Alternative Non-JD Programming for Law Schools

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Student enrollment in Juris Doctor (JD) degrees has been decreasing in recent years, a trend which does not come as a surprise amidst reports of burdensome student loan debt and an increasingly tight job market for new lawyers. The American Bar Association (ABA) released findings from a survey of ABA‐accredited law schools that found that the number of firstyear law students enrolled in JD programs decreased by eight percent between 2005 and 2012; however, student enrollment in non‐JD programs increased by 39 percent during the same period. Figures from the ABA state that 7,976 students were enrolled in non‐JD programs in 2005. By 2012, the number of non‐JD students had risen dramatically to 11,067. Thus, there remains significant demand for legal studies options, but recent program expansion can be attributed to non‐JD enrollment growth rather than enrollment increases in traditional JD programs.

The ABA notes that the expansion of LLM and other non‐JD offerings appeals to law schools because students typically take classes which are already offered for JD students, and merely fill what would otherwise be empty seats. In other words, non‐JD students typically pose no additional administrative burden for an institution. Additionally, many LLM programs draw in international tuition fee rates—a fact that only strengthens the case for expanding non‐JD offerings.

This report explores the present market for non‐JD programs. To guide this evaluation, our analysis relies on the ABA’s definition of post‐JD and non‐JD degrees. The ABA identifies three categories of non‐JD graduate law degrees, as follows:

  • Academic masters degrees for nonlawyers, including:
    • M.S. Master of Science or Master of Studies
    • M.P.S. Master of Professional Studies
  • PostJ.D. law degrees for practicing lawyers and/or foreign lawyers seeking to practice in the US, including:
    • LL.M. Master of Laws
    • J.M. Juris Master
    • M.C.L. Master of Comparative Law
    • M.J. Master of Jurisprudence
  • Research and academicbased doctoratelevel degrees, including:
    • J.S.D. Doctor of Jurisprudence
    • S.J.D. Doctor of Judicial Science
    • D.C.L. Doctor of Comparative Law

This report consists of four main sections. The first section of the report provides a broad overview of recent degree completion trends in non‐JD fields at the undergraduate, graduate, and certificate levels. The second section of this report comprehensively reviews LLM degrees and available specializations, using information provided by the Law School Admission Council. In the third section we review the other non‐JD degree categories identified by the ABA and provide examples of degrees offered where possible. Finally, we examine study abroad opportunities for law students, highlighting those which allow students to study in China.

Below, we summarize the key findings of our research.

Key Findings

  • LLM program enrollments nationwide have been consistently growing. International Law represents one of the largest, fastest‐growing, and most frequently offered legal fields at the master’s level. Other popular degree options include general studies, intellectual property law, programs for foreign lawyers, business law, and taxation.
  • Law schools increasingly offer flexible delivery formats for LLM degrees. Nontraditional delivery formats for LLM degrees identified in this analysis include several online programs, summer/accelerated programs, and executive LLMs. Law schools also offer the option for increased specialization through optional certification to be obtained concurrently with the course of study.
  • In addition to the LLM, several master’s degrees target nonlawyers and professionals seeking specialized legal knowledge. The most common professional master’s degrees for nonlawyers include the Master of Science (typically two years in length) and the Master of Studies (typically one year in length). Other professional degree options include: Master of Professional Studies, Juris Master, and Master of Jurisprudence.
  • Non‐JD doctoral degrees represent a relatively small portion of legal degree conferrals. According to the ABA’s post‐JD and non‐JD program guide, law schools offer the SJD degree more frequently than the JSD degree. The majority of these programs are offered as general research tracks or “as approved” courses of study.
  • The National Jurist identifies 219 study abroad programs offered by US law schools, 19 of which are in China. In fact, China represents the second most popular country for study abroad programs after England (25 programs). Overall, Southern Europe, the United Kingdom, Northern Europe, and Asia seem to be the most popular study abroad locations for US law school programs.

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