A doctorate in legal studies considers research methods, legal theory, justice policy, and jurisprudence as they pertain to legal institutions and the legal profession. Many programs prepare legal professionals and practicing attorneys to expand their expertise into specific areas of law, including maritime law, intellectual property law, and human rights law. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 15% growth for postsecondary instructors, including those in criminal justice and law, between 2016 and 2026. Use this guide to learn more about what you can expect from an online doctorate program in legal studies.
For more degree and career info, jump to:
- Choosing an Online Doctorate in Legal Studies Program
- What Else Can I Expect From an Online Doctorate in Legal Studies Program?
- Careers with a Doctorate in Legal Studies
The Best Online Doctorate in Legal Studies Programs
Because numerous types of degrees fall under the umbrella of “Doctorate in Legal Studies,” the following sections display top-ranked programs from several related ranking articles on our website. To learn more about these different degrees, follow the link at the end of each section to their corresponding ranking article.
The Best Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degree Programs
1. California University of Pennsylvania
Located in southwest Pennsylvania, California University of Pennsylvania is home to the first regionally accredited doctor of criminal justice degree in the nation. The 42-credit program focuses on in-depth policy analysis and practical issues like recidivism, the use of appropriate force, and federal consent decrees.
Coursework in this online Ph.D. in criminal justice program covers subjects like leadership in criminal justice agencies, corrections, and forensic science techniques and technology. While most graduates pursue careers in academia, nearly one-quarter of them work in law enforcement, policy making, and the private sector.
Cal U offers this program using a cohort model, with students beginning their coursework in the summer. The school requires students to attend two five-day summer residencies. While the program does not include a dissertation, students must pass comprehensive exams and develop a professional research portfolio.
Eligible applicants must hold a master’s degree in criminal justice or a related field from a regionally accredited college or university. Additionally, they must submit transcripts and provide a writing sample, a personal statement, two letters of recommendation, and a current resume. Applicants must have earned a 3.50 GPA or better.
California University of Pennsylvania is regionally accredited from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
2. Nova Southeastern University
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Students earning Nova Southeastern University’s Ph.D. in criminal justice online can pursue careers in academia, criminal investigations, consulting, and management. The program’s interdisciplinary approach leverages research and best practices to explore the cause of crime and how to prevent and investigate it.
Students may choose from concentrations in behavioral sciences, juvenile justice, and organizational leadership. All students take 33 credits of core classes that cover topics like criminal law, crime theories, research methods, and applied statistics. At the end of the 60-credit program, students must complete and defend a dissertation in order to graduate.
Applicants must hold a master’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university with a GPA of 3.0 or better. They must also provide three letters of recommendation, a 300-word personal statement, and a resume. Additionally, applicants must complete an in-person or phone interview with program staff.
NSU is regionally accredited from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
See more of the Best Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degree Programs.
The Best Online Doctorate in Homeland Security Programs
Walden University, an online for-profit university established in 1970, offers numerous online degree programs, including an online Ph.D. in criminal justice with a homeland security policy and coordination specialization. With two track options, the program serves the needs of those already holding a master’s degree in the field (Track I), or those who are coming from the outside (Track II).
Track I of the online Ph.D. program requires 83 quarter-credits for completion, while Track II requires 98. Both programs require a total of 16 days of campus residency and a dissertation project. Also, both programs develop advanced knowledge and skills in key areas of homeland security, including policy analysis, systematic approaches to terrorism, crisis planning and leadership, and program evaluation. Students may complete the program at an accelerated pace through Walden’s “fast track” option.
Walden University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
See more of the Best Online Doctorate in Homeland Security Programs.
2.Colorado Technical University
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Technical University, a for-profit university established in 1965, offers an onlinedoctor of management in homeland security for students seeking to advance to upper-level positions in the field. The program develops expertise in homeland security and policy leadership, developing the skills and knowledge necessary to organize and manage homeland security agencies.
The online doctorate program requires 100 credits for completion, including coursework in key areas such as leadership theory, ethical decision making, strategic thinking, homeland security strategies, emergency planning, and security policy. Students engage in advanced research through a dissertation project, and must complete a residential doctoral symposium.
The program may be completed in three years of study, and offers multiple start dates per year for plenty of scheduling flexibility.
Colorado Technical University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Best Online Doctorate in Public Administration Degree Programs
1. West Chester University of Pennsylvania
West Chester, Pennsylvania
Founded in 1871 as an institute for teacher preparation, West Chester University is now the fourth-largest university in the Philadelphia area. The public university offers four doctoral programs and is one of a few schools that offer public administration doctoral programs online.
Students typically complete West Chester's 43-credit DPA program within 2.5 years. Courses review program and policy evaluation methodologies, financial decision-making, and advocacy and leadership within public policy and administration. Students choose a concentration in public policy and administration, criminal justice, geography and planning, or social work. After taking all required courses and four capstone seminar classes, students complete an applied research project.
Applicants must hold a master's degree in public administration, public affairs, policy analysis, political science, public health, nonprofit management, or a related field. Applicants with a GPA below 3.85 must submit GRE scores.
