Law School: No Longer for Lawyers Only

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on October 16, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Increasingly, there is talk that law school is not just for those who only want to practice law. It can also be for those who already have established careers and are looking for a shot in the arm. A number of law schools today offer one year programs for those individuals who seek a thorough introduction to the law without having to give up the expense and time of a full three-year degree.

Applicants tend to be from industries which are heavily regulated, where it is thought that a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the law will give them an edge over their peers. But there are detractors too, who bemoan that some schools "rush[] into the business" in order to balance their books.

Increasing Numbers

A 2013 analysis by the Wall Street Journal suggested that enrollment of students in programs that didn't end with a JD increased 13 percent since 2010. These number don't exactly mirror the ABA's characterization that specialization programs have mushroomed in recent years, but at least it confirms a clear trend.

A number of different law schools have set their aim at groups of applicants that the industry would politely call "non-traditional." But these persons are certainly not what you would call a bunch of riff-raff. 

Increasingly, professionals with established careers have signed up for law school programs that reward a master's degree and typically cost about the same as a single year of law school. Notables of the 1-year stay at law school include the UCSF's Robert Lustig, MD, who famously rebuffed the food industry's "[a] calorie is a calorie" slogan; he now holds an Masters in the Study of Law (MSL) from UC Hastings College of Law. Lustig argues that the government cannot be trusted to regulate itself when it comes to regulating toxins in food, and thus the solution is to bring the regulation to the government: "That's where lawyers come in," he says.

"Won't Somebody Please Think of the Applicants!"

Since the programs are relatively new, it's difficult to get a handle on what to call them. Some schools offer the MSL. Others offer the Juris Master (J.M./M.J.). Whatever you want to call them, it doesn't appear that the schools will be giving this up as a revenue stream. However, "It's hard to set the price because we don't yet know the market for a degree like this," said Janice Weis of Lewis & Clark Law School. In other words, it's difficult to know at what price you should be honing your haggling skills.

No surprise, but some deans and other law school administrators are quick to downplay any suggestion that the programs are set up with financial considerations in mind. Dean Robert Shapiro of Emory Law School asserts that his school's MSL program was started in response to strong demand for legal education from students abroad. 

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