Esquire, not Doctor.
October 26, 2005 1:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm a lawyer who can't understand why some lawyers insist on laying claim to having a doctorate. They don't, of course. Why this insecurity?

By any standard, a doctorate is a degree that reflects years of coursework, followed by years and years of working on a piece of original research that provides a new contribution to the knowledge of the field it's done in. Law school, as hard as it may be (and I went to a Top 3 law school) just doesn't do anything like this.

This is why in other countries, law is an undergraduate degree. So why do so many of my Esq. colleagues want so badly to claim to be Dr. X? Makes no sense, and honestly, makes our profession look bad.

One of my (famous) law school profs told us once that the "Doctor" in "Juris Doctor" is an adjective, not a noun, implying that a person with the degree is entitled to practice law and alter law. Doctor of Philosophy, on the other hand, well, that's clearly a noun. Any insight?
posted by LGCNo6 to Education (41 answers total)
 
Well I can tell you that the Doctor in Juris Doctor is not an adjective, it's a noun. Having said that, I don't see how its being an adjective or otherwise would affect its meaning.

Other than that I can't help as I don't know how American legal degrees work.
posted by nomis at 1:09 AM on October 26, 2005


Medicine is also an undergraduate degree in some countries, eg Japan, where they all somehow turn out to be senseis.
posted by shoos at 2:03 AM on October 26, 2005


Wikipedia has a good article on all the ins and outs.
It seems that not even the schools themselves can decide if it's a graduate degree or not.

For myself personally, I don't call lawyers "Dr." and I'd find it pretty amusing if a lawyer asked me to(or referred to himself that way).
posted by madajb at 2:17 AM on October 26, 2005


A J.D. is a doctorate, and the doctor in juris doctor is, in fact, a noun. An LL.M. is not a doctorate.

In German, Dr. jur. seems to fit the pattern that Dr. med., Dr. med. dent., and Dr. phil. do.

The only reason you (and any other lawyers) shouldn't call yourself Doctor (despite having a doctorate) is that no one calls lawyers that in the U.S.
posted by oaf at 2:29 AM on October 26, 2005


Wikipedia knows allllll! For what it's worth, in Canada a law degree is still an LL.B. but typically requires an undergraduate degree for entry. An LL.D. is the equivalent of a "Ph.D in law".
posted by mendel at 4:37 AM on October 26, 2005


Oaf has it. A J.D. is a doctorate... I mean don't belittle the achievement, law schools are not only highly competitive, it's a grueling process to get one's law degree.

I agree with what Oaf said about why lawyers shouldn't call themselves "Doctor" too. IMHO, I don't think anyone who has their doctorate should be allowed to call themselves "Doctors" except for the Doctors who work in hospitals. This could have benefits in all sorts of medical emergencies, and eliminates confusion. If it eliminates some ego stroking, that would be nice too.
posted by banished at 4:49 AM on October 26, 2005


Not to be snarky, but you are probably right not to consider yourself a Doctor of Jurisprudence. If you are a lawyer that can't figure out Juris Doctor means you have a doctorate degree, I wouldn't trust your judgement on any legal issue, no matter how trivial. As to why JDs don't use the title Doctor with their name, my take is it is because they don't want to be like the wanker EdDs and PhDs who insist upon it.

Also, I'm aware of at least one local college president with multiple Masters degrees and a JD, who refers to himself as Dr. So-and-so. Neither the Board of Trustees nor the faculty have a major issue with that, implying it is entirely valid in an academic setting.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 5:39 AM on October 26, 2005


Good question, and it's a stupid issue.

The University of Toronto, in recent years, started issuing the J.D. to "compete" with law schools in the States, to much derision here in Canada. They still offer the LL.M. and LL.D. on top of this.

Never actually run into a colleague who called himself a doctor (unless he was also an M.D.), but then, judging from the large number of articling students who apparently call themselves "lawyers", I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.
posted by dreamsign at 6:02 AM on October 26, 2005


The only lawyers I've seen use 'Doctor' are professors with JSD/PhD/LL.D - and even then, no one actually calls them Doctor.

I've never heard of someone with a straight law degree trying to call themselves Doctor; there is no way they would be taken seriously in Canada, at least.

