Law school enrollment has seen some interesting trends in the last two decades. From 1976 to 2000, law school enrollment grew steadily. Then, between 2000 and 2002, law schools increased their first-year enrollment by 11%. This increase continued and peaked at 2010 at 52,404 incoming law students (compared to about $43,000 in the year 2000).
The increase plateaued, however, due to inflated enrollment, inadequate job prospects, and high tuition. Those factors, when paired with the economic recession, caused enrollment to decline dramatically and in 2015, there were only 37,056 incoming law students. One benefit to law students, however, is that acceptance rates have increased from an average of 57% of applicants being accepted in 2002 to an average of 78% of applicants being accepted by 2014.
Now more and more students are enrolling in law school without any intention of becoming a lawyer or even earning a Juris Doctor (“J.D.”) degree. Nationwide, 14% of students attending law school are pursuing non-J.D. programs. This is a 6% increase from five years ago.
At least 60 out of the 203 nationally accredited law schools now have master’s programs for students interested in law school but not interested in lawyering. These master’s programs typically take one to two years to complete. Several of them are designed for working professionals, and many can be completed online. The degrees attract individuals either working in or looking to go into several different fields, including human resources, finance, education, and compliance.
Law schools are also expanding offerings for both foreign and U.S. lawyers looking to specialize in certain areas. These degrees are called “Master of Laws” or “LL.M.” degrees. Some other schools also offer an “M.S.L.” or “Masters of Legal Studies” degree.
Here in Las Vegas, the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law offers a JD program, some dual degree programs, and an LL.M. in Gaming Law. The dual degrees offered include a dual JD and Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, a JD and Master of Social Work (MSW) program, and a JD and Doctor of Philosophy in Education (Ph. D) program. The UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law is the only law school in the United States that offers an LL.M. in Gaming Law and Regulation.
At the University of Oklahoma College of Law, 37% of students are not in the JD program. OU College of Law allows the choice between three different LL.M. degrees: Energy and Natural Resources, Indigenous Peoples Law, or U.S. Legal Studies (for attorneys who went to law school outside of the United States). M.L.S. degrees are available in Oil Gas, and Energy Law, Indigenous Peoples Law, and Healthcare Law.
New York University School of Law is known for its LL.M. programs, which include Tax Law and a program for internationally-trained attorneys. Like OU College of Law, 37% of students at NYU School of Law are not in the JD program.
At Pepperdine University School of Law, 38% of the school’s enrollment comes from their non-JD programs. Pepperdine offers several different LL.M. programs, including Dispute Resolution, International Commercial Arbitration, International Commercial Law and Arbitration, Commercial Law and Dispute Resolution, United States Law and Dispute Resolution, Entertainment, Media, and Sports Law, and United States Law. Pepperdine offers an online M.L.S. degree, as well as a Master of Dispute Resolution degree.
Seton Hall University School of Law is also known for its LL.M. programs in Health Law and Intellectual Property. In addition to LL.M. programs, the third of students at Seton Hall not in a JD program can also obtain a Master of Science in Jurisprudence. At Appalachian School of Law, over 40% of their students are not seeking a JD. Appalachian offers an M.L.S. degree as well as a “Juris Master” degree, which is an abbreviated degree that students may complete after three semesters.
More than half the non-JD students (44% of the student body) at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law complete their degrees online. At University of Southern California Gould School of Law, non-JD students make up about half the student body. The school offers LL.M. programs in United States law for foreign attorneys, Alternative Dispute Resolution, and International Business and Economic Law. In addition, there is also a Master of Comparative Law, a Master of Dispute Resolution, and an M.S.L. focusing on business and industry.
The University of Arizona Law School, in addition to offering a JD and an M.L.S degree, also offers a law-focused undergraduate bachelor’s degree that provides an accelerated path to law school and can be completed in three years rather than the standard four. The University of Arizona School of Law has the biggest percentage of non-JD students at 78% of the student body.
There are pros and cons to pursuing a law degree when you don’t intend to practice law. Benefits include gaining versatile knowledge in a variety of subjects and learning not just how to memorize and regurgitate information, but also how to apply it analytically.
The main drawback is cost. Per the US News & World Report, average tuition for a Top 10 law school in 2017 was over $60,000.00 per year, over $46,000.00 per year for a private law school, almost $40,000.00 per year for out-of-state tuition at a public law school, and over $26,000.00 per year for in-state tuition at a public law school. Degrees also can take several years to complete.
If a law school student does not intend on working as a lawyer, what will they do? Several non-law-related careers can be sought with a law degree, including conflict resolution (for example, a mediator), working for a nongovernmental development agency, working in government or politics, working in finance (for example, estates tax preparation, etc.), teaching law, journalism, public interest work, corporate training and compliance, HR work, and consulting work.
Individuals have many motivations for wanting to attend law school but not wanting to practice law. One may want to learn a specific area of law to go into the same field, albeit not as an attorney. Others may see a law degree as a “plan B” just in case their chosen field (for example, public service or nonprofit work) does not end up being a viable career. In any case, law school is fundamentally changing in terms of the motivations of law school students, and the numbers indicate the trend will continue.