ILNews

Mastering the law without a J.D.

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Indiana Lawyer Focus

The move by two Indiana law schools to follow a national trend and offer master’s degrees to non-lawyers has many practicing lawyers asking where the graduates of these programs will fit into the legal profession.

Attorneys who know of these degrees are concerned about what specific jobs these graduates will hold and whether these people will overstep by offering legal services. Some fear an influx of new legal professionals will only constrict an already tight job market.

But other attorneys see potential benefits from the programs. Graduates will have a better understanding of the law, making them easier clients to work with, and they could possibly help lawyers by doing the more mundane legal tasks.

Beyond the speculation and questions, the new degree programs have encountered neither broad opposition nor support primarily because most attorneys are unaware of the law schools’ initiatives.
 

dimos-jim-mug Dimos

At the Indiana State Bar Association, the degrees have not caught the attention of many members, but association President Jim Dimos expects that to change as the programs start and the publicity around them grows. He anticipates the ISBA’s Legal Education Conclave, which is scheduled to convene in 2015, as well as the Professional Legal Education, Admission & Development Section will take a closer look at these degrees.

“I think it’s very early in the process for the Indiana State Bar Association to take a position,” Dimos said. “I don’t think we truly know what this looks like yet.”

Declining enrollment

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law and Valparaiso University Law School were the first in Indiana to announce they wanted to offer these legal degrees for non-lawyers. Both schools promote their degrees as being geared toward working professionals who could supplement or advance their careers with a greater understanding of the law.

Valparaiso’s Master of Professional Studies in Law program was scheduled to start in January 2014 at the university’s Hyde Park campus in Chicago. However, according to the law school’s interim dean Ivan Bodensteiner, getting accreditation in Illinois took longer than expected so Valparaiso decided to suspend the program indefinitely. The law school plans to revisit the degree to give an opportunity for Andrea Lyon, the new dean who arrived July 1, to be involved in the launch.

IU McKinney is starting its Master of Jurisprudence program July 7 with 15 students, more than the school had anticipated. They come from a variety of fields, said Deborah McGregor, M.J. program director. Some are students continuing their education while others are working professionals in the industries of health care, education and government.

Students at IU McKinney will pick courses from the J.D. curriculum that they believe will give them the legal knowledge they need in their careers. McGregor said the message that graduates will not be able to practice law permeates the program.

“I feel very confident, at least, that we’re doing our part to make students aware,” McGregor said.

Lyle Hardman, a partner in the South Bend office of Hunt Suedhoff Kalamaros LLP, asked the question that many in the legal community may likely be wondering: “You can get a law degree in three years, so what’s the point of going two years and not getting a law degree?”


hardman-lyle-mug Hardman

Hardman noted a key component of legal education is not included in the master’s curriculum – experiential learning. He said he learned how to practice law on the job. These master’s degree graduates, he continued, will not be getting practical knowledge of the law.

Similar programs have been launched amid the tight legal job market at other law schools, including University of Dayton and Emory, Wake Forest and Seton Hall universities.

Declining enrollment at law schools nationally translates into less revenue, which is impacting more than law classrooms, libraries and professors.

Benjamin Barton, professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville, explained law schools have traditionally been the cash cows for universities, so the drop in the number of students paying for J.D. degrees can ripple through the budgets of all the other schools and departments on campus.

Case in point, The Catholic University of America announced in 2013 it would be slashing operational expenditures by 20 percent as a result of the decline in law school applications.

These master’s degree programs are one piece of a broader effort by law schools to attract more students, Barton said. Other countermeasures include the expansion of the curriculum to teach prelaw courses to undergraduates and the growth of LLM programs for attorneys and, in particular, foreign students.

For some law schools, Barton speculated, the shrinking revenue has been so dramatic that these non-J.D. programs may be the difference between staying open and closing.

Fitting into the profession

After some members of the Indianapolis Bar Association ran across a newspaper ad for the IU McKinney master’s program, the association’s leadership scheduled a meeting with the law school’s then-dean, Gary Roberts.

In particular, the attorneys were apprehensive the individuals with these master’s degrees would either perform more or be asked to do more legal work than they are authorized to do, according to Jeff Abrams, association president.

This is similar to the ISBA’s concern that the graduates of the master’s programs will hold themselves out as providers of legal advice, confusing consumers and getting very close to the unauthorized practice of law. Dimos wondered what entity would oversee these graduates since they will not be regulated by the courts as lawyers are.

“Where, if anywhere, do holders of this degree fit into the profession?” Dimos asked.

