Law schools are offering undergrad degrees in emerging legal education trend

People walk on an empty University of Southern California in Los Angeles, August 17, 2020. REUTERS / Lucy Nicholson

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  • Three law schools, including USC, to offer a bachelor’s degree in law this fall
  • The University of Arizona’s law school in 2014 was the first to launch a undergraduate degree

(Reuters) – Undergraduate degrees are catching on at US law schools as universities seek new ways to give students a head start on legal careers and help them better understand the role of law in society.

The University of Southern California Gould School of Law said Tuesday that it will offer a Bachelor of Science in legal studies – making it at least the third law school in the country to grant degrees to undergraduate students and the first to do so among US News & World Report’s top 20 highest rated schools.

Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law and Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law have also said they plan to launch undergraduate degree programs this fall.

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These degrees do not enable students to sit for the bar exam and practice law, but they can pave the way to law-adjacent careers in compliance and human resources or prepare students for a Juris Doctor program down the road, the schools said.

Unlike in most other countries, the degree required to practice law in the US is graduate level.

“This is not a law school-lite,” said USC law professor Bob Rasmussen of his school’s program. “This is general knowledge for what you would want a smart, educated person to know about the law.”

The University of Arizona’s law school in 2014 became the first to offer a bachelor’s, and the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School followed suit in 2019.

Arizona currently has 1,600 undergraduates in its in-person and online tracks, according to law dean Marc Miller. Buffalo’s program is only offered in-person and has about 200 students, said vice dean Melinda Saran.

Nova Law expected about 15 undergraduates in its inaugural cohort and 58 have signed up, said director of undergraduate programs Jessica Garcia-Brown.

The programs generally consist of law courses that are more general than JD classes, but are taught by law faculty.

USC’s new program includes seven required core courses in the law plus upper-level courses centered on either public law, private law, general legal studies or the regulatory state. Nova’s program offers concentrations in paralegal studies, law science and technology and health law.

Most students in Buffalo’s program aim to attend law school, though many want to take time off to work first, Saran said. About 40% of Arizona’s undergraduates have enrolled in law school within two years, Miller said, while the majority pursue careers in a wide range of industries.

According to the American Bar Association, 10% of 2021’s law school graduates took “JD advantage” jobs. These are positions that do not require bar passage, but having a law degree may provide job-seekers an edge in landing them.

Kyle McEntee, founder of the advocacy group Law School Transparency, said the undergrad degrees can position students for JD advantage jobs without paying for three years of law school.

“The law is a good way of teaching the reasoning and reading skills that make someone a good professional, period,” McEntee said.

Read more:

Law school grads found more jobs waiting in 2021 after decline

Law school deans say online course work is here to stay

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Karen Sloan

Thomson Reuters

Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at [email protected]

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