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Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Master of Science in Law

On the Faculty Lounge is a report of a new Master of Science of Law initiative at the University of Maryland.  Pleased to see this.  At Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, we are beginning the fourth year of our MSL program for STEM professionals.  There have been various news items on this unique program during its short life span. Check out this podcast for a good overview.  Here is the MSL 360 blog.  And here is a Chronicle of Higher Education article which puts this and related initiatives into a broader context.

At fall enrollment, we will have had over 200 students in this program, on a full-time and part-time platform.  The students come from a variety of professional and educational backgrounds -- bench scientists, technology managers, post-docs in various fields, including biotech, engineering, nanotechnology, etc., and pre-med students.  Many are international.  They are racially and ethnically diverse, more so than our JD class. Graduates of this program have gone into terrificly interesting careers, in law firms, high-tech companies, big corporations (including interesting jobs in the sharing economy), health care organizations, consulting firms, etc.  A handful have pursued additional education, in Medical School, Business School, and Law School.

Paul Horwitz in his comment to the Maryland post inquires rightly into the purpose of these programs, adding a bit of skepticism, which is fair, given the emerging multiple mission of law schools in the difficult environment.  I will say on behalf of our program, this:

We view our MSL as grounded in a vision of professional work in which the traditional silos among law, business, and technology are eroding, and in which T-shaped professionals can and do work constructively with multidisciplinary skills.  Our MSL courses (and there nearly 50) are open only to students in this program; so we are not using excess capacity in law courses for these students.  The faculty for this program includes full-time law faculty, teachers from other departments at Northwestern, including Kellogg, our school of engineering, and elsewhere, and expert adjunct faculty.  There is ample student services and career services support.  

What is remarkable about this program for the Law School generally is that these MSL students are well integrated into the life and community of the student body.  JD students benefit from the presence of these STEM trained students; and the MSL students benefit from working with and around JD students.  They participate in journals, student organizations, and myriad intra and extra curricular activities.  We have experimented with a few courses, including an Innovation Lab, which brings MSL students together with JD and LLM students.  This facilitates the kind of collaboration which they will find in their working lives.

The future of legal education? I won't hazard such a bold prediction.  But I am confident in predicting that you will see more programs like ours -- the first of its kind, but far from the last. Other programs will fashion initiatives that are unique and appropriate to their mission and strategies.  This new model of multidisciplinary professional education is built on sound educational and professional strategies.  It is feasible, financially viable, and responsive to the marketplace.  Isn't that what we want and expect out of legal education in this new world?  Whether and to what extent one or another law school looks to an MSL simply to raise revenue -- as Paul hints in his post -- is a fair question to investigate.  But I can say about our program that its principal purpose is to deliver education to a cohort of STEM trained students who are entering a world in which law, business, and technology intersects and interfaces. I suspect Maryland's program, and others in the planning stages, have a quite similar orientation and mission.   

 

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on June 6, 2017 at 03:31 PM in Daniel Rodriguez, Life of Law Schools, Science | Permalink

Comments

I think the MSL degree is generally a good idea for the reasons stated here and elsewhere, but specifically because of this: in the past several decades, fewer counsels are ascending to operational executive positions within companies, and some business schools are focusing less on legal and ethical matters. So, more legal training is better, in my estimation. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that a potential path for increasing the market for lawyers is an indirect one—through greater corporate utilization of inside counsels. Part of this would require a greater familiarity between the business and legal groups. Any opportunity for this to occur (and MSL programs seem to fit the bill) would show the value of a legal education to emerging executives who are in line to make decisions about corporate resources and positions. After all, running a half-marathon can make one have a far greater appreciation regarding full-marathon runners than had one never attempted either feat. That being said, I agree with the caveats mentioned as well.

Posted by: Marcos Antonio Mendoza | Jun 6, 2017 4:18:56 PM

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