Increasing Diversity by a New Master's Degree in Legal Principles
Students who leave their JD program before graduation leave empty handed, without an additional degree or other credential indicating that their law school studies had any professional, educational, or marketable value. The absence of such a credential combines with the substantial risks and costs associated with law school education to discourage risk averse students from applying. The adverse impacts of these risks may be especially great for lower income students who have fewer financial resources to draw on and less information about their fit with legal education and the legal profession. I propose that law schools award a master’s degree to students who successfully complete the 1L curriculum but leave before completing the full JD curriculum. My suggested name for this degree is Master of Legal Principles (MLP). This degree option will lower the risks associated with law school enrollment as well as provide a valuable and largely-standardized employment credential. Using detailed educational data from the National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG), I show that the lack of field-specific training provided by undergraduate majors impedes learning about the likely fit of potential students with the law school curriculum and the legal profession. Using labor market data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network (O*NET), I document a wide range of occupations for which the MLP degree would be appropriate, in that these occupations draw on legal knowledge but do not require a JD degree. Without the debt associated with the full JD curriculum, those with the MLP will be positioned to provide limited legal services at a lower cost, thus increasing access to justice. The expanded degree offering of an MLP degree also will benefit law schools by attracting more, and more diverse, applicants.