Search the Lounge


« Originalism, the Colorblind Constitution, and Some Preliminary Thoughts on Where the Debate Should Go From Here | Main | Occam's BDS Razor »

June 05, 2017


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Howard Wasserman

A number of schools having been doing this for several years, calling it a Juris Master.

Doug Richmond

There is no shortage of qualified neutrals now, and an MSL focusing on dispute resolution will not contribute anything to the ADR field. While an MSL may have value to law schools, it has at best extraordinarily limited value to working professionals.


Nothing new here. One NYC area school tried this years ago and it failed. If you are going to bother doing this, why not go the extra distance and be able to call yourself a lawyer.

Paul Horwitz

It seems to me that one can and perhaps ask not only "Is this the future of legal education?," but also "WHY is this the future of legal education?" and even "Ought it be the future of legal education?" And it seems impossible to me to answer either of those questions without considering, fairly clinically and without worrying about the reaction, the incentives that might make it the future of legal education and asking whether such programs are purpose-driven or just driven by financial need.

Law schools have a large physical plant that's not going anywhere and whose upkeep must be paid for every year, and a given number of salaried professors and staff to be kept occupied, as well as access to low-cost adjunct instructors. They also face, on the whole and subject to ups and downs, declining enrollment. If they can't find a large enough number of people willing to go to law school for three years to fill the classrooms, or who can't pay full freight to do so (and are being given scholarship money in some or many cases), then it is obviously attractive to them if a bunch of employers might be willing to pay (and pay well) for a year of compliance training, or healthcare classes, or what have you, and thus bring in income and make use of the school's fixed and costly resources--without worrying about scholarships, rankings, ABA requirements, or (to some extent) outcomes. If some individuals can be convinced to pay to attend in the hope that it will lead to a job or a promotion, so much the better.

I don't doubt that compliance is a growing field for more than lawyers themselves, and that there are reasons to teach it. I am neutral on whether it is a good or bad thing. I'm agnostic but charitable on the sincerity of the people advocating for it, since they may be sincere even if the people okaying the decision to start such a program are not, or everyone may be sincere without being fully aware of the incentives pushing them toward that position. But we ought to ask these questions. Just because a law school can succeed at filling seats with such a program, and might survive any downturns in law school enrollment itself as a result, that does not mean it ought to do it. The school may lack experts who can teach it well, or it might be located in a place where the job opportunities in the area are too rare, or it might be tempted to make unduly optimistic promises in marketing these programs, as opposed to warning them up and down to be sure before enrolling for such a program. Or we might just believe that law schools have a specific mission--something like, "training lawyers"--and that such programs, however useful in maintaining the existence of law schools, are irrelevant to or distracting from that mission.

I don't take your post to be advocating for this future, and you do note the role of flat enrollments. I just think a lot more needs to be said about why law schools might be turning in this direction, and there needs to be a lot more sober second thought and a lot less entrepreneurial excitement, happy talk, and puffery about compliance being the future of American employment, or about the value of such programs to individual employees and companies, or what have you. The incentives being what they are, once it becomes a possible future, quickly enough various optimists (and opportunists) will loudly and confidently insist that it is a *necessary* future, and a *bright* future--even if it's not, or even if it only makes sense for some schools in some places, or even if it takes away from law schools' fundamental mission.

Deep State Special Legal Counsel

Law of Homeland Security? That gave me pause. What happened to the good 'ole Fourth Amendment? You remember that one? Unreasonable Searches and Seizures? Hello???? Am I missing something. Oh, yes, it was abolished. Sorry, I forgot.

Derek Tokaz

I'm a fan of the non-JD grad programs, especially given how much law schools like to advertise that "you can do anything with a law degree." If students are interested in careers in the JD Advantage or Other Professional jobs, they should have educational opportunities where the curriculum (and price!) match that goal.

The real losers in this situation are likely to be the middling JD graduates who strike out in the legal market and have to compete for the JDA/OP jobs. An employer looking for a compliance officer can choose a JD with 3 credit hours on compliance (mostly theoretical discussions) and who comes with a presumption that they struck out on their preferred career path and may jump ship once an opportunity opens up, or you've got an MSL with 12-18 credit hours in compliance (some theoretical, but a lot of practical education also) and who comes with the presumption that compliance is exactly what he wants to do. Hopefully this could be solved by steering students away from JD programs and into the MSL rather than piling MSL grads on top of however many JDs a school can manage to seat.

Bobby Ahdieh

As always, Paul is right - in this case, about the need to ask the normative question of whether law schools should (or should not) be in the business of offering master's degree programs for non-lawyers. I could not agree more that the test should not be simply can we, but ought we.

That said, I believe the answer is yes in many cases, even without the excess of optimism, volume, confidence, or even opportunism that he (again, rightly) is concerned with.

For me, that conclusion turns on the combination of three (interrelated) factors: the ever-growing complexity of our social, economic, and political life; the continuing advance of globalization (recent hiccups notwithstanding), and the (empirically sound, I believe) expectation that the degree of regulatory overhang will continue to grow over time, across various important sectors of our economy.

