Law school for non-lawyers sits on the razor’s edge between ‘good idea’ and ‘cynical cash grab’

You’d think law schools had enough money from sky-high tuition and comfortable endowments, but law schools are addicted to capital projects the way professors are addicted to random “Law and… » for the 3L. There will never be enough revenue streams to satisfy the beast of the law academy, and if schools can feed the money maw without adding to law student debt, that may not be not such a bad thing.

This new show raised a few eyebrows on social media this week:

WashU offers a “Master in Legal Studiesbased on one year and 24 course credits. Get all the cramming fun for law school without the JD!

Most feelings online were against the program, but honestly, I have mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand, legal and related legal tasks are increasingly performed by non-lawyers. The human resources department of a modern company constantly makes legal calls. Contract administrators are typically not lawyers, and they deal with the day-to-day enforcement of legal agreements that are the lifeblood of businesses (and, in many companies, they turn into functional assistant GCs). What if more jurisdictions go ahead with limited licensed paralegal programs To bridge the gap between the poor and the middle class in access to justice in critical practice areas like family law, law schools have the resources to train these practitioners in the best possible way.

On the other hand… do they think so? If people are looking for brass legal knowledge to bring back to their non-lawyer profession, are modern doctrinal law courses really effective? An HR manager likely gets more directly applicable lessons in discrimination law from watching a CLE than from taking a 2L course designed for JD students. Law schools already come under scathing criticism for not producing “practice-ready” graduates – but are they expected to offer actionable wisdom to people in other professions?

Maybe it works. Maybe it becomes an easy way to get Fortune 500 companies to foot the bill for compliance departments taking a little time to be students. Maybe these people don’t care what comes of it and just want the resume line item to set them apart in a competitive market.

And to be fair, that’s not WashU’s judgment one way or the other. Their program may have sparked discussion, but it seems inevitable that dozens of schools will come up with something similar over the next few years. This may be exactly what the market needs…or it could be a mess.

It’s always going to toe that line, and law schools that go that route are going to be constantly pressured to stay on the safe side.

Non-lawyer legal professions [Washington University]

Head shotJoe Patrice is an editor at Above the Law and co-host of Think like a lawyer. Feel free to email tips, questions or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.

Jon J. Epps