SJD Procedural Guidelines

Scientiae Juridicae Doctor (SJD) is the most advanced degree awarded by Golden Gate University School of Law. The SJD is primarily for aspiring legal academics, from the United States and abroad, who wish to pursue sustained independent study, research, and writing. Candidates are expected ultimately to produce a dissertation that will constitute a substantial and valuable contribution to legal scholarship. Moreover, graduates of the program are expected to contribute to the furtherance of knowledge and understanding of law and legal institutions through their scholarship and other academic work.

This document provides general information regarding (1) the qualifications and application process for admission to the SJD degree program offered by Golden Gate University School of Law (the "Program") and (2) the procedural steps, standards, and performance expectations applicable to students in the Program. These Guidelines may be revised from time to time and any such revisions will apply, as of their effective dates, to all students in the Program.


Applicants for admission to the Program must have an LLM degree judged by the Program's Admissions Committee to be equivalent to an LLM in law degree earned at Golden Gate University School of Law. Each applicant should submit the completed application form and the application fee, along with complete academic transcripts from all graduate and undergraduate institutions attended by the applicant, a writing sample (preferably an original legal research paper written entirely by the applicant), and a detailed research statement that describes the applicant's proposed area of legal research and writing.

Because the language of instruction in the Program is English, English language proficiency is required of all applicants. Therefore, any applicant whose native language is not English must meet the current TOEFL requirement established by the Program's Admissions Committee and published on the Program's website. For applicants whose English language proficiency is otherwise clearly demonstrated, the TOEFL requirement may be waived at the discretion of the Program Director in consultation with the Admissions Committee. Program costs and financial requirements are also published on the Program's website.


Applications for admission to the Program should be submitted to the SJD Program Admissions Committee. The Admissions Committee meets regularly and considers applications as they are received. With very rare exception, however, students admitted to the Program will begin their studies in the fall semester of the academic year, which begins in August. It is recommended, therefore, that completed applications be submitted not later than March 31, so that the applicant can be notified of the Admissions Committee's decision in time to make any arrangements that might be necessary.

Admission to the Program is not a guarantee that the admitted student will earn the SJD degree. Some admitted students never obtain the degree. Success requires hard work and total commitment on the part of the student. An admitted student who fails to demonstrate satisfactory progress at any stage of the Program can be administratively withdrawn from the Program.


After admission, completion of the Program requires six essential steps:

  1. Submission of an approved study plan for the first year, including course work and relevant comprehensive bibliography;
  2. Completion of the first year of study, including at least eight units of coursework completed in one or two semesters;
  3. Selection of a three member Dissertation Committee;
  4. Successful completion of the first oral examination before the committee as outlined in the study plan for advancement from residency to candidacy;
  5. Submission and acceptance by the committee of a publishable doctoral dissertation;
  6. Successful completion of the final oral defense of the doctoral dissertation before the committee, and deposit of four copies of the final dissertation with the Graduate Law Programs Office.


The study plan represents the student's academic path for their first year of study leading to the first oral examination, and should lay a foundation for later work on the dissertation. An acceptable study plan should be built around the student’s specific field of study, and should cover a combination of approved courses, readings, and other academic work totaling a minimum of eight units of credit.

Each admitted student must submit a draft of their initial study plan to the Program Director in August of the first year of study, and should discuss with the Director the desirability of pursuing specific courses, chosen from the approved list, selected readings, and other academic projects in their specific field(s) of study. Based on this consultation, the student shall finalize the initial study plan, and have it approved by the Director. The study plan may be subject to revision after constitution of the Dissertation Committee as described below.


In the course of developing their study plan, each student should at an appropriate time discuss with the Director the composition of their Dissertation Committee. The Director shall appoint a suitable Dissertation Committee made up of three scholars who are qualified and competent to advise and guide the student in the area of their chosen field of subject study.

Committee members may be selected from Golden Gate University School of Law, or from other universities.  The committee may include other qualified academics, judges, and/or other professional appropriate to the student’s chosen area of study.


The first year of SJD study (typically the fall and spring semesters of an academic year) is designed to prepare students in the field(s) of study that will form the foundation of their dissertations. During this year, each student must complete eight required units of coursework, chosen in consultation with the Director.  During the same period, the student shall also prepare a detailed research plan including a comprehensive bibliography, and the first introductory chapter of their dissertation.

All SJD students should consult regularly with the members of their Committees at all times during the course of study. Completed chapters should be submitted one at a time to each committee member. Proper consideration should be given to suggested corrections. If in doubt, clarification should be sought. It is very risky to finish the dissertation before submission for obvious reasons.  Failure to adhere to the above procedures will be to the student’s detriment.


In order to advance from residency to candidacy, student must successfully complete the first oral examination. The oral examination affords the Committee an opportunity to further assess the student, and to provide additional guidance and direction. The student is expected to be ready for the oral examination by the end of their second semester in the Program.  Students who do not complete the oral examination at the end of their second semester must complete the oral exam before the end of their third semester in the program.

