Access to Law or Access to Lawyers? Master's Programs in the Public Educational Mission of Law Schools
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The general decline in juris doctor (“J.D.”) law school applicants and enrollment over the last decade has coincided with the rise of a new breed of law degree. Whether known as a master of jurisprudence, juris master, master of legal studies, or other names, these graduate degrees all have a target audience in common: adult professionals who neither are nor seek to become practicing attorneys. Inside legal academia and among the practicing bar, these degrees have been accompanied by expressed concerns that they detract from the traditional core public mission of law schools—educating lawyers. This Article argues that non-lawyer master’s programs are not a distraction from the public mission of law schools, nor are they a necessary evil foisted upon legal education by economic trends. Rather, such degrees reflect a paradigm shift that law schools and attorneys should embrace rather than resist: a move away from law being largely accessed primarily through a licensed elite and toward a greater role for autonomy in public engagement with the legal system. The law school function of serving the public goes well beyond training future lawyers or even marshalling them in the advance of access to justice. The expanded legal education vision advocated here includes those functions, but as part of a more encompassing mission. Law schools should aim to ensure access to law rather than simply access to lawyers. This Article then sets forth foundational frameworks for such programs to succeed at their goals, both at the programmatic level and at the course-design level.
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