At the intersection of those phenomena - each of which can be debated, of course - I think what law schools have the potential to offer will be in increasing demand. More specifically, a growing universe of professionals will be more effective in what they do, with the benefit of both (a) more knowledge of law and regulation, and (b) a more developed capacity for the complex problem-solving that one might think of as the core of what we mean by "thinking like a lawyer". And for that purpose, of course, a master's degree program is more on the mark than a three-year JD.

Doug Richmond

I am not sure how or why the growing complexity of our social, economic and political life and the continuing advance of globalization support the development of MSL programs. Knowledge of the law at a level provided by MSL study isn't necessary either way. Plenty of people function in highly complex organizations and industries, and function at a high level in global organizations, armed with MBAs (a far more useful degree in most contexts than an MSL) or less. I don't view MSL programs as naked money grabs (though they have obvious financial benefits for the schools offering them) because I think the people developing them believe they have value for the theoretical reasons stated in Prof. Ahdieh's post. As someone who works in a complex global organization in a highly regulated industry, I simply don't think that most law professors' views along these lines match up with reality. As for the need for legal knowledge in our "social" and "political" lives, it surely might be an asset for some people, but MSL programs aren't a means for providing it.

Paul Horwitz

I thank the commenters for the interesting comments (and I include here Dan Rodriguez and his post on FB along with the comments there). I hope I made clear in my own comment that I am not assuming the worst and can see the arguments for (and against) such programs. I don't know where my own school is on this issue--I think we have a substantial online tax LL.M. but I don't think we've yet gone the one-year certificate route, but I could be behind the times), but I also don't mean to sound as if I'm outside the fray.

I do have definite concerns. But they go less to some kind of binary always/never point than to making sure in given cases that it's actually a good and useful idea and one that won't cost rather than benefit the people who enroll, recognizing that because it's a good idea in some cases and some schools that doesn't mean all of them should do it, and making sure we are thoughtful rather than cheerleading for it. I have no generalized suspicion of deans and administrators--some of my best friends are deans and administrators!--but I appreciate that some of their incentives may differ from those of other stakeholders of the law school. Faculty, many of whom may have nothing to do with these programs if they are taught largely by adjuncts and run by an administrative dean, certainly have an obligation to think about these issues and make sure their school is doing the right thing rather than paying little or no attention.


I might be wrong but it seems that a number of schools have tried these in the past without much success, and I think part of the problem is that most people who could benefit by a program like this do not need a year of law school, which is usually how they are pitched. Take a Human Resources person, most would greatly benefit by a law class but few would need a whole semester of Employment Law or Employment Discrimination, and my sense is the same for a Compliance person. It might work better if the programs were designed specifically for the participants but I suspect the numbers will be too low to justify specialized courses, and there are legal courses taught in undergrad institutions, business schools and elsewhere. There might be a market for a compact course like the Exec MBA that would lead to some degree, but those programs actually lead to an MBA not half an MBA so they are not exactly comparable. I have also always thought that law schools might be able to market their Professors better to industry, essentially the equivalent of CLE courses but designed for non-lawyers.



Do you actually think that "industry" (i.e., big business, or small business for that matter) would benefit from anything a law professor might say?

In times past, some law professors knew something about the world outside academia based on experience practicing law. These days, after a couple of years in a BigLaw firm doing the lowest level possible of quasi legal work, not so much., Sad to say, but I think that proposal to market such a person, perhaps with a PhD in the "intersection between the law and basket weaving" or some other risible contrivance of the new academia, would be met with derision by the business community (in general, exceptions, of course, notwithstanding).

Ask the students how much THEY believe they learn from law professors that is relevant to the world of practicing law. There is zero possibility, IMHO, that any effort by "law schools ... to market their Professors ... to industry" would be even marginally more successful.

Folks, it is discussions like this that got legal academia in the hole it is in. A not insignificant number of law schools can't even educate their students to pass the bar in sufficient numbers! But, too many professors at these law schools, instead of recognizing their failures, stubbornly love to flatter themselves, and believe that legal academia has something to sell to a new group of suckers.


Deep State Special Legal Counsel

anon at 11:05

Newly admitted law students are not suckers. They are mostly hopeful and idealistic, like many of us 30 years ago.

The issue today is simple. Jobs. The legal market is over saturated. The problem is that gub'mint is now being drowned in that proverbial "bathtub." It does not have the revenue it needs to function effectively and hire attorneys. Prosecutor and public defender offices are under staffed and other agencies are eliminating attorney positions. Look at the data. Law schools graduate roughly 50K students yearly. How many attorneys pass away or retire every year? 25K? What is the natural employment churn of government agencies across the nation each year? Another 20K attorneys?

The key is to get governments to start hiring to meet the needs of the community.

Law Professors, law school administrators are my colleagues. Our common enemy is "dead hand" of 1983 Ronald Reagan and his "kill the beast" coming to bite us in 2017.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • StatCounter
Blog powered by Typepad