A new master's degree to be offered for the first time this fall by the University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law aims to teach non-lawyers to "think like a lawyer," says UA law professor Brent White.
The Master's in Legal Studies degree is designed for people who work in, or intend to work in, a profession in which some legal knowledge would be helpful but a law degree is not required.
The UA joins an increasing number of law schools across the country that have added legal studies degree programs in recent years, said White, the college's associate dean for programs and global initiatives, who will oversee the new program.
"It's a quite a recent phenomenon in the last three or four years," he said.
"We've often promoted legal education by telling students they should get a J.D. even if they don't want to be a lawyer, because there are lots of things you can do with a J.D. other than practice law," he said. "This program gives individuals a less expensive option to get the training that will allow them to do law-related work that doesn't require a J.D."
The UA's degree is highly customizable; students may pursue the general degree or they can opt to complete the degree with a specialized certificate in one of seven concentrations: legal compliance and legal risk management; mining law and policy; environmental law and policy; tax law and policy; international trade and business law; criminal law and policy; or family law.
Mining law and policy is a new focus area for the UA College of Law, which will partner with the UA's Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources to offer classes on the topic.
"We're particularly excited about this effort because it is grounded in the UA's deep expertise in mining," White said. "We have a large number of faculty across campus who conduct research related to mining, so this program builds on the interdisciplinary expertise of the University."
The Certificate in Legal Compliance and Legal Risk Management also is unique.
"Increasingly – in corporations, within government, within schools – compliance with the law is a full-time job," White said. "Many people work in the area of legal compliance and most of them aren't lawyers, so the idea is to provide training for those who either already do legal compliance work or wish to pursue careers in legal compliance."
Students also can choose to design their own individualized program of study to suit their specific professional needs, White said. Every student will be required to take two foundational courses – Introduction to Legal Decision Making and Legal Research – while the remainder of their coursework can be tailored for them.
Those who complete the general degree without a specialization will gain a basic understanding of law and how the legal system works, taking classes in subjects like torts, contracts, constitutional law, property law, criminal procedures and civil procedures.
"They will basically learn the things that law students learn in their first year, and that is the year where students learn to think like a lawyer," White said.
The degree has two main target populations: working professionals who could benefit from some formal legal training or who wish to transition to a new job that requires legal knowledge, and recent college graduates who are looking for legal training to help them secure a job in their desired field, White said.
Some professionals who might benefit from formal legal training include auditors, court clerks, financial advisers, immigration officers, lobbyists, law librarians and real estate brokers, among others, White said
The 30-credit degree is competitively priced at $18,000, regardless of students' residential status, and can be completed in as little as one year by a full-time student or up to four years by someone taking classes part-time.
Those interested in pursuing a Master's in Legal Studies degree can get more information on the College of Law website.
"Law is pervasive in the society around us, and in many professions people deal with the law and could benefit from some additional law training," White said. "Outside of getting a J.D. there are few avenues for people to get that type of training, and we want to address that demand."