The Lime in the Coconut

I say, Doctor, Doctor!

The Economist has a Johnson column on lawyers in the U.S. who call themselves “Doctor” because they have a J.D. degree. Apparently some states’ ethical rules frown on this practice while others don’t. The columnist comes down in favour of “common sense,” which reserves that title for medical practitioners by and large.

Of course, in the States lawyers make great use of the Esq. (“esquire”) label after their names to signal the fact that they are lawyers. So far as I know neither Esq. nor “Doctor” has had much traction here, Mr. and Ms. sufficing quite nicely. This may be in part because the J.D. designation is relatively new, the great bulk of lawyers still graced with LL.B. after their names. But competition being what it is, I’d be surprised if we didn’t see some Canadians aping their American cousins and using the title of “Doctor” if for no other reason than to get a reservation at a busy restaurant.

Has anyone seen Doctors of laws here? Are there ethical rules in any provinces that touch on this, apart from injunctions not to mislead potential clients?


  1. Some years ago I converted my LLB to a JD for the sole purpose of being called “Dr. Dr.” (I never use the designation in restaurants or airplanes). Martin Felsky, PhD, JD.

  2. Geneviève Gélinas

    In Québec, the legally protected title for lawyers (and notaries) is “Maître”.

    As far as I know, “doctor” is legally reserved to medical doctors and dentists, or to those holding a Ph.D.

  3. There was an interesting article in the New York Times about the use of the title of Doctor, particularly in Germany, where it appears to be a national obsession:

  4. J.D. doesn’t stand for juvenile delinquent? Heck.

    Some readers of Slaw will remember the issue being discussed before, here, too. You could look it up.

    I’ll end my contribution, this time, with a few points. First, it is apt – given what lawyers do to the English language and the Latin language even when they’re not abusing both (intentionally) – that “juris”, by itself, is a word in some languages; just not in English. Second, since it is an import from Latin – and since we, in Canada strive to be correct – let’s use the sound that “j” (seemingly) has in the language(s) where “juris” appears. Why? Because, as Mickey might have said, “we like it”.

    In that way, when somebody’s Cousin Vinny starts talking about “utes”, at least he’ll get the sound of the “juris” part right. (Or somebody from Australia will think he’s talking about a type of vehicle.)

    In the interests of disclosure, back in the last millenium when I was in law school – it was so long ago that Simon F was a young professor – one of the students wrote a very witty ditty about a perpetual law student. The key line – I admit it was even better after some other forms of concoction with lime – turned on the sound and metre of LLB. While the rhyme scheme works with JD rather than LLB, the metre doesn’t. (People associated wth the Osgoode Hall Law School sports teams from the early 70s should remember the song.) That’s reason enough to keep one’s LLB, no?

  5. PS – If you read through the thread at the link, you’ll find my speculation on why the creators of the JD title decided to use JD rather than LD. I’ll quote (what I think is) the key part.

    A cynic might suggest that a prescient thinker at Harvard realized that LD (the acronym for Legal Doctor – the obvious equivalent of Medical Doctor) would eventually become the accepted short-form for “learning disability”. And that he or she didn’t want to typecast, or prejudge, too many future law school graduates.

    But only a cynic would suggest that, right?

    Or, had I been paying more attention – gotta do something about that ADD – “Learning Disabled”.

  6. US legal usage of ‘Esq.’ looks odd to anyone from the UK (or the WASPier parts of Canada), where it is just a polite (if perhaps old-fashioned) way of writing ‘mister’. I assume US lawyers retained it in the latter sense for longer than non-lawyers, and that it then came to be thought of as a specific designation for a lawyer, which women lawyers adopted when they began to enter the profession. Even if that’s the case, ‘Jane Doe, Esq.’ looks weird to this Upper Canadian (who stuck with LLB when given the option to upgrade to JD).

  7. While I don’t see lawyers in Canada using the title “Dr” any time soon, common sense doesn’t reserve the title for medical practitioners. Most people I have encountered with a Ph.D. use the title.

  8. Mr. Davidson:

    (Because I’m looking for any excuse to not do what I’m supposed to be doing right now)

    “common sense”?

    People with divinity degrees from an Upper Slobovia School of Theology (Internet Campus) could call themselves Reverend. So?

    This JD / LLB shtick is about perceptions of status and importance amongst the newly qualified or those looking for work. And the schools looking to attract students.

    Or it’s an ego thing among those in the legal profession who believe that members of the legal profession are entitled to just as much respect as members of the medical profession.

    Did I mention ego? Who’d have “thunk” that some lawyers have ego, status and class issues after all this time. I thought we in North America were over that thing.

    But, then, perhaps one should understand how some might get upset, at next year’s cotillion, if the GP is introduced as Dr. Julius Schmuck, the pastor or priest as the Very Reverend Goodbody, and the lawyer as Shyster Dick Schlong, Esq. Heck, spending $50K minimum to graduate into a profession where you’re not guaranteed a second home as well as a winter p(a)lace ought to entitle one to some measure of regard.

    Anyway, most people with a Ph.D. are experts in the field for which they got their doctorate (even if that expertise is in the equivalent of applied phrenology).

    Are you suggesting that the expertise that most law students have after completing their third year of law school matches that of a Ph.D? (OK, maybe it does of a phrenologist but I dare say most wannabe JD types aren’t going to justify their views on the basis that they are at least as educated as a phrenologist.)

    Apart from that, the loudest bleat one hears emanating from former law students is that they weren’t taught enough of what’s required to practice (successfully in the financial sense) as lawyers, in whatever area they end up in.

