As stated in the title, I'm wondering if someone could shed some light on whether it is possible to land a tenure-track position in philosophy with a J.D. By way of background, I double majored in philosophy and psychology, and I am heading into my 3rd year of law school. A life as an academic sounds more appealing than it did a few years ago when I chose law school over a Phd., and I'm curious if a J.D. could suffice. Any helpful insight on this topic would be greatly appreciated!

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    If you really want to be a philosophy professor, then why don't you go to grad school and get a PhD? Aug 7, 2014 at 20:46
  • Andy, while I understand where you're going with the inquiry, that was not the call of the question. Aug 8, 2014 at 2:38
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    Mr. Resipsa: it's a fair question. It might perhaps be possible to get a job as a philosophy professor with only a JD. However, you would be much more likely to attain this outcome if you got a PhD in philosophy. A lot of times on this site people ask "How do I go about X?" and it turns out that they want to do X so as to eventually be able to do Y. If doing X is not actually the most sensible path to doing Y, then someone who sincerely wants to help -- rather than narrowly answer the precise question asked -- will probably point this out. Aug 8, 2014 at 4:45
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    Similarly, someone who is sincere about wanting to do Y should be open to advice on how best to go about it, in particular to opinions as to whether their current plan is reasonable and/or optimal. Aug 8, 2014 at 4:49
  • Mr. Clark, I understand, but I would have phrased my question differently if those were the types of responses I was looking for/thought would be helpful. I appreciate you acknowledging it as a fair question, but Mr. Putman's response was less than helpful in answering my question Aug 8, 2014 at 13:12

5 Answers 5


Realistically, no.

There's more philosophy PhDs looking for jobs than jobs available in philosophy, and your undergraduate experience while helpful probably won't make you stand out as an expert in philosophy. Or to put it another way, while you've been earning your J.D. which prepares you for law, philosophy PhD earners have been studying the very subject material they will teach.

But you might be eligible for positions where they are looking for someone in philosophy of law. Specifically, if they want someone with practical experience (but then they wouldn't want you straight out of your J.D.). Probably a good way to ask this question would be to e-mail Brian Leiter (or someone else) who works in law and philosophy.

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    Explanation from the downvote would be appreciated. I have a philosophy PhD and severely doubt anyone with a JD would be seriously considered even if they have an undergraduate degree in philosophy.
    – virmaior
    Aug 7, 2014 at 7:03
  • This comment is exactly on point. To get a TT job teaching philosophy, you'd need to have, at a minimum--expertise in some field of philosophy and letters of recommendation testifying to that (Are you good?), a detailed prospectus of future research which will position you as a leader in that field (Are you going to get tenure?), and teaching evaluations/statement of teaching philosophy (Can we trust you in front of a class of undergrads?). There's simply no way you're going to get that apart from actually doing a PhD at a very good university.
    – user10636
    Aug 9, 2014 at 12:40
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    It's also worth pointing out how hard it is to publish your way to a job in philosophy. Publication in philosophy doesn't work like publication in law; generally it is a lot harder and takes a lot longer. First, papers are blind reviewed so you can't coast on your institutional affiliation. Second, the are reviewed by professionals with decades of experience, not 2Ls. Third, you can only submit one journal at a time in philosophy, unlike in law.
    – user10636
    Aug 9, 2014 at 12:44

It is possible but you'll be competing against people with doctorates in Philosophy and dissertations and publications in philosophical journals.

Usually the requirement for faculty at colleges and university is the "terminal degree in the field." For law professors, this is the JD. For studio artists, the MFA. And most other faculty, the PhD.

I don't think the Provost would raise any issues with your hiring in terms of credentials, but the more difficult thing will be to convince the hiring committee (consisting of mostly philosophy profs with some other humanists) that you're the right person for the job.

Be prepared to articulate why you'll be capable of not only teaching PHIL101, but PHIL2xx, 3xx, and 4xx. If you're at a university, would you be capable of mentoring PhD students? The assumption will be that you don't have that experience, so the burden of proof will be on you.

Many JDs figure it's just as easy to get the PhD with a few more years of school and emerge with a JD-PhD.

[Editorial Aside: That all being said, I think you're a bit nutso. Have you seen the starting salaries for law professors? They are earning $150,000+ in the few few years and often have tenure by their 4th year. If I were you, I'd go into the teaching of law and teach very philosophical law classes.]

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    This answer seems fine - but I'm wondering abit about the aside at the end. Have you ever met a law professor that wasn't first a lawyer? (I have not - I haven't met that many though!) So the 150k mark strikes me as a bit unrealistic for a newly minted JD.
    – Andy W
    Aug 7, 2014 at 11:56
  • Sure, my colleague in grad school. I wondered why he took the extra two years for law school after his PhD, but once he told me his starting salary as a law prof straight out, I had to agree he made the better choice financially!
    – RoboKaren
    Aug 7, 2014 at 12:13
  • Then again, he went into what was arguably the top law school in the country, so your mileage may vary.
    – RoboKaren
    Aug 7, 2014 at 12:16
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    @Mr.Resipsa demonstrating you can teach an upper level specialist elective is generally not a huge selling point to hiring committees, most academics, especially junior ones, have to teach lower level core classes.
    – StrongBad
    Aug 8, 2014 at 8:59
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    Usually law profs only practice for 1-3 years before going back to academia. The amount of practical experience one needs to be a legal scholar isn't that high. The exception here is "clinical" legal faculty who teach lawyering skills courses. They tend to be actual practitioners who adjunct because they like it. Those folks have tons of experience, but they aren't tenure track law faculty who would teach contracts, torts, con law, etc.
    – user10636
    Aug 9, 2014 at 12:46

At a theoretical level, it's certainly possible. Saul Kripke never went to graduate school at all, but that didn't stop Princeton from giving him tenure in philosophy. If you're the next Kripke, then nobody will care what sort of degree you have.