Roberts allied the IndyBar members’ fears, Abrams said, by predicting the IU McKinney program would attract only a small number of students, possibly 10 to 20 annually. Also, the former dean assured the attorneys the program was to further educate people who already handle legal issues as a part of their jobs and was not intended to create some kind of hybrid practicing lawyer.

“I think we concluded the program should not be a problem for the Indianapolis Bar Association,” he said.

Abrams also contacted colleagues in Columbus, Ohio, and inquired about a similar degree program at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. Their response echoed Roberts in that they have not seen much impact on their practices despite the program being several years old.

Business and estate attorney Carol Adinamis does not foresee these master’s degree holders as posing any kind of problem for attorneys. Clients seek out lawyers specifically because of the skills and expertise that only practitioners have, she said. In her practice at Adinamis Michael & Saunders, although she has experience as a CPA, she does not tell the accountants she works with how to do their jobs. Rather, she said, she and the accountants work together for the benefit of the clients.

And, she does not believe having more professionals who hold a deeper knowledge of legal matters will harm the profession.

“I think anytime somebody has a better understand of the law,” Adinamis said, “it’s a good thing.”

‘Mind-numbing work’

Both Abrams and Dimos said their respective associations have concerns some of the legal jobs available will start going to individuals with these master’s degrees rather than to holders of J.D. degrees.

However, Ted Waggoner, chair of the ISBA’s Legal Education Conclave, sees the potential for the degree program to actually help attorneys do their jobs better.

He pointed to his practice at Peterson Waggoner & Perkins LLP in Rochester and how some clients ask their attorneys to do work, such as filling out insurance forms, that they could do themselves. Waggoner believes the individuals with the legal master’s degrees could do the routine, mundane business thus freeing the lawyers to do the substantive legal work.

Paul Chadha, adjunct professor for the master of jurisprudence program at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, agreed that these degree holders would fill the role envisioned by Waggoner.

“I could not imagine a single one of my students hanging out a shingle,” Chadha said. “They’re not taught to do that.”

Loyola is a forerunner in the legal degree movement, first offering its M.J. degree in health law in the 1980s. It followed up with concentrations in business law and children’s law in the early 1990s.

Students in the program are typically business professionals who are mid-career and looking to either get into management or make a career change, according to Lindsay Dunbar, program coordinator for the business law online programs and Shelley Dunck, co-director of the business law center. The program, they said, is not for individuals who view the program as a shortcut to practicing law.

Chadha said the M.J. graduates fill jobs that are already available and are better suited to their skills rather than those of an attorney.

As corporate counsel for Accenture in Chicago, he pointed to his company’s jobs postings that included several openings for contract managers. He conceded these positions could be filled by lawyers but, because the managers usually monitor only one contract at a time, he described the work as “routine” and “mind numbing” and being one notch below what a lawyer would want to do.

He also asserted that having a job like a contract manager could be detrimental to a lawyer’s career. Since the responsibilities are so limited, other companies and firms looking for new hires would likely want attorneys who did higher-level work.

Despite the rise of these master’s degrees and the promotion from law schools, Barton, the Tennessee law professor, has doubts the programs will be very successful.

He, too, questioned where the demand is for this type of education and who will benefit from having such knowledge of the law. In addition, he said, these degrees are not cheap. Although some corporations do cover tuition costs for employees who pursue an MBA, Barton is unsure businesses will be willing to pay for M.J. degrees.

Most significant, law schools are entering a very competitive market without a clear message.

“In this segment of the market, law schools will be competing against a lot of other opportunities and law schools are not used to doing that,” Barton said.•

ADVERTISEMENT

  • Useless
    From the perspective of a practicing attorney, it sounds like this masters degree in law for non-attorneys will be useless to anyone who gets it. "However, Ted Waggoner, chair of the ISBA’s Legal Education Conclave, sees the potential for the degree program to actually help attorneys do their jobs better. He pointed to his practice at Peterson Waggoner & Perkins LLP in Rochester and how some clients ask their attorneys to do work, such as filling out insurance forms, that they could do themselves. Waggoner believes the individuals with the legal master’s degrees could do the routine, mundane business thus freeing the lawyers to do the substantive legal work." That is simply insulting to suggest that someone with a masters degree would work in a role that is subpar to even an administrative assistant. Even someone with just a certificate or associate's degree in paralegal studies would be overqualified to sit around helping clients fill out forms. Anyone who has a business background that they think would be enhanced by having a legal background will just go to law school, or get an MBA (which typically includes a business law class that gives a generic, broad overview of legal concepts). No business-savvy person would ever seriously consider this ridiculous master of law for non-lawyers degree. It reeks of desperation. The only people I see getting it are the ones who did not get into law school, who see the degree as something to add to their transcript in hopes of getting into a JD program down the road.
  • solution without a problem
    Lyle Hardman said it well. There is no point to these degrees, and universities should have the dignity not to act like product-peddlers offering useless certificates.

