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Non-J.D. Program Enrollment Is Way up in Law Schools

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on February 09, 2016 12:59 PM

According to Prof. Derek Muller of Pepperdine University's School of Law, 10 percent of law school enrollment is in one of the variety of non-J.D. programs. For non-lawyer types, this means that 1 in 10 students in law school have no intent to eventually become a lawyer.

There has been a very steady increase in the number of students attending law school in the non-J.D. programs. What should we make of all of this?

What to Make of It?

Perhaps we're overstating the numbers just a tad. It's easy to get lulled into thinking that the rising numbers mostly include those seeking the law school equivalent of a degree in basket-weaving, but that might be incorrect. The non-J.D. numbers also reflect the enrollment of students who are looking to obtain the much ballyhooed L.L.M., essentially the Ph.D. equivalent of law school education conferring recognition of expertise in a particular area of law, like health care or tax.

To be sure, there is a time and place for an expert's opinion in a complex area like federal tax. However in the past, there has been rather muted enthusiasm for the L.L.M.'s return of extra investment of time and money -- hence the bad joke, "Lawyers Losing Money."

Non-J.D. programs are not only tailored for those students who have no intent of earning a J.D., but who've already earned a J.D. Lawyer have been known to move into another area of professional work only to return to law school later for a fresh update in current law. Dr. Robert Lustig of "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" fame obtained his Masters in Study of Law in his 50s. He was doing quite well as a professor of pediatric endocrinology at UCSF, but was motivate to earn his non-J.D. MSL to learn about possible channels to change policy, and to loosen what he sees as a perverse grip the food industry has on Washington politicians.

The Jury Is Still Out

It's difficult to say what this dramatic trend portends for law schools or for those students who are earning a non-J.D. just for kicks. There is still little solid statistical data that can show whether the non-J.D. is anything more than an opportunity for law schools to plug up massive enrollment drop-offs. We certainly hope it isn't just that.

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