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

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  2. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

  3. The story that you have shared is quite interesting and also the information is very helpful. Thanks for sharing the article. For more info: http://www.treasurecoastbailbonds.com/

  4. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  5. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

ADVERTISEMENT