Unlike Elie Mystal, I can’t find it in myself to condemn the new strategy by law schools: offer a one-year “master of law” to those who have completed undergrad and spend a year in law school. Mystal complains that it’s a useless degree, that no one needs it, schools can’t figure out what to charge, and that it’s just another way to make money.
Au contraire. Anyone who thinks that a law degree is useful, but does not want to be a lawyer, could benefit from this. Schools aren’t doing a typical 1L curriculum; rather, it’s things like environmental and natural resources law. If you were a professional in the natural resources field, think that a legal background would help you, but don’t want to pay $70,000 per year for a three-year JD, then why not fork over for one year of law that is focused on what you care about?
Dirty little secret: most lawyers do not need the vast majority of what they learn in law school. They need it to be eligible for the bar exam, and to pass the test once they take it, but an in-house lawyer at a tech company really doesn’t need to know the nuances of mens rea in homicide cases. The people who want a JD, but do not want to be lawyers, need even less of the education. In fact, they might need one year of highly focused education that is tailored to their own professions.
Non-lawyers can already practise in front of the USPTO; some of them may find value in taking a few patent law and intellectual property classes. Compliance officers (named by Mystal as a group not in need of anything but a JD) could take a few courses in administrative law and law related to whatever the heck they are doing compliance for (e.g. medical devices, home loans, etc.). Accountants and financial planners can take tax law and wills, trusts, and estates. It doesn’t make them qualified to draft a will, but it will help them to give a seamless, straightforward experience to their clients. We don’t need to churn out 50,000 JDs every year, but we do need more people with an understanding of how the legal system works with their own professional area.