Paul L. Caron

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Case for Undergraduate Law Degrees

Following up on my previous post, Arizona Launches Nation's First B.A. in Law:  Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed:  The Case for Undergraduate Law Degrees, by Brent T. White (Arizona):

Arizona Logo[N]o university or law school in the United States offers an undergraduate degree in law. That is, until this fall, when the University of Arizona will introduce the nation’s first bachelor of arts in law. Stepping back from the culturally embedded assumption in America that legal training should be provided in professional schools, the lack of an undergraduate route to legal education is perplexing.

First, in most countries—including those requiring additional graduate-level training to become a licensed attorney—law is an undergraduate degree. Second, there is little rationale for excluding the study of law from the full range of undergraduate academic subjects. ... Third, a law degree would offer many benefits to undergraduates, including the ability to independently research, read, and understand the law, as well as training in critical thinking and problem solving, analytical reasoning, and persuasive writing—all of which are highly marketable skills that translate well into a variety of professions, law-related or not. Finally, undergraduate law degrees would be the best response to the reality that many law-related tasks are performed by people who are not lawyers but who need legal training. Examples include accountants who act as tax advisers, human-resource managers who must navigate employment law, school-compliance officers who create policies related to education law, mediators who provide conflict-resolution services, legal technicians who conduct e-discovery, and contract managers who draft and negotiate contracts.

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. ...

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.

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