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  • Tuesday, September 25, 2007

    Dr. SS!

    I've actually wondered once or twice why lawyers aren't generally referred to as "Dr." thus-and-such. After all, a legal degree is a "Juris Doctor" or "Doctor of Jurisprudence", right?

    If JD = "juris doctor" and MD = "medical doctor" and PhD = "doctor of philosophy" -- and the latter two get the degree-earner the priviledge of being called "Dr." -- then why not lawyers too?

    It's not a distinction between medicine or health-related studies v. other fields as disqualifying; one can earn a PhD in any field and still be a venerable "Dr.". Nor is it an issue of years spent studying. A typical JD program is three years. Dentists also spend about three years in post-graduate study (with summer coursework). Vets have about four years of specialized study. The difference in years of coursework for an MA program v. a PhD program is usually one year (plus independent research, of course), so a PhD can be done is 4-6 years. Okay, so lawyers go to school a few fewer years, but basically, "Dr." denotes someone of advanced study.

    So why not lawyers as "Dr."s?

    "Doctor" is in the degree itself. The work involved is certainly advanced study. In fact, a JD has very specific educational requirements, like MDs or DDSs or DVMs. Similarly, lawyers must meet state licensing requirements to practice. Neither is true generally for PhDs. There is no specific education requirement, other than a dissertation, required, nor any licensing exam to affix that "Dr.". Arguably, JDs are more similar in terms of study, licensing and it being a professional degree to MDs, etc. than are PhDs (which is viewed as an academic degree more than professional one). So what's the distinction that excludes lawyers from the "doctor" club? What is it that makes them (us) different from dentists and veterinarians and medical doctors and PhDs that they (we) don't deserve "Dr."? Is it nothing more than social convention?

    Well, apparently, some lawyers don't see any distinction and have held themselves out as such, using "Dr." on their cards and whatnot. And this has lead to scrutiny by state ethics panels and the ABA too. The verdict? Mixed. Apparently, a number of states allow lawyers to refer to themselves using the title "Dr." and others don't.

    I don't know which list MD (that would be "Maryland, not "medical doctor") is on, if my state allows it or not. More to the point... even if the state does allow it, I don't know if I'd have the chutzpuh to hold myself out in public as a "Dr.", just because of my JD.

    But it's fun to know it may be an option. "Dr. She Says" -- hmmm, sounds snazzy, eh?

    I wonder what the MDs would say?

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