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Mastering the law without a J.D.

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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.•

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  • 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.

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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