(Although I do find it annoying that law students, along with med students, are classified as undergraduates at my university - but that's less ego as it is the crappy undergrad medical plan.)
posted by magwich at 6:20 AM on October 26, 2005


IMHO, I don't think anyone who has their doctorate should be allowed to call themselves "Doctors" except for the Doctors who work in hospitals.

My favorite take on that is that the only time a non-medical Doctor should call himself "Dr. Lastname" outside of academia is his graduation night dinner reservation.
posted by mendel at 6:26 AM on October 26, 2005


The poster isn't talking about lawyers who call themselves "doctor" (which I've never heard an American lawyer do). He's complaining because they say they have doctorates. Which they do. Case closed, and complainant is ordered to pay court costs.
posted by languagehat at 6:28 AM on October 26, 2005


By any standard, a doctorate is a degree that reflects years of coursework, followed by years and years of working on a piece of original research that provides a new contribution to the knowledge of the field it's done in.

That would mean that physicians usually aren't doctors. A JD is a doctoral degree in the US, but social norms don't usually allow lawyers to call themselves "Doctor."

Anyone who insisted on being called "Doctor" in normal conversation would be, in technical terms, a "wanker," whether that person is a PhD, lawyer, lawyer with an SJD, or even physician. Likewise, people who insist on being called a military rank by civilians, especially people who are retired or otherwise out of the service.

IMHO, I don't think anyone who has their doctorate should be allowed to call themselves "Doctors" except for the Doctors who work in hospitals.

Or, crazy idea, those people in hospitals could call themselves physicians, a more accurate term in every way.

This could have benefits in all sorts of medical emergencies, and eliminates confusion.

Nonsense. If someone shouts "Is there a doctor in the house!?!" at a movie theater, everyone knows they're not looking for someone who can find a Bayesian perfect equilibrium or explain the workings of a queen-of-the-hill rule.

I'd agree that PhDs doing volunteer work in hospitals should go by Mr. or Ms. whatever to eliminate confusion, but outside of that context there's really no confusion to speak of. The annoying thing there is hospitals' disconcerting tendency to call medical students Dr. So-and-so, presumably to avoid having the patient get up and run away.

My favorite take on that is that the only time a non-medical Doctor should call himself "Dr. Lastname" outside of academia is his graduation night dinner reservation.

Ditto for medical doctors outside of their work or related occasions, really. On both sides, behaving otherwise is unseemly grandstanding.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:43 AM on October 26, 2005


I agree with mendel. I am a Ph. D., some from a family of Ph.D.s, work with Ph.D. of various stripes, and get called "doctor bonehead" in professional meetings, but never use it personally or for my friends or family in any social setting. It's too confusing, plus people start asking you about their sciatica. "Doctor" means M.D. in almost everyone's mind, it's really not an academic title anymore.
posted by bonehead at 6:46 AM on October 26, 2005


some come
posted by bonehead at 6:46 AM on October 26, 2005


They don't call themselves "doctor", but they do use "Esq.", meaning, it has always seemed to me, "I'm so humble I'm leaving all my honorifics off my name and settling for this catch-all."
posted by beagle at 6:58 AM on October 26, 2005


In my experience, you're right about the mistake's prevalence -- but it's usually due to ignorance, not insecurity. They simply don't know the difference.
posted by cribcage at 8:27 AM on October 26, 2005


It could be partly cultural, as well, as in some latin countries addressing someone as "Doctor" is an extremely respectful way of referring to an educated, upper class person. Not too common, though, and a bit old-fashioned.
posted by plexiwatt at 8:47 AM on October 26, 2005


Just as a data point, I have indeed met people with J.D. degrees who insisted on being called "Doctor". They were incredible twits, one and all.
posted by redfoxtail at 8:50 AM on October 26, 2005


Or, crazy idea, those people in hospitals could call themselves physicians, a more accurate term in every way.

That's fine. I have no disagreement with that, but it would still be nice if they append M.D. or prepend Dr. to their name. Their special expertise is often needed in emergencies, and it's nice to be able to identify them in a list of names quickly.

Nonsense. If someone shouts "Is there a doctor in the house!?!" at a movie theater, everyone knows they're not looking for someone who can find a Bayesian perfect equilibrium or explain the workings of a queen-of-the-hill rule.

