Law School For Non-Lawyers Rests On Knife’s Edge Between ‘Good Idea’ And ‘Cynical Cash Grab’

Law School For Non-Lawyers Rests On Knife’s Edge Between ‘Good Idea’ And ‘Cynical Cash Grab’You’d think law schools had enough money based on sky high tuition and comfy endowments, but law schools are addicted to capital projects the way professors are addicted to random “Law and…” classes for 3Ls. There will never be enough revenue streams to satisfy the legal academy beast, and if schools can feed the cash maw without hefting more debt on law students, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

This new program raised some social media eyebrows this week:

WashU is offering a “Master of Legal Studies” based on one year and 24 credits of coursework. Get all the fun of cramming for law school with none of the JD!

Most of the online sentiment came down against the program, but honestly I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, legal and legal adjacent tasks are increasingly performed by non-lawyers. The human resources department in a modern corporation makes legal calls constantly. Contract administrators aren’t generally lawyers and they handle the day-to-day enforcement of the legal agreements forming the lifeblood of companies (and, in a lot of companies, they’re transforming into functional deputy GCs). And if more jurisdictions move ahead with limited licensed paralegal practitioner programs to address the poor to middle class access to justice gap in critical practice areas like Family Law, law schools have the resources to best train those practitioners.

On the other hand… do they though? If folks are looking for brass tacks legal knowledge to bring back to their non-lawyer profession, are modern doctrinal law school courses really delivering? An HR manager probably gets more directly applicable lessons in discrimination law from watching a CLE than taking a 2L course designed for JD students. Law schools already face withering criticism for not producing “practice ready” graduates — but they’re expected to deliver actionable wisdom for people practicing other professions?

Maybe this works. Maybe this becomes an easy way to get Fortune 500 companies to foot the bill for compliance departments to take some time off to be students. Maybe these folks don’t care what comes of it and just want the resume line item to distinguish them in a competitive market.

And to be fair, this isn’t a judgment of WashU one way or the other. Their program might have sparked the discussion, but it feels inevitable that scores of schools will be offering something similar over the coming years. It might be just the thing the market needs… or it could be a boondoggle.

It’s always going to ride that line and law schools going down this road are going to be constantly pressed to keep on the right side of it.

Non-Lawyer Legal Professions [Washington University]

HeadshotJoe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any 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 a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.