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Monday, March 19, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 26 (Dan Hunter)

Who needs two law degrees?

(Modest Proposal #2)

I’ve been really gratified at the open-mindedness of the commentary around my first modest proposal, to offer an LLB for US entry. Let me offer an another, equally whacky idea about how US law schools might change their value proposition to students.

But first, some context…

Globalisation has been a fundamental feature of economics and geopolitics for decades now. Everyone knows this, everyone understands the effect of global logistics on international trade, and how the development of the EU and China’s entry into the WTO has changed every part of our lives, and so on.[1] Yet the basic approach of law schools is blind to the possibilities that globalisation offers for grads. Forty or fifty years into the globalization revolution, law schools remain basically parochial. Of course, there are a few bits of legal education that recognize the outside world: International law and/or comparative law are taught pretty much everywhere, many schools offer LLMs for international students, and you occasionally see electives that connect students across national boundaries, such as Michele DeStefano’s Law Without Walls. Each initiative exposes students to other legal systems and foreign law students to some extent; but the main focus of the US law degree is always domestic, assuming that grads will practice US law, probably locally. Maybe if they are very adventurous or go to a “national” school they’ll move interstate to one of the big US cities.

With the exception of maybe one or two schools, no-one seems to be focused on the possibility that its grads might want to practise law in multiple jurisdictions.[2] And yet this is the reality of many smart grads from a range of places, who leave their home jurisdictions to work in the world’s commercial and financial centers, typically taking years to retrain when they get there. These grads have to work out how to do this for themselves, because no school sets out a pathway for them to practise in multiple jurisdictions from the jump. This proposal does that. And at the same time, it presents a way for US law students to get themselves qualified two years faster than currently possible...

Modest proposal #2:

The dean of a US law school should work with me to design a combined LLB/JD, that satisfies the admission requirements of both US and Australian practice, and avoids the need of students to do a pointless undergrad degree.

It looks a bit like this:

  1. A US college student doesn’t do a BA (or whatever) at a US college. Instead they enrol in my Australian LLB. They study the first year of this degree in the US, at your school. This is mostly so that parents (and your school administrators) don’t fret about sending their kids off to me to be brainwashed. (You can brainwash them first! And take their money :) It doesn’t have to be a whole year, but let’s work with that for the sake of simplicity. By way of background, there is no fundamental reason why I can’t offer my LLB for overseas students in a foreign location; although it takes a bit of fancy footwork with my accrediting agency to make work. Leave that to me.
  2. After one year in the States, the students come to Australia to do the next one or two years of their LLB. The course of study in this LLB will comprise half mandatory Australian legal subjects, and half classes on US law. Because of the way that Australia regulates admission to practice, students essentially have to do 11 or 12 mandatory classes on core Australian law. Once these subjects are completed, the Australian regulators are basically fine with more-or-less whatever electives the schools wants to provide. These electives can easily be US law classes, including all of the ones that the ABA really cares about. So, the US students in the program can do a year (or two) at my school completing these classes.
  3. This means that for the last year of their LLB degree, students could return to the States and study your standard first year JD classes. Once this is done students will have completed an undergrad degree, thereby satisfying the eligibility requirements of the ABA for entry into the JD. There will need to be some discussion with the ABA about accepting Australian bachelor degrees for entry into the JD, but I don’t think this will be a really big deal.
  4. Students then complete the last two years of their JD at your US school.
  5. The only tricky bit is to ask the ABA to credit the last year of my LLB as the first year of your JD. But I’m prepared to bet that we could convince the ABA that this is ok. It’s basically a sub-matriculation program, which is often recognized by regulatory bodies. We’ll have to fight for this, of course, and I’d be interested in commentator’s views about whether this is winnable. But I have to believe it is, especially these days, given the state of perpetual crisis in US legal ed that we’ve been hearing all about during this symposium.

So what does this all mean? The short version is that together we would graduate students in five years from the date of their entry to college, cutting two years of tuition from the total cost of getting to bar eligibility. In those five years we would be able to give them rights of admission to practice in two jurisdictions, not one. Students would be dual-qualified, more internationally mobile, and more domestically interesting and capable; all for $100K less than their current cost to be qualified in your jurisdiction. Actually, it will probably be more, because my undergrad degree is actually cheaper than a US degree, especially with the current exchange rate.

I’d be interested to hear why this idea can’t work. I imagine that some people will bring up the example of Peking University School of Transnational Law and other offshore schools that ran into a bandsaw a few years ago, because they couldn’t convince the ABA to accredit their JD for US practice. But, as I understand it, these proposals failed for trade protection concerns, because the ABA was worried about a flood of foreign lawyers into the US. This proposal doesn’t have that problem, since it’s aimed at American students.[3]

Of course, the smart US dean will realize that she could do exactly the same thing with schools in other jurisdictions that offer an undergrad law degree, swapping out my LLB for the same degree in those places. Although I don’t have a horse in that race, for her edification I’d suggest that the best ones to shoot for would be the UK, Singapore and Hong Kong. Combined with my LLB, this combo would give her grads the ability to choose to gain transnational right of practice in four major international jurisdictions.

Imagine a US school that offered students the option of studying in exotic locales, getting dual-qualified in a range of interesting and useful jurisdictions, all at $100K less than doing the usual BA-followed-by-a-JD.

Yup, sounds like a crazy idea to me. Crazy like a fox.


[1] Globalization is, of course, responsible for the current turn to populism and protectionism in domestic politics across the globe. I’m just glad that Dan Rodriguez turned off comments for these posts, because I can only imagine the pointless trolling and flame war that would erupt from any post that talks about globalization…

[2] The only one that I can think of is Peking University School of Transnational Law, which offers a Chinese accredited law degree to Chinese student, along with a sort-of-accredited US JD degree. A few schools teach their local degrees in a foreign jurisdiction—like UNSW teaching its Australian law degree to Chinese students, in China. 

[3] I haven’t spoken here about the reciprocal opportunity, for Australian students to be a part of this program. I won’t go into it here, but it’s basically the same deal, with slightly different economics. The interested law school dean can ping me for the details of this, since it would guarantee a new stream of Australian students into her JD program …

Dan Hunter (Swinburne, Australia)


Posted by Dan Rodriguez on March 19, 2018 at 01:25 PM | Permalink


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