An American JD in Australia? An American law school wants to go international

A general view of Sydney Harbour, Australia December 22, 2017. Picture taken December 22, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Coates

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  • The University of Arizona School of Law seeks to be the first to offer an overseas accredited JD
  • The American Bar Association must approve the program

(Reuters) – The University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law is seeking to become the first U.S. law school to open a branch campus internationally, offering students a dual degree with an Australian university that will allow them to obtain a license in both countries.

The Tucson school has applied to the American Bar Association for permission to partner with the University of Technology Sydney for the joint three-year degree.

No U.S. school currently offers an ABA-accredited JD in a foreign country, according to William Adams, the ABA’s managing director for accreditation and legal education. The last school to try was turned down by the ABA.

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University of Arizona law dean Marc Miller said the ABA’s endorsement could spur others to consider international expansion.

“Over time, this could be revolutionary,” he said.

Under the proposal, law courses would be taught by Australian professors at the Sydney campus, with the Arizona professors developing the American law elements. Students would also have the option of taking some online courses offered by Arizona Law School, Miller said.

Initially, most students would likely be Australians seeking to practice in the United States, Miller said, but they could take the US bar exams without continuing the in-state education that is usually required. The administrators aim for 10 to 15 students per year.

The ABA’s Legal Education and Bar Admissions Section Council is expected to consider Arizona’s application at its meeting in November. Approving it then would allow the new program to launch in the fall of 2023.

In May, the ABA sent an investigator to Sydney who submitted a report that month. This report does not contain any recommendations, but noted that all interviewees were “very supportive of the program”.

The ABA has not considered accrediting international JD programs since 2012, when it rejected an application from the Peking University School of Transnational Law in Shenzhen, China. The school offers both a Chinese law degree delivered in Mandarin and a Western-style JD in English, although this degree is not recognized by the ABA.

Opponents at the time told the ABA that accrediting law schools outside the United States would force graduates from American schools to face greater competition for jobs. Proponents of the Peking University proposal cited the increasingly global nature of the profession.

Miller said Arizona’s proposal has several key differences from Beijing’s because it is in an English-speaking common law country and involves a “first-tier” partner university.

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Jon J. Epps