Posted May 20, 2013 02:00 pm CDT
Updated: As the legal job market has contracted and law school enrollment has declined, law school administrators are focusing their marketing efforts beyond the traditional pool of applicants who want to earn a juris doctor degree and practice law after three years of study.
Instead, they looking to mid-career professionals who have no intention of practicing law—and existing attorneys who want to develop specialized expertise–as potential students in legal master’s degree programs that are typically equivalent in cost to one year of law school, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. They are also enhancing legal master’s degree programs for foreign students (who may then be able to gain admission to some state bars if they are graduates of foreign law schools).
The newspaper, using American Bar Association data, says enrollment in such programs has increased by 13 percent since 2010.
Some 30 law schools are now either offering degree programs for nonlawyers or will soon do so, compared to only a handful just a few years ago, the National Law Journal reports.
Mid-career professionals in a number of fields may find a better understanding of related law helpful to their career trajectory. For example, “many lawyers work in human resources, but you don’t have to have a JD,” said dean Frank Wu of of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. “It’s the same thing with compliance officers in banks and hospitals. There are all these jobs in law—criminal justice jobs, law firm management jobs, consultants—where a JD makes no sense but some legal training is useful.”
Among those who saw a benefit is Dr. Benjamin Goldman, an obstetrician and gynecologist at North Shore University Hospital in New York. He graduated over the weekend from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where he obtained an online degree in health law, the Wall Street Journal reports.
“I thought it would be smart to learn about health law, not just for my day-to-day practice but to help me perhaps get involved some administrative role,” he told the newspaper.
Similarly, Betsy Hames, who works as a supervisor in Emory University’s human resources department, was ready to sign on the dotted line when she learned the university was launching a master’s degree program for non-lawyers, the NLJ reports.
“Law school helps you to look at things from a different side,” said Hames, who is one of 40 students in the program’s inaugural class. “It’s not easy. But already I’ve noticed that conversations with the university’s general counsel about contracts make so much more sense.”
ABAJournal.com: “Fiscal Calamity Ahead for Some Law Schools? Applicants for 2013 Drop 22% in ‘Free Fall’ “
ABAJournal.com: “Enrollment in Non-J.D. Programs at U.S. Law Schools Is Up, Figures Show”
Updated at 9:15 a.m. to include additional information from the National Law Journal.