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According to Prof. Derek Muller of Pepperdine University's School of Law, 10 percent of law school enrollment is in one of the variety of non-J.D. programs. For non-lawyer types, this means that 1 in 10 students in law school have no intent to eventually become a lawyer.
There has been a very steady increase in the number of students attending law school in the non-J.D. programs. What should we make of all of this?
Perhaps we're overstating the numbers just a tad. It's easy to get lulled into thinking that the rising numbers mostly include those seeking the law school equivalent of a degree in basket-weaving, but that might be incorrect. The non-J.D. numbers also reflect the enrollment of students who are looking to obtain the much ballyhooed L.L.M., essentially the Ph.D. equivalent of law school education conferring recognition of expertise in a particular area of law, like health care or tax.
To be sure, there is a time and place for an expert's opinion in a complex area like federal tax. However in the past, there has been rather muted enthusiasm for the L.L.M.'s return of extra investment of time and money -- hence the bad joke, "Lawyers Losing Money."
Non-J.D. programs are not only tailored for those students who have no intent of earning a J.D., but who've already earned a J.D. Lawyer have been known to move into another area of professional work only to return to law school later for a fresh update in current law. Dr. Robert Lustig of "Sugar: The Bitter Truth" fame obtained his Masters in Study of Law in his 50s. He was doing quite well as a professor of pediatric endocrinology at UCSF, but was motivate to earn his non-J.D. MSL to learn about possible channels to change policy, and to loosen what he sees as a perverse grip the food industry has on Washington politicians.
It's difficult to say what this dramatic trend portends for law schools or for those students who are earning a non-J.D. just for kicks. There is still little solid statistical data that can show whether the non-J.D. is anything more than an opportunity for law schools to plug up massive enrollment drop-offs. We certainly hope it isn't just that.
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