PhD in Law

Osgoode’s PhD in law is a full-time advanced degree requiring research-intensive study and in principally aimed at students pursuing an academic career. It is designed to be completed in three to four years.


An LLM is generally a precondition of admission to the PhD. Students without an LLM should apply initially to the Research LLM; after their first year of study they can apply to advance to the PhD.

Degree Requirements

  • Graduate Seminar I: Legal Research (GS LAW 6610)
  • Study groups
  • One elective course
  • Extended dissertation proposal
  • Dissertation
  • Final oral examination

Note: PhD students are required to complete Graduate Seminar I and are strongly encouraged to also complete Graduate Seminar II.

The Graduate Seminar is the core course for the Graduate Program in Law. Designed to complement other courses, the seminar provides a venue for developing critical assessments of the law and facilitating students’ progress on their own research, papers and dissertation proposals. The seminar also creates an intellectual community and introduces students to Osgoode research resources.

This seminar offers a review of quantitative and qualitative methods employed in legal research. Specific sessions focus on interviewing, ethnographic methods, surveys and other quantitative methods, data collection and analysis, archival and document collection and analysis. The seminar is designed for PhD students and is completed in the winter term.

Study Groups

Students participating in study groups read and discuss a number of articles with their groups each week. The groups are not structured as courses but as venues for reflection and discourse. For doctoral students, study groups are equivalent to the comprehensive examinations required by other graduate programs.

First-year PhD students must take one study group for credit. In the second and third year of the program, only full-time PhD students are required to take a (non-credit) study group. Students can choose among five options, depending on their research interests and course availability:

  • Regulation and Governance
  • Law and Economic Relations
  • Theoretical Perspectives in Legal Research
  • Law and Social Justice
  • Law in a Global Context

Elective Courses

PhD students can fulfil their elective course requirement through:

  • a variety of graduate courses in law
  • integrated courses with the JD program
  • independent study
  • courses in other programs

Research Outline, Ethical Review and University Guidelines

In the second term of their first year, each student must submit to the Program office a brief outline of their proposed research that has been reviewed and approved by the members of their supervisory committee. The work must be original, containing a new argument supported by research carried out by the student.

A declaration of the ethical issues around the underlying research must be made early in the student’s first year. Projects involving interactions of any kind (for example, through interviews, questionnaires, consultations or observations) require an ethics review.

Dissertations must be prepared in accordance with the Faculty of Graduate Studies thesis and dissertation guidelines.

Extended Dissertation Proposal

PhD students must submit an extended dissertation proposal (50 –70 pages) by the end of their sixth term. Students must defend their proposal in an oral exam before an examining committee (which must be done by the end seventh term).


The dissertation is a piece of original research that reflects a substantial contribution to existing legal literature. Expected to be between 300-350 pages, it should have the usual scholarly apparatus, footnotes and a bibliography prepared in accordance with the McGill Guide to Legal Citations. The dissertation should be of sufficiently high quality to warrant publication by an academic publisher or through a comparable venue.

With the permission of their supervisor and in consultation with the Graduate Program Director, PhD candidates may submit a Portfolio Dissertation in lieu of a conventional thesis. The Portfolio Dissertation must be composed of three to five articles (depending on the length and ambition of the articles) developed during the candidate’s graduate studies, published or accepted for publication, and combined with an introduction and conclusion.

Final Oral Examination

Students must succeed in an oral defence of their dissertation before an examination committee.

Time to Completion

PhD students are expected to complete all requirements within 18 terms (six years).

Residency Requirement

Osgoode’s PhD in Law is offered on the Keele Campus of York University and includes a residency requirement. For at least four terms (sixteen months), students must be physically based in the Toronto area and able to visit campus on a daily basis to participate in classes, attend seminars, meet with the supervisor and study at the library.

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