In order to pass the first oral examination and advance to candidacy, a student should be able to:

  1. Succinctly and clearly describe the topic chosen for the dissertation;
  2. Provide a convincing explanation of the relevance of the topic of study;
  3. State the central thesis being proposed in the dissertation and its expected contribution to the field;
  4. Describe in detail the proposed organization of the dissertation; and
  5. Explain the strategy for conducting research within the expected time limit for degree completion.

If a student's research plan and materials are not satisfactory to the Committee, the oral examination may be postponed. The student will be required to register for Additional Residency in such case.

If the student is not ready for the oral examination by the end of their third semester, they will be administratively withdrawn from the Program for lack of academic progress, except in extraordinary circumstances as determined by the Director. In order to avoid this situation, the student should work closely with the Committee during the first year to develop their topic, research plan, and materials properly.

Upon successful completion of the first oral examination, the student shall advance to candidacy.


Within three years of successful completion of the first oral examination and advancement to candidacy, each student is expected to complete and submit their dissertation.  Each completed dissertation must be the original research work of the candidate, and demonstrate sustained and substantial scholarly work. The dissertation must be well edited, original, and publishable. Commissioned studies, committee reports, and writings of joint authorship will not be accepted in fulfillment of the dissertation requirement.



1-Compulsory Continued Registration

Each candidate is required to register continuously for “SJD Residency” or "SJD Candidacy" during every semester of study until graduation. Students must also pay all corresponding tuition and fees.

2-Committee Consultation

It is important for the candidate to consult regularly with the members of their Committee during the writing of the dissertation. The purpose of these consultations is to maximize the prospect that the candidate's research and writing will be of high quality that will result in an acceptable dissertation. The first of such meetings should take place within a month of completion of the first oral examination. It is the candidate's responsibility to arrange this meeting. In the preliminary discussion, the candidate is expected to describe the general theme and direction of the dissertation clearly.

Following the preliminary discussion, candidates should remain in regular contact (at least once every two months) with the members of their Committees. Each candidate should prepare a detailed dissertation outline at an early stage, and submit draft chapters as they are written. Committee members usually find it easier to review and comment on individual draft chapters of a dissertation, rather than receive very large portions of the dissertation all at once. This will also help to ensure that the candidate does not go astray in their work and to avoid unnecessary difficulties.

Candidates are advised to keep the Program Director appraised of their meetings with their Committee members. If a candidate finds that, despite reasonable efforts, they are not receiving adequate supervision from their Committee, the problem should be brought to the attention of the Program Director.

All non-resident candidates must also stay in regular contact with the members of their Committees concerning the progress of their dissertations. Moreover, non-resident candidates are strongly encouraged to return to GGU at least once a year for in-person consultations with their Committees. If, in the opinion of a candidate's Committee, that candidate is not maintaining adequate contact, the Director may require the candidate to submit periodic written progress reports and/or actual dissertation chapters.

The candidate's public defense of their dissertation can be scheduled only after the majority of the candidate's Committee members agree that the dissertation is of good quality and satisfies the Program standard of publishability. Candidates who fail to meet periodically with their Committees, to submit required progress reports, to make satisfactory progress, to pay all fees each year, or who otherwise violate Program requirements may be administratively withdrawn from the Program at the discretion of the Program Director.

Dissertation Format

Dissertation length is typically between 200 and 300 typed double-spaced pages. Length is in part a function of the subject chosen and should be discussed with the Program Director. The manuscript should have a margin of 1½ or 1¾ inches on the left side of the page to allow for reader comments and to permit binding. At a minimum, the candidate's name, the dissertation title, the supervisor's names, and the date of submission should be included on every draft. Pages should be numbered cumulatively from the beginning of the dissertation, rather than by chapter.

As the dissertation nears completion, Acknowledgement and Dedication pages, as well as an abstract of the work should be included. If a student is in doubt regarding how to properly structure the final work, they should review copies of previously completed dissertations (available in the Law Library) and seek guidance from the Program Director.

3-Requests for Extension of the Deadline for Completion

Full time candidates are expected to complete their dissertations within three years of passing their oral examinations. Extensions of this three year deadline will be granted only in cases of special need. Only in exceptional circumstances will extensions be granted beyond four years from the completion of the oral exam. Part time candidates are expected to complete their dissertation within four years of passing their oral examinations

To apply for an extension, candidates must submit a written request to the Director. The request should explain why an extension is necessary and should advise the Director of the expected completion date. Receipt of this request will initiate the Director's review, the results of which will be reported to the candidate soon thereafter.

4-Public Defense of the Dissertation

The final step toward completion of the Program is the candidate's successful, public defense of their dissertation before the candidate's Committee. The panel's decision will be announced at the end of the defense session or shortly thereafter. When a candidate has successfully completed the dissertation defense and any necessary corrections of the dissertation are made, the candidate shall submit four unbound copies of the dissertation, printed on acid-free paper, to the Graduate Law Programs Office for distribution as appropriate, and for deposit with the School of Law Library.