire to communicate at your level.

 on 11/8/2014 2:48 PM

Dean Z. responds: Thank you

You have made my day! And I recommend never feeling ashamed of any grammatical mistakes—just feel pleased with yourself when you know for sure you’re doing it right.

-Dean Z.
 on 11/10/2014 11:50 AM

Thank you!

Thank you so much for clarifying this for me. I recently hired someone to write my bio and they used "juris doctorate," a term that has never sat well with me, but I never had a reason to really research it until now.  Your post has given me just what I need to let these professional writers know that they should NEVER use this made up title again.
 on 8/9/2015 12:10 PM

Re: Juris Doctorate

There is a significant difference between acceptable and even creative common usages and the at times excessively retentive usages insisted on by pedantic grammar police. Your use of "retailing" would be an example. I would also suggest an acceptable common usage would be to refer to the person who has been awarded a J.D. as a Juris Doctor but to refer to the degree conferred as a Juris Doctorate. Eventually, common usage tends to replace traditional academic forms.
 on 9/11/2015 12:10 PM