Man drops on the ground in a hotel lobby suffering from a seizure. The hotel receptionist remembers just minutes ago that he checked in a group of doctors that were in town for a conference. He goes down through the list of of recently checked in guests, and can spot the Dr.s and the M.D.s instantly. He calls their room, and they are down in the lobby administering emergency medical care before the ambulance even gets there. As luck would have it, if it weren't for that emergency care, the man would have died.

I'm sure you can think of dozens of examples where it would come in handy.
posted by banished at 9:05 AM on October 26, 2005


I am not bothered by people who want to be called Doctor for frivolous reasons. During my years working at a certain community college the campus president had a doctorate in Physical Education and wanted to be called Dr [NameDeleted] and, as he was the boss, we accommodated him. In private, we called him Dr Coach. He was actually an effective prez and not a bad guy, but this foible lowered many people's estimation of him.

Jackasses all eventually get their comeuppance, even if they are never aware of it.
posted by phearlez at 9:28 AM on October 26, 2005


I'm a lawyer, and I've never heard any other lawyer lay claim to the "Doctor" honorific. This is a debate typically had by bored law students. That being said, the JD, while technically a doctorate, is primarily a professional degree; it's not really comparable to a PhD. There is such a thing as a Doctorate of Juridical Science, or SJD, which is very similar to a traditional academic post-graduate program. It's not a wildly popular degree to pursue.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:19 AM on October 26, 2005 [1 favorite]


Look at it this way: Medical doctors use "Doctor" the same way lawyers use "Esq.".

ANYONE can use "Esq." after their names, but if you do that and you're not a lawyer, people look at you funny and think to themselves "WTF?"

Same thing if a lawyer calls himself a doctor, IMHO. "WTF?"
posted by shepd at 10:22 AM on October 26, 2005


I'm with monju_bosatsu. I'm a lawyer, and I've *never* heard of a lawyer (in this country, anyway) wanting to be referred to as "Dr." or claiming that a JD was equal to a PhD.

Personally, I'm not even that crazy about people addressing me as "ambrosia, Esq." -it seems a bit pompous- but maybe that's more a reflection of my personal ambivalence about being a lawyer than anything else.
posted by ambrosia at 10:46 AM on October 26, 2005


Just to dissent a bit, I actually prefer to address Ph.D.'s in my field as "Dr. Lastname" primarily because the whopping big power heirarchies don't go away when you drop the formality. Outside of that context, it's wankery.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:15 AM on October 26, 2005


KirkJobSluder writes "I actually prefer to address Ph.D.'s in my field as "Dr. Lastname" primarily because the whopping big power hierarchies don't go away when you drop the formality."

Quick sidetrack about academic titles... if someone holds a professorship, wouldn't the proper title be "Prof. Lastname"? It's a higher "rank", right? And it eliminates the whole doctor/physician confusion. As for postdocs, lecturers, etc., they don't have any authority anyway, so who cares about their title....
posted by mr_roboto at 11:32 AM on October 26, 2005


I'm with Ambrosia--Haddock, Esq. doesn't have the ring of my naval rank, and I hope I never end up using the former. Although Dr. Haddock--I could live with that...

It seems like Esq. is used more by solo and small-firm practitioners (who use it to impress the lay public), and not large firm attorneys--does anyone at, say, a Large New York Firm, have a colleague who uses the Esq.?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:58 AM on October 26, 2005


mr_roboto: Confusion is a function of context. If I'm sitting with a bunch of people from outside of the U.S., it's obvious that "football" is played with a round black and white ball, and with a bunch of people from inside the U.S., "football" is played with an oblong brown ball.

IME and IMNSHO, there is more concern about confusion than actual cases where confusion leads to misunderstanding. Most people know how to adapt their language to the community they are speaking in. Inside my professional community, Dr. is acceptable and preferred by some. In other communities, it could be Mr./Ms., or Sir/Ma'am.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:59 AM on October 26, 2005


Yeah, but it depends on what level of professorship. Technically, only a full prof should be called "Professor".

The doctorate has existed for far long than the MD. "Doctor" means "teacher" in Latin. It is also a term used for Catholic priests who've attained certain levels. For medical arts practioners, "doctor" is a courtesy title, which can be used whether a doctorate exists or not. Only 200 years ago or so, a medical doctor was a shady endeavour, on par with barbershop butchery. When medicine was adopted into the universities, the term "doctor" fell into favour for physicians.
posted by acoutu at 12:09 PM on October 26, 2005


like the wanker EdDs and PhDs who insist upon it.

