Developing a Master of Science in Law
It is well known that the legal profession has historically resisted new technologies (see “Selling Innovation to Law Firms”). Recently, however, there are signs that such reticence is diminishing, whether witnessed through the abundance of new legal startups or by law firms leveraging technologies that promise to lower costs and increase quality. Legal education is no different and has recently begun to respond to the market opportunities available at the intersection of law, technology, and business. This spring, Northwestern University graduated its first class of students in a new Master of Science in Law (M.S.L.) program. The 2014–2015 cohort had 30 students, with enrollment set to increase by nearly 50 percent for the 2015–2016 academic year. The one-year master’s program, designed for students with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) backgrounds, is geared toward individuals who want to work in industries where expertise on the legal side of entrepreneurship and business is critical.
M.S.L. students do not attend J.D. classes. Rather, they have a curriculum specifically tailored to their needs, including required courses in legal fundamentals like contracts and patents as well as electives in interdisciplinary areas such as entrepreneurship. The M.S.L. program has three areas of concentration: patent/intellectual property, business law and entrepreneurship, and regulatory analysis and strategy. Despite not being enrolled in J.D. courses, Leslie Oster, a clinical professor of law and director of the program, nevertheless notes that M.S.L. students are well integrated into law school life, including serving as technical advisors to the Law Review. In a statement on the launching of the program, Daniel Rodriguez, the dean of Northwestern School of Law, said, “In an increasingly interconnected world, where law and regulation is profoundly important, top law schools cannot think of legal training as solely for lawyers. This program illustrates the law school’s ambitious effort to address a growing industry need to build meaningful, practical bridges across the fields of law, business, and technology.” It remains to be seen exactly where M.S.L. students end up—and how much their degree impacts career choices and trajectories—but Oster predicts that their knowledge of the legal system, combined with their STEM skills, will provide graduates with attractive options.
Law school to refund tuition
Over the past three years, Brooklyn Law School has implemented a number of high-profile—and sometimes controversial—structural changes in an effort to deal with the rising costs of legal education. In 2013 the school created a two-year J.D. program, the first in the New York area. The next year, it announced a 15 percent reduction of its tuition. This trend continued this July, when the school revealed the creation of a new program called Bridge to Success. The program will refund graduates up to 15 percent of the total tuition paid, including the value of any loans taken out, if they are still looking for a job nine months after graduation. To be eligible for the program, students must be actively working with the school’s career services center as well as planning to take the bar exam (they do not have to pass it to be eligible). Brooklyn Law estimates that around 10 percent of its approximately 1,100 students will use the refund program (according to its numbers, about 90 percent of students find placement within nine months of graduation).
Half of all lawyers in America earn a salary less than $62,000 a year, compared against tuitions that are typically more than $100,000.
While Bridge to Success is unique to Brooklyn Law, it simply represents the most recent attempt to deal with long-standing and ongoing concerns over the value of law school and the related educational debt. According to the National Association for Law Placement, in 2013, 13 percent of U.S. law graduates were still searching for jobs nine months after graduation (and many who were employed took jobs that did not required a J.D.). Moreover, half of all lawyers in America earn a salary less than $62,000 a year, compared against tuitions that are typically more than $100,000. Placed up against these numbers, Brooklyn Law’s latest innovation—the efficacy of which remains to be seen—is the latest in a series of attempts to address the skyrocketing costs of legal education.