Bachelor of Arts… In Law?

Traditional Juris Doctorate legal education has been struggling, that’s no big secret. Many institutions have looked to other types of delivery methods for limited types of non-J.D. legal education to non-lawyers, such as Masters of Jurisprudence or certificates in law.

This fall, the University of Arizona will introduce the nation’s first Bachelor of Arts in Law for undergraduates. Brent T. White, Professor of Law at the University of Arizona, writes in The Case for Undergraduate Law Degrees published recently in The Chronicle of Higher Education that it’s time to break the J.D. law school mold:

The question is not whether nonlawyers will provide legal services; it’s whether they will be well trained. Undergraduate law degrees offer the most cost-effective and broadly accessible way to offer such training.

Because of their broad accessibility, undergraduate law degrees could democratize access to legal education in ways that small master’s programs for students who are not becoming lawyers simply cannot. Undergraduate law degrees might in turn lead to a more-informed social understanding of legal issues, help end lawyers’ near monopoly on legal knowledge, and reduce barriers to citizen participation in the legal system. Equally as important, they might also, in time, lead to the rethinking of some restrictions on the “unauthorized practice of law” and open avenues for those with undergraduate law degrees to provide meaningful access to legal services to underserved communities.

The graduate-only model of legal education imposes huge and often prohibitive costs on people wishing to study law. It’s also costly from a societal perspective, resulting in a shortage of people who are capable of handling complex legal issues.

It’s time to break the mold—and for law schools and universities to begin to think critically about the roles and advantages of undergraduate legal education.