    I don’t recall hearing anyone complain that they weren’t taught enough law (except from those who wanted to learn more law in class but found the professor was catering to those who wanted to hear only what would be on the exam, so long as it was relevant to practice … Popularity polls matter, right?).

    Put up your hands, those of you who’ve regularly had newly-graduated law students tell you that he or she doesn’t recall some something (even where it’s an essential principle) because he or she hasn’t taken that subject since 1st or 2nd year.

    By the way – this is not to denigrate mature students – if one can get into a law school as a mature student, without any form of undergraduate degree, then what does that say about the claim that the JD indicates the law school degree is a 2d professional degree? (Should I have mentioned that this is a rhetorical question?)

    Whatever might have been the case, it is now the case that, outside of its medical-related use – and implication of dishonest use: as in X “doctored” the evidence – Doctor as a title implies expertise above the required norm in the subject matter to which the degree relates, beyond that expertise which
    recent recepients of a 1st degree in law (or other fields) have in their subject.

    But (at least for law), where the newly-graduated JD is involved (because it’s merely a label for the same knowledge provided under the LLB), if it’s expertise above some required norm, then that level of expertise might be higher than a snake’s belly but, if so, not much.

    This was fun but it’s time to return to what I’m supposed to be doing.

    (Updated and edited on March 8 to correct areas of incomprehensibility caused by my sloppy proof-reading: DC)

  9. “Are you suggesting that the expertise that most law students have after completing their third year of law school matches that of a PhD?”

    I was suggesting no such thing. I also wasn’t taking a position for or against people with a JD calling themselves “Dr X.” ( However, in light of some of the concerns you raised above, it’s interesting to note that the American Bar Association has taken a strong position that the JD must be treated as equal to a PhD for educational employment purposes. It’s also interesting to note that the “MD” was simply a replacement designation for the same type of knowledge required for an MB or MBBS or some variant thereof. )

    I was simply pointing out that others besides medical professionals use the title, and that, therefore, the debate over using “Dr” in society is not straightforward. (I found the artcile on Germany very interesting.) I think an interesting discussion can be had on why the”Dr” honorific that is given to respected/learned people isn’t applied to lawyers in English speaking societies (becase, as we can see, it’s not limited to medical professionals). Is it because English-speaking lawyers have, through their professional conduct, lowered themselves so much in general public opinion that the public would find it unacceptable? Is it because the study of law really isn’t really done on a high intellectual level? What’s the difference.

  10. Regardless of your intent, what you wrote in the first sentence –

    While I don’t see lawyers in Canada using the title “Dr” any time soon, common sense doesn’t reserve the title for medical practitioners.

    implies an equivalence between the level of knowledge that a Ph.D has in his or her subject and the level of knowledge a newly graduated J.D. has in the law. In the context of this thread, I don’t see a relevant meaning for what you wrote other than the implication I took from it. Nothing in the content of your second sentence

    Most people I have encountered with a Ph.D. use the title.

    changes the implication. The fact that people with Ph.Ds use the doctor title – an accepted historical fact – has nothing to do with “common sense”.

    “I think an interesting discussion can be had on why the”Dr” honorific that is given to respected/learned people isn’t applied to lawyers in English speaking societies (becase, as we can see, it’s not limited to medical professionals).”

    Well … from the current perspective, how about because of the bleat that law schools should focus on teaching lawyers how to practice law and not on learning law. (g)

    Putting the kidding aside, do you not find it at all instructive that members of the legal profession weren’t called “doctor” and seemingly saw no need to be called doctor back when law was commonly described as one of the “learned” professions in a culture where social and class distinctions mattered. Now, a country where (supposedly) social and class distinctions don’t matter is the source the everyday lawyers as “doctors” of? in? law.

    What does that say about the relevant portions of the psyches of those demanding the right to be called “Doctor” because they have an undergraduate degree in sports management and an undergraduate degree in law?

    Once again, if the reason for the LLB to JD switch is to ensure that employer recognize that the JD holder isn’t some snot-nose kid just out of the equivalent of grammar school but (generally) has some prior academic standing (even if it is in sheep-dip marketing from Woolabunga U), why demand the right to be called “Doctor Fawlty”?

  11. m. diane kindree

    In the 19th century, Harvard U., had hoped the study of law would be recognized as a science. They copied the Juris Doctor designation from European Law Schools and built their own J.D. model which Canada has adopted. The science of law is a dubious notion because there are far too many unmeasurable variables to secure many legal findings as scientifically accurate and/or valid. In a social context, the practice of law is philosophical and scholarly but scientific it is not. Predictability is another guiding scientific standard which can not be relied on in the practice of law. Nevertheless, there is an expectation on the part of the student when they enroll in these programs that a “honorific” will be bestowed.
    Why not LL.B, LL. J.D. and LL.M?

    The title S.J.D. (Doctor of Judicial Science) should be replaced by LL. PhD.

    In short, the Doctor (Dr.) is not in when it comes to the law.

  12. I figure it’s time for this thread to do a natural death (until the next time) so, summing up the discussion:

    1. it seems the reason for the JD rather than LLB is only the claimed need to make clearer the holder’s perceived educational qualifications


    2. the reason for the Dr. label is

    (cue violins)

    a. status and (what is status in another guise)
    b. “everybody else else is doing it so why can’t we”.

    I don’t see see any relation between 1 and 2. If others do, they do. (Some things are inexplicable; for example, not just the fact that Vegemite exists but that it is considered edible.)