"Doctor" comes from a Latin word meaning "teacher." So what's wrong with a PhD who teaches using the term "doctor"
as an honorific? Nothing. It's accurate, and "learned or authoritative teacher" remains the primary definition according to those elitists (all due apologies to Stephen Colbert for stealing that line) at Webster's, the ones all into language rather than heart.

In colloquial use, however, "doctor" has become the term known to most for "physician."
posted by raysmj at 12:38 PM on October 26, 2005


So is containing the word "doctor" sufficient to make a degree doctoral?

I agree with the op that the distinction between making an original contribution and absorbing a body of knowledge is informative. Not as to who's smarter or better, just as to the nature of the training. Regardless of what we call lawyers, the word doctor can't make this distinction because MD's and PhD's are both doctors. So what we need is a MetaNeologismFilter page. /ramble.
posted by Eothele at 12:38 PM on October 26, 2005


US lawyer here. I have never come in contact with another lawyer who has even suggested that they should be addressed as Doctor. In fact in law school if you tripped up and accidentally called the professor "doctor" you would be quickly corrected and not out of some feeling that professor was a superior title. I'm not even comfortable with the Esq. suffix.
posted by Carbolic at 12:40 PM on October 26, 2005


I'd note that my example of the college president JD using Dr. So-and-so is due to the general formality of college presidents holding doctorates and being referred to using the honorific Doctor. The president in question is not a wanker and only uses Dr. So-and-so for formal college related documents, he does not introduce himself that way and has been known to chide staff that insist on the formality after having been told "You can call me Al".

I also work with a college VP with an EdD that clearly expects staff to refer to him as Dr. So-and-so. Meanwhile half his staff are also "doctors" and he addresses them by first name. I can't figure out why so many folks humor him. He doesn't call me Mr. McGuillicuddy so I don't call him Dr. Wanker. But the constant dancing around delicate egos is unpleasant for everyone at every meeting.

On preview: raysmj - there is nothing wrong with insisting on being referred to as "doctor" provided one practice the same formality in addressing others. In your example, I'd refer to the individual as Professor in the classroom and by first name otherwise, unless we maintained a reciprocal formality in our relationship.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 1:07 PM on October 26, 2005


Like others, I've never personally met any lawyer in the U.S. claiming the title "doctor." I recall but cannot find a case where a Florida personal injury lawyer was disciplined for advertising himself as a "juris doctor" because it would inevtiably generate confusion with the medical profession.

Without knowing the lawyer you have in mind, I'd guess either a major inferiority complex or a tendency to hucksterism.

Does he use the title to pick up girls in bars?
posted by mikewas at 1:33 PM on October 26, 2005


I don't agree that J.D.=doctorate in any real sense of the term, especially in light of the very tangible evidence that there actually are LL.D. degrees that are clearly doctorates.

I think I might gently suggest that a colleague of mine read this thread now... .
posted by LGCNo6 at 2:10 PM on October 26, 2005


After writing a bloody thesis, I'm going to demand that I be called Doctor.

It's a title, which someone went to a lot of work to earn. And yes, I would call a military officer by his rank - he earned it just as much. Refusing to call a Ph.D. "doctor" is just rude. Most won't fuss about it, but it's like calling a Judge Mr. You just don't.

I don't know about lawyers - I do think that it's a bit pansy being called "doctor" without slaving over a thesis - and yes, I'm including medical doctors in that - but their degree is a doctorate, like a Doctorate of Divinity. But it's still not as good as a Ph.D.
posted by jb at 3:38 PM on October 26, 2005


LGCNo6, please encourage your colleague to pay $5 and sign up. I'm sure 'WankerNo6' is still available...

I'm really, really sorry about that...
posted by Chuckles at 3:53 PM on October 26, 2005


Refusing to call a Ph.D. "doctor" is just rude

About as rude as refusing to call me director or proprietor.

And about as rude as refusing to kiss an engineer's ring.

And about as rude as refusing to call a married woman "Misses" instead of "Ms."

And as rude as not calling Stephen King an anthologist.

They all went through a lot of work for their titles, too.

