Necessity being the mother of invention, law schools have considered how their enrollment is down 15 percent these last two years (according to the American Bar Association,) and come up with the solution that they will start offering master’s degrees. Such programs used to belong only to a few schools like Arizona State, which has an eight-year old Master of Legal Studies program, but now nearly 30 law schools are offering a Juris Master program and are testing the waters on whether this type of degree will float or sink.
Those interested in the advanced degree will not qualify for the bar, but they will gain some legal knowledge that may make them marketable. At this point it is unclear what markets they will fill and how valid the degree will be, so determining a tuition on it is somewhat guesswork – but generally a master’s in law costs the equivalent of a year in a JD program.
“The catalyst has been economic,” said Douglas Sylvester, dean of Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, as reported by law.com. “I would expect that we will see more of this in the future, unless the legal economy improves.”
Having lost about $200 million in tuition these last few years, such programs may or may not bring a boon to law schools. The programs are experimental, but then they could change how law is taught and sold in the U.S.
Frank Wu, dean of the University of California Hastings College of Law, says the degrees mean more than a supplement for lost JDs. He thinks it opens the door for those who want some legal education but don’t want a J.D.
How much a market there is for such students, and what sorts of jobs they will procure, may change the face of law in the U.S. Or, alternatively, it might turn out to be a bad idea that dries up: time will tell.