The purpose of the six-semester licentiate program is to help the student become acquainted with the whole corpus of church law, understand it in terms of its theological, philosophical, and historical background, and learn the method and practice of scientific research. The level of research for the licentiate is that expected of professional canonists, specifically the exacting investigation of canonical questions encountered in curial, tribunal, and similar practice, and the articulation of one's findings in written opinions and briefs.
In 1865, Trinity's Law Department was officially founded, while 1868 marked the official chartering of the School of Law. After a ten-year hiatus from 1894 to 1904, James B. Duke and Benjamin Newton Duke provided the endowment to reopen the school, with Samuel Fox Mordecai as its senior professor (by this time, Trinity College had relocated to Durham, North Carolina). When Trinity College became part of the newly created Duke University upon the establishment of the Duke Endowment in 1924, the School of Law continued as the Duke University School of Law. In 1930, the Law School moved from the Carr Building on Duke's East Campus to a new location on the main quad of West Campus. During the three years preceding this move, the size of the law library tripled. Among other well-known alumni, President Richard Nixon graduated from the school in 1937. In 1963, the school moved to its present location on Science Drive in West Campus.