(In case it hasn't been noticed, I'm being sarcastic. You simply don't earn respect titles that way. You earn them by giving your peers a reason to use them. Like treating them as equals... Be assured there's no way your thesis was as hard as me starting my business, what with the 150+ hour work weeks and repeated puking and sickness and etc etc etc [please excuse that as sarcasm to prevent your head from exploding, I know the only tougher thing in life than writing a thesis is saving the world or getting knighted {bloody sharp swords!}]).

You call the judge "Your Honour" (or "Your Worship" in some cases) because unlike someone such as myself or yourself, he is going to be the last word on someone's fate. If you knew someone who could put you in jail for life without a second thought and get away with it, and you couldn't do anything about it either, you'd damn well kiss their ass too. But not because you like it. Because if you don't, the consequences are dire (and not just a sneer you can laugh off). Prime ministers, presidents, and other governmental authorities get the same respect for generally the same reasons (although as it peters down you might just not care and use it out of habit... I doubt the minister of fisheries could do much to make my life difficult).

-- Mr. David J. Shepherd the first, HAM, G driver, costco member, video store member, librarist, CTO, Manager, Asst. Comptroller, Director & Proprietor (and don't forget any of them either!) [can't wait to add provincial offences officer, or POA to the list for the hell of it]

Sometimes I wonder if I should just spend the $500 to buy a doctorate from the USA so I can require equal respect. That'd be plenty fun.
posted by shepd at 4:32 PM on October 26, 2005


Addressing a judge as "Your Honor" is a matter of showing respect for the office held, not their degree. It is basically the same with police/Officers, physicians/Doctors, robber-barrons/Senators, and faculty/Professors. When a judge is engaging in private affairs, Mr So-and-so would seem entirely appropriate. Not using honorifics during official business would be considered disrespectful to the position more than the holder of the position.

That said, I believe it is always rude not to comply with one's wishes concerning their appellation. So if you don't care for how I address you, well then... suck it, wanker.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 6:10 PM on October 26, 2005


After writing a bloody thesis, I'm going to demand that I be called Doctor... Refusing to call a Ph.D. "doctor" is just rude.

Boy, I sure hope you get over that attitude real quick once you get a job and get on with your life. Otherwise you're in for a lot of disappointment. Plus people will think you're a jerk. Just for your information, when I was at Famous Ivy League School, the professors (Famous Big Shots) went by "Mr." The idea is that if you have to be called "Dr." or "Professor," you suffer from feelings of inadequacy that have to be constantly assuaged by verbal massages. Think about it.
posted by languagehat at 6:58 AM on October 27, 2005


Oh, may as well add that Carleton has a Bachelor of Laws (non-professional) degree. So in Canada, you can get a J.D. (from U of T), an LL.B. (anywhere else) as well as an LL.M. and LL.D. and also a B.A. in law.

And I've now sampled a smattering of my colleagues, and we all think it's weird if a lawyer with professional/undergrad degrees alone called him or herself a doctor.
posted by dreamsign at 9:22 AM on October 27, 2005


languagehat - actually the professors at that school go by "Professor". It's a courtesy title for the Assistant and Associate Professors, but the real title for the full Professors. At one time, many Professors were in fact Mr, because a Phd was not necessary to teach - this is becoming much more rare. When I send letters or emails, I address them to Professor (or "Dr" for lecturers in the UK, which is appropriate there), unless they have asked me to call them by their first name. If you look on webpages for Cambridge University, for instance, you will note that all the PhDs who are not Professors have been called "Dr" - here is an example.

I have no problem with people calling PhDs Mr or Ms in social life, provided they also treat MDs the same way. But few do. And it's that discrimination that pisses me off so much. I also spent 3 1/2 years working in health care research for someone who knew far more than 99% of MDs about epidemiology, who still wasn't accorded respect by them because though she had a PhD (and two masters), she lacked an MD. I think she was far more worthy of being called "doctor" than any plain GP - and I continue to introduce her as Dr in social situations, because that is her name. Actually, I should switch to "Professor" now.

And yes, I do call women what they request - I go with Ms on default (not knowing their preference or marital status), but will correct it as soon as I know.
posted by jb at 8:46 PM on October 27, 2005


« Older How to make cats get along?   |   Where can I find literate Francophones to converse... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.