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. State Farm is sad and filled with woe Edward Rust is no longer CEO He had knowledge, but wasn’t in the know The Board said it was time for him to go All American Girl starred Margaret Cho The Miami Heat coach is nicknamed Spo I hate to paddle but don’t like to row Edward Rust is no longer CEO The Board said it was time for him to go The word souffler is French for blow I love the rain but dislike the snow Ten tosses for a nickel or a penny a throw State Farm is sad and filled with woe Edward Rust is no longer CEO Bambi’s mom was a fawn who became a doe You can’t line up if you don’t get in a row My car isn’t running, “Give me a tow” He had knowledge but wasn’t in the know The Board said it was time for him to go Plant a seed and water it to make it grow Phases of the tide are ebb and flow If you head isn’t hairy you don’t have a fro You can buff your bald head to make it glow State Farm is sad and filled with woe Edward Rust is no longer CEO I like Mike Tyson more than Riddick Bowe A mug of coffee is a cup of joe Call me brother, don’t call me bro When I sing scat I sound like Al Jarreau State Farm is sad and filled with woe The Board said it was time for him to go A former Tigers pitcher was Lerrin LaGrow Ursula Andress was a Bond girl in Dr. No Brian Benben is married to Madeline Stowe Betsy Ross couldn’t knit but she sure could sew He had knowledge but wasn’t in the know Edward Rust is no longer CEO Grand Funk toured with David Allan Coe I said to Shoeless Joe, “Say it ain’t so” Brandon Lee died during the filming of The Crow In 1992 I didn’t vote for Ross Perot State Farm is sad and filled with woe The Board said it was time for him to go A hare is fast and a tortoise is slow The overhead compartment is for luggage to stow Beware from above but look out below I’m gaining momentum, I’ve got big mo He had knowledge but wasn’t in the know Edward Rust is no longer CEO I’ve travelled far but have miles to go My insurance company thinks I’m their ho I’m not their friend but I am their foe Robin Hood had arrows, a quiver and a bow State Farm has a lame duck CEO He had knowledge, but wasn’t in the know The Board said it was time for him to go State Farm is sad and filled with woe

  2. The ADA acts as a tax upon all for the benefit of a few. And, most importantly, the many have no individual say in whether they pay the tax. Those with handicaps suffered in military service should get a pass, but those who are handicapped by accident or birth do NOT deserve that pass. The drivel about "equal access" is spurious because the handicapped HAVE equal access, they just can't effectively use it. That is their problem, not society's. The burden to remediate should be that of those who seek the benefit of some social, constructional, or dimensional change, NOT society generally. Everybody wants to socialize the costs and concentrate the benefits of government intrusion so that they benefit and largely avoid the costs. This simply maintains the constant push to the slop trough, and explains, in part, why the nation is 20 trillion dollars in the hole.

  3. Hey 2 psychs is never enough, since it is statistically unlikely that three will ever agree on anything! New study admits this pseudo science is about as scientifically valid as astrology ... done by via fortune cookie ....John Ioannidis, professor of health research and policy at Stanford University, said the study was impressive and that its results had been eagerly awaited by the scientific community. “Sadly, the picture it paints - a 64% failure rate even among papers published in the best journals in the field - is not very nice about the current status of psychological science in general, and for fields like social psychology it is just devastating,” he said. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/aug/27/study-delivers-bleak-verdict-on-validity-of-psychology-experiment-results

  4. Indianapolis Bar Association President John Trimble and I are on the same page, but it is a very large page with plenty of room for others to join us. As my final Res Gestae article will express in more detail in a few days, the Great Recession hastened a fundamental and permanent sea change for the global legal service profession. Every state bar is facing the same existential questions that thrust the medical profession into national healthcare reform debates. The bench, bar, and law schools must comprehensively reconsider how we define the practice of law and what it means to access justice. If the three principals of the legal service profession do not recast the vision of their roles and responsibilities soon, the marketplace will dictate those roles and responsibilities without regard for the public interests that the legal profession professes to serve.

  5. I have met some highly placed bureaucrats who vehemently disagree, Mr. Smith. This is not your father's time in America. Some ideas are just too politically incorrect too allow spoken, says those who watch over us for the good of their concept of order.

ADVERTISEMENT