At a practical level, you can't get hired in philosophy with just a J.D., assuming you aren't talking specifically about philosophy of law (which might draw on your legal background on an equal footing with philosophy). If you are, then that's worth a more detailed and specific question regarding the necessary background and experience. For a start, see these comments by Brian Leiter. If you want to do philosophy of law with a primarily legal background, it sounds like the chances are higher if you look for a law faculty position rather than a job in a philosophy department.

On the other hand, if you have in mind a philosophical career that does not make heavy use of your legal background, then the J.D. will be essentially useless. It's a terminal degree, but not one that certifies any level of background or experience in philosophy, so it will be irrelevant. The only way to get a job in a philosophy department at a four-year college or university is to convince them that you have the equivalent of a Ph.D. in philosophy (including not just basic knowledge, but also advanced seminars, carrying out research, and writing a dissertation - even if you won't be doing further research or teaching graduate courses).

This level of experience would be rare among law students, and even if you genuinely have the equivalent of a philosophy Ph.D. you should expect to have a difficult time making a convincing case for this.

I haven't seen your particular case (applying for philosophy jobs with a J.D.) in practice, but I've seen similar sorts of job searches in other fields (arguably with closer degrees, since Ph.D. degrees in related fields are more similar to each other than either is to a J.D.). In order to pull this off, you must have credible and compelling recommendations from mainstream faculty in the field you're applying to. So one key question is what the philosophy faculty at your current university think of you. Are they willing to write letters making a case that you are as qualified as their own Ph.D. students? If so, then you may have a shot at this, and you should talk with them for advice based on your personal situation. If you don't know any philosophers who are willing to write that sort of letter for you, then that will be a major barrier to getting a job in a philosophy department.

  • Super thorough, great analysis, and just an overall superb response to the question I was asking! Aug 8, 2014 at 12:56
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    A bit of perspective on the case of Kripke: Kripke was publishing foundational work in logic when he was 19 and he gave a series of lectures that became Naming and Necessity when he was 25 IIRC.
    – user10636
    Aug 9, 2014 at 12:37

I think in part you're mixing up (or at least not clearly distinguishing) two separate questions:

  1. If you have a J.D., could you become a philosophy professor without getting any additional formal qualifications? (Yes.)
  2. If you have a typical resume for someone just finishing their J.D., would anyone hire you to be a philosophy professor? (Almost certainly not.)

To go to an analogy that might be more familiar, your question is a bit like asking "Can you go to Harvard if you get a GED?" The answer is yes in a certain formal sense; I'm sure there are people whose highest qualification is a GED who have gone to Harvard. Probably, somebody, somewhere, with a JD has gone on to being a philosophy professor without getting an additional degree, but that doesn't mean it's something a reasonable person should expect to do.

The important point here is that having a degree (even a very specific kind of degree) is not the primary qualification for becoming a professor. It's publishing in your field, convincing important people in the field that you are smart and good at what you do, and being able to teach undergraduate and graduate students in your field. A PhD helps you become a professor because it gives you a chance to do those things in a conducive environment, not because you get a sheepskin at the end. If you are able to do those things, maybe you can be successful in philosophy. It doesn't sound from your question like you've had much of a chance to do them yet.

  • Ben, the analogy is a bit extreme, and frankly, quite pretentious. I think you're assessment is probably correct with respect to almost all large research universities or highly-regarded philosophy programs, but have you considered small liberal arts colleges or the like? I'm not saying the outcome would be all that different, but I think your analysis may be too narrowly tailored to a prestigious, Phd-granting institution. Aug 8, 2014 at 2:58
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    @Mr.Resipsa The analogy is actually pretty good. You seem to be confused about the degree of supply of philosophy-PhD holders. People from anything south of R1 PhD programs would love to teach at SLACs on TT, and there are armies of them. It's a hirer's market, so there's no reason for them to go outside of philosophy to find philosophy people. Moreover, they especially need people who teach the core -- not upper division electives
    – virmaior
    Aug 10, 2014 at 3:23

The fact that you are a freshly graduated JD, and not a PhD cries out loud that you don't have any substantial research in the chosen field (neither other academic field). I don't think it is a good sign...

  • I'm not sure that you answered my question, but I like how you left the response open-ended lol Aug 8, 2014 at 3:00
  • There is no clear cut answer to your question. Can I get a job as a CEO of Microsoft fresh out of school? Technically can, no law forbids it, however you have to be REALLY good at the interview.
    – Greg
    Aug 8, 2014 at 3:26
  • Clear cut answer or not, I think your responses were off target for the question that was posed Aug 8, 2014 at 3:30
  • Sure, feel free to have your own opinion on the question and rate me according to. This is a place for debate, so I actually encourage you to do so. My opinion is however that in a career/resume question a "this is a huge red flag" is a well targeted, and often used answer. So I keep my post.
    – Greg
    Aug 8, 2014 at 9:43
  • 'Red flag' without more is not super helpful in this context--so much is implied by my posting of the question. I agree that we're both entitled to our opinions, so I guess I'm 'agreeing to disagree' with you Aug 8, 2014 at 13:06

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