Law school is just an option for Guam | Letters to the Editor

I was interested to read Professor McNinch’s thoughts on the possibility of a law school in Guam. As a law professor residing in Guam, I thought I would make a few observations.

First, more legal practice opportunities could be created in Guam without a law school simply by enacting rules similar to those in some states that allow people to sit for the bar exam based primarily or exclusively from their work experience in law firms or judges’ offices. Such apprenticeships are how people became lawyers anyway; Abraham Lincoln didn’t go to law school because they didn’t exist in his day. This option makes particular sense for Guam, where our law firms and courts are full of talented paralegals and clerks with years of experience, but for whom the disruptions and financial and opportunity costs of going to law school on the continent are too important. This option could be combined with the existing law programs at the University of Guam and Guam Community College to add an additional element of quality control to that provided by the bar exam.

Second, a fundamental question for a UOG law school would be whether it is ABA accredited or not. Earning an ABA degree allows you to take the bar exam in any U.S. jurisdiction, but becoming an American Bar Association-accredited school involves meeting a variety of onerous faculty and of facilities. Would the UOG be up to it? Not being accredited by the ABA is also an option, but that would likely mean that graduates would only be eligible to serve on the Guam bar. How many people are likely to want to enroll in a three-year degree program that offers such limited options?

Third, its location provides Guam with a real opportunity in the area of ​​legal education. Most major US law schools offer a one-year master’s degree to lawyers and law graduates from other countries. Some states (New York and California, for example) allow graduates of these programs to call the bar, although few stay after qualification due to visa requirements – most simply want the qualification. It has long been a popular route to becoming a lawyer in Asian jurisdictions such as Japan, Taiwan and Korea, where the number of people able to pass the bar is artificially limited by government intervention. Nearly two decades ago, I proposed to my colleagues in the Guam Bar and the Guam judiciary that Guam adopt a similar rule that would make the bar more diverse and attract more visitors on planes to Guam, but this did not arouse any interest. Perhaps if UOG had a law school, this option could be reconsidered.

Fourth, the Guam location also provides the opportunity to offer specialization. For example, it would be easy to fly in scholars and practitioners from neighboring countries to deliver courses on the law of those jurisdictions. Guam’s diverse community would certainly benefit from more lawyers familiar with the legal systems of Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines. Likewise, data privacy is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the practice of law globally, but it is an area where the United States lags behind the rest of the world. The ABA only recently approved a process by which lawyers can become certified as privacy specialists. Offering the courses and the opportunity to be certified in Guam would also make a UOG law school an attractive destination not only for locals, but also for professionals already working in the region.

Finally, UOG may not need to do it alone. Many law schools on the continent are very entrepreneurial and would be interested in a program that brings them closer to prospective students in Asia (I know this because I have had discussions with various US law schools about this). A partnership with the right mainland school could also be used to develop favorable terms for Guam residents who wish to earn their JD there, perhaps on a shortened schedule and/or reduced tuition.


Colin Jones resides in Tamuning and is a member of the Guam Bar and is also admitted in New York and Palau. He is a professor at the Doshisha Law School in Kyoto, where he teaches Anglo-American and Japanese law.

Jon J. Epps