A Ph.D. requires a minimum of three years' study, at least two years of which comprises work done while in residence at the University of Washington. Students enter the Ph.D. program having already identified a dissertation supervisory chair and additional committee members (referred to as the student’s Doctoral Supervisory Committee), who will support and shepherd them through the Ph.D. curriculum and dissertation writing process.

Ph.D. candidates must complete 90 credits, at least 60 of which must be taken at the University of Washington, in order to receive a doctoral degree.

I. Requirements

Overall Course Requirements

Ph.D. students must successfully complete a minimum of 90 credits including at least 60 course credits and 27 dissertation credits (LAW 800—minimum two credit hours per quarter). With the approval of the Ph.D. Program Director and Steering Committee, an appropriate master’s degree from an accredited institution may substitute for up to a maximum of 30 of the course credits. This determination of substituting master’s credits takes place at the time when the presumptive chair agrees that the Ph.D. student’s prospectus is ready to defend at a General Examination. The 60 course credits also include courses required by the School of Law as described immediately below.

Required Competencies:

The primary requirement is the production of a dissertation that, in the opinion of the Ph.D. Doctoral Supervisory Committee, represents a novel and significant contribution to the discipline of law. In addition, Ph.D. students are required to demonstrate competencies in four areas: 

  • Understanding of common law legal systems and differences between major legal systems around the world.
  • An understanding of a research methodology area relevant to the topic of their dissertation research.
  • Subject matter expertise in the area of their dissertation research.
  • The ability to present and discuss the results of their dissertation research.

An understanding of common law legal systems and differences between major legal systems around the world

This requirement will be satisfied by 8 credits of coursework as follows:

  • Required course: B550 American Legal Systems and Methods (4 credits) or equivalent
  • Additionally, students will have to complete B557 Graduate Writing Seminar (4 credits) or the equivalent to demonstrate understanding of the American legal system.

Research Methodology

Broadly speaking, modern academic legal research is supported by one or more of the following:  jurisprudential approaches, qualitative approaches, quantitative approaches. Competency will be satisfied by at least 3-4 credits of coursework as follows, chosen in consultation with the supervisory chair:

  • PPM 502 Research Design (4)
  • EDPSY 586 Qualitative Methods of Educational Research I (4 credits)
  • ARCH 567 Qualitative Research Methods (3)
  • CS&SS 536 Analysis of Categorical and Count Data (3)
  • LAWA 595 Jurisprudence and Moral Philosophy (4)

Elective courses: Law A599 Legal Research Methods (3 credits), Law A 549 Advanced Legal Research (4 Credits) 

Subject Matter Expertise (10-12 credits of subject discipline required courses)

The remaining courses to fulfill the credit requirement are to be chosen based on the Ph.D. student’s dissertation research topic. For instance, students with a focus on intellectual property must complete that discipline’s required courses. The same is true for sustainable international development, health law, etc.

Presentation/Discussion Competency

The presentation/discussion competency will be satisfied by successful completion of the general and final examination process described below.

Other Requirements

Law 600 Tutorial with supervisory chair (1-2 credits per quarter)

In addition to the above requirements, students are expected to take 1-2 Law 600 credits with their supervisory chair per quarter to facilitate regular communication during the time leading up to their general exam. The chair will monitor the student’s academic progress and advise on appropriate courses to be taken (at the law school and in other departments on campus) related to the Ph.D. student’s research.

First- and Second-Year Elective Courses

All Ph.D. students are expected and encouraged to take subject-matter courses relevant to their dissertation research topic as part of their 60 credits of coursework. There is a rich variety of courses available in the School of Law and in other schools and departments across the University of Washington campus. For example, the Graduate School has a variety of graduate certificate programs that not only may be pertinent to student’s research interests but may provide an additional credential to enhance a student’s academic portfolio.

II. General Examination

Completion of 60 course credits (up to 30 credits from an accredited LL.M. or other pertinent master's degree may be counted toward the 90-credit total) and a Dissertation Prospectus approved by the Doctoral Supervisory Committee are required prior to this exam.

Students must pass an oral General Examination designed around individualized readings determined in consultation with the student’s Doctoral Supervisory Committee, and a Dissertation Prospectus that contains the student’s detailed dissertation study plans, including research questions and the chosen methodology and study plan to answer them.

To be eligible for the General Exam, the student must have completed a minimum of 60 course credits (including credits being taken the quarter of the exam) of which at least 18 credits must be at the 500 level and above. Numerical grades must be received in at least 18 quarter credits of coursework taken at the University of Washington. The Graduate School accepts numerical grades in department approved 400-level courses accepted as part of the major and in 500-level courses (this excludes 499 credits). 

Students are required to write and successfully defend a Dissertation Prospectus that outlines a detailed plan for the Ph.D. dissertation. The General Examination tests the student’s understanding of, and facility with, the scholarly literature that relates to the proposed dissertation topic, along with the strength of the proposed research proposal and its design.

III. Final Examination (Doctoral Defense)

In addition to a successful General Examination, the Ph.D. candidate must complete at least 27 dissertation credits over a period of at least three quarters. Candidates total credit count must reach 90 and they must have completed their doctoral dissertation.

To complete the degree, the candidate must complete a Dissertation Defense (also known as the Final Examination) administered by the Supervisory Doctoral Committee and devoted to the presentation and defense of the dissertation. It should be noted that the Graduate School requires a cumulative 3.0 GPA to obtain a graduate degree. For the final Dissertation Defense, students must get their committee members’ signatures on the UW Graduate School Doctoral Dissertation Reading Committee Approval form and submit that before the end of the quarter (the form will be provided at or prior to the student’s defense and submission instructions are on the form). More detailed information is on the Ph.D. Program’s Canvas page.

Students must be registered and may not be on leave during the quarter that the General and Final Examinations are taken.

IV. Official Submission

After a successful Final Examination, the dissertation must be submitted in the required format to the University of Washington Graduate School by 11:59 p.m. PST on the last day of the quarter. The PhD Candidate must be registered and may not be on leave during the quarter that the dissertation is submitted.

For details of degree requirements please see Graduate School Policies-Doctoral Degree.