Masters Degrees at Law Schools

One trend that will probably become pronounced in legal education over the next five years is the development of masters degrees in law.  These would be geared towards folks who want some legal training for one year but are not interested in becoming attorneys.  Some schools already have specialized versions of this (say, for journalists), but one can imagine interest in these degrees from scientists, doctors, corporate human resource departments, or folks in business.  This type of program is attractive from the law schools’ perspective because it (1) would generate revenue; (2) would lead to a more diverse student body; and (3) is  unregulated by the ABA.

The question that these programs raise, though, is whether they would undercut the JD degree or a JD education.  In other words, would some people inclined to get a JD substitute to the masters if they could?  Will JD students be upset at the prospect that some jobs could be taken from them by masters graduates?  And how about alumni–would they feel like their degrees would be diluted if their school offers a masters?  Thoughts are welcome.

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4 Responses

  1. Cornelius McCracken says:

    If schools offered a shorter and cheaper degree they would lose existing JD students to the new program. Though the sunk cost fallacy is fallacious, it’s what keeps a large number of each class’s bottom half from dropping out after first year grades or maybe OCI season. Give them an MA or M.Law as a dignified retreat and many of them will take it.

    As to your other questions, “Will JD students be upset at the prospect that some jobs could be taken from them by masters graduates?”

    Probably not. Most students destined for “JD advantage” jobs would move over to the masters program.

    “And how about alumni–would they feel like their degrees would be diluted if their school offers a masters?”

    Any who would be affected by this change already think worse thoughts about their JDs and alma maters. But I would guess the vast majority of masters grads would have finished the JD without the shorter option. Once you’ve made it to law school and established that you aren’t going to be an elite law student, finishing up isn’t very hard. It’s just time consuming and expensive. The number of people with graduate degrees in law would probably not expand much.

  2. Shag from Brookline says:

    Even following three years of law school, there are quite a few areas of the law that may not be covered or only touched upon in traditional law school. In the Boston area where I live and practiced law for over 50 years, I had long ago thought that with the many law schools here, that such schools should offer courses on a part time schedule formally leading to possible masters degrees, rather than rely upon the less formal – and less frequent – CLE courses. A new lawyer in such an area might take one course each semester for several years, courses that might advance his/her legal career. Such law schools could coordinate so that a broad spectrum of courses could be offered between them.

    (Several years after practicing, I realized that I needed more formal training in tax law and started, part-time, in an area graduate tax program that I stretched to just over 4 years to complete. I had a corporate/business/real estate practice that was growing and put the tax law to use on a regular basis during that time.)

    My suggestion of a law schools cooperative should work well in those urban areas with several law schools. Tuitions could be held low with adjunct faculties including practicing attorneys in the area in conjunction with regualar law school faculties. Courses could be offered late afternoons and Saturdays.

    While the new trend is to reduce JD time to two years, even smart law school graduates can be in the dark on legal areas outside the traditional JD courses. Might this conflict with the mega-law firm training of their new hires? It might open the door for new hires from smaller firms who may in time go solo or form small partnerships, which may be more fun that the mega-law firm.

  3. A.J. Sutter says:

    There are many careers where legal knowledge is useful. A masters in law might be a great way for someone to get a leg up in a job search in the corporate world, without practicing law. Indeed, this is how legal education works in many parts of the world, where it’s an undergraduate subject. The vast majority of my students will never take the Japanese bar exam, but graduation from the law section is favored by employers for many sorts of positions.

    Some people might be inclined to get a masters instead of a JD, but this is probably a healthy thing — for them. I could see that law schools would prefer their current tying arrangement, because it generates two extra years of revenue. As for JD student resentment, this would affect at most two years’ worth of students, who were already 2Ls or 3Ls by the time the masters was introduced at their institution. There might even be a way to give them the option to graduate with a masters, too, if they choose to do so, based on “time served” (and even if they don’t yet have the course distribution that a masters program might specify). I think the benefits of masters degrees outweigh the selfish motives of the institutions and the possibly wounded feelings of a finite cadre of 2Ls and 3Ls, some or most of whom will want to pursue the JD anyway.

  4. twizzlers says:

    Could a student get a master’s and then go elsewhere for a 2-year JD? If so, I think you’d see a lot of students using the new program to get into a better JD school or to test out whether they want to be lawyers.