West Chester University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
2. California Baptist University–CBU Online
California Baptist University, founded in 1950 by the California Southern Baptist Convention, is a private institution based in Riverside. CBU offers a doctor of public administration online program designed for working professionals aspiring to lead public and nonprofit organizations.
CBU offers the 50-unit DPA program in a cohort model, requiring groups of students to move through the curriculum together. Cohorts take one eight-week course at a time, exploring topics such as public policymaking, ethics and social justice, and strategic planning and management. The DPA culminates in a dissertation, which students must defend in person. The program also requires three residencies, each lasting four days.
CBU accepts up to 30 upper-division transfer units earned with a grade of C- or better. Applicants must have a master's degree from a regionally-accredited university and a 3.0 GPA; students with a minimum 2.75 GPA may receive conditional admission.
California Baptist University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
See more of the Best Online Doctorate in Public Administration Degree Programs.
Choosing a Doctorate in Legal Studies Program
Earning a doctorate in legal studies online give you extensive training in research and scholarship as you pursue coursework on legal theory and practice. You acquire knowledge applicable to personal and professional goals, with many programs providing you the opportunity to tailor the program to a particular subset of law.
The interdisciplinary nature of a legal studies doctoral program provides you with exposure to legal subfields across historical and geographical boundaries. Corporate law professionals, for example, can explore the intricacies of finance and commerce law, while civic-minded legal activists can focus on environmental or human rights law.
Legal studies and law doctoral degrees require two to three years of coursework with at least one additional year to write a dissertation. Coursework prepares you to conduct research necessary for your dissertation. You will also develop a research proposal with faculty and work closely with advisors.
Some programs give you the opportunity to teach undergraduate students and participate in mock trials. Students also complete comprehensive oral or written exams over all of the classes taken. This demonstrates your expert knowledge of standards, practices, and principles of legal studies. Students must pass these exams and complete a dissertation to graduate.
What Else Can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Legal Studies Program?
Doctoral programs in legal studies vary by school and department. Some classes remain consistent across the curriculum, but many degrees offer you the chance to concentrate on a particular segment of law, legal institutions, or jurisprudence. Programs that allow you to structure your program based on individual interests also give you practical knowledge applicable to your personal and professional goals.
Concentrations Offered for an Online Doctoral Degree in Legal Studies
Doctorate in Ethics and Legal Studies:
A doctorate in ethics and legal studies focuses on law as it relates to business. Students develop legal decision-making skills in business settings through extensive study of policies, regulations, and legal norms.
- Careers This Concentration Prepares For: Corporate lawyer, human rights lawyer, corporate negotiator
Doctorate in Criminology, Law, and Society:
A doctorate in criminology, law, and society focuses on the impact of crime on law and society while providing students with advanced knowledge of the criminal justice system, legal regulations, and legal theory.
- Careers This Concentration Prepares For: Criminal justice professor, law school professor, law school administrator, legal researcher
Doctor of the Science of Law (JSD):
Designed for students with a degree in law or related field, a JSD provides future educators and legal scholars with seminars, reading coursework, and workshops to advance their legal knowledge.
- Careers This Concentration Prepares For: Law school professor, legal scholar and researcher
Curriculum for an Online Doctoral Degree in Legal Studies
Research methods courses train students to use qualitative and quantitative research techniques to gather data in anticipation of their dissertation. Students use research tools, including statistics and ethnographic software.
Coursework on jurisprudence provides students with the history and philosophy of law to understand its current application. Students assess their own relationships with law and justice as well. Jurisprudence classes may involve activities such as moot court.
Anthropology of Law:
A course on the anthropology of law focuses on the relationship between law and society. Students learn about the interactions of culture, people, and institutions in the context of regulations, legal applications, and ethical norms.
Current Issues and Trends in Law:
Students learn about contemporary matters related to law and legal policy through extensive readings, in-depth discussions, and individual research. Classes may focus on a specific topic such as finance, management, human rights, or private law.
Law and Morality:
Law and morality classes emphasize the relationship between individual choice, dilemma, and law. Students study the nature of law as well as scenarios and case studies to assess how people make decisions when faced with punishment, penalty, or ethical conflict.
Careers with a Doctorate in Legal Studies
A doctorate in legal studies prepares you for careers that require expertise in research, analytical, and critical-thinking skills. You gain the knowledge needed to make ethical and informed decisions in a legal setting, and increase your potential career growth in academia, government, and business.
Postsecondary teachers instruct students at colleges and universities in their specific subject area. They design classes, present information, assess student work and work with colleagues on curriculum development. Postsecondary teachers also conduct research and carry out duties for their department and institution.
- Median Annual Salary: $76,000
- Projected Growth Rate: 15%
Administrative Law Judges and Adjudicators:
Administrative law judges and adjudicators work specifically with legal matters related to government policies, programs, regulations, and laws. They determine penalties and sanctions, rule on claims and settlements, and oversee legal hearings. Administrative law judges and adjudicators hold their positions by appointment.
- Median Annual Salary: $94,790
Lawyers must hold a degree in law and pass a bar examination. Lawyers advise clients, represent them in court, draft legal paperwork, and analyze legal problems. Lawyers may specialize in a type of law, including corporate, tax, family, and environmental law.
- Median Annual Salary: $119,250
- Projected Growth Rate: 8%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics