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With law school enrollment rising and a tough legal job market waiting, many law students are looking beyond good grades and summer internships in the hunt for good jobs after graduation. More students are opting for dual-degree programs, in which students simultaneously receive both a J.D. and another graduate degree. One of the dual-degree programs gaining in popularity is the four-year combined J.D. and master’s degree in journalism. Although these joint-degree programs are marketed toward students who want to become lawyers, journalists, or media law professors, the vast majority of applicants and graduates seek to be media lawyers. The University of Florida has offered such a dual-degree program for 15 years, says Bill Chamberlain, who assists in running the program. Chamberlain notes that the program seems to primarily attract students who hope to become media lawyers. “All but one of our roughly two dozen M.A./J.D. graduates [have] focused on media law,” he says. “Most of our students are practicing in media law firms around the state of Florida.” The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the latest school to offer a dual-degree program in law and journalism. Beginning this fall, UNC students will be able to enroll in a four-year joint J.D./M.A. program. The program was developed by R. Michael Hoefges, an assistant professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and William Marshall, a professor at the School of Law. The new program will bring the number of dual-degree programs at the UNC School of Law up to nine. Other popular dual-degree programs allow students to earn a master’s degree in business administration, public health, or social work while earning a law degree. Several other universities, including the University of Florida, Boston University, Columbia University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University, the University of Missouri-Columbia, and the University of California at Berkeley, offer joint J.D./M.A. degrees in journalism and mass communication. Despite the overwhelming number of students in the Florida program who go on to practice media law, Hoefges insists that the UNC’s new program is designed for several different types of students. “In the first group is the student who is intent on practicing law in some fashion related to mass communications,” he says. “This could mean practicing media law with a private firm, working in-house for a media corporation or public relations firm, or working for a government agency like the Federal Trade Commission or the [Federal Communications Commission],” says Hoefges. He adds that students could spend their summers interning with media lawyers or government agencies. FUTURE JOURNALISTS The second group, according to Hoefges, includes students who want to be professional journalists with a law degree to enhance their understanding of the stories they cover. These students may go on to cover the courts and other aspects of the legal profession. A third group of students are those who are planning on going into academia and teaching in either law school or a university-level journalism and mass-communication program. Marshall adds that a fourth category of students might use the dual degrees to work for a think tank or pursue media law policy work. Hoefges also emphasizes that “the focus of the graduate school isn’t just journalism — it’s journalism and mass communication. Some students study public relations and other types of communications, and these degrees complement a law degree as well.” The demand for a program combining law and journalism seems to be on the rise, says Chamberlain. “Actually, we have had many more applicants with great credentials in recent years than we could handle with our faculty. So, had we had the resources, we probably would be reporting an increase in students in the last few years.” The UNC’s new program will be able to accommodate some of that overflow. Students who want to enroll in the UNC’s program will have to be independently accepted to both the journalism school and the law school. Just as in most other joint-degree programs offered at the law school, students will spend the first year exclusively at the law school taking traditional first-year law courses such as contracts, torts, constitutional law, and property. Over the next three years, students will take courses at both schools. To eliminate the need for a fifth year of study, students will be able to count some courses towards both degrees. Both Hoefges and Marshall expect that the students will gain skills that will help them excel in both schools. “I have more experience than most of my peers using LexisNexis, reading full Supreme Court opinions, and putting cases into an academic paper and citing them,” says Eric David, who began classes August 2005 at the UNC School of Law after having taken a media law course in his first year of graduate school at the UNC’s Graduate School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “The idea, for me, of writing an article for a law review or journal is not intimidating at all.” Not everyone is sure that the structure of the program — spending the first year in the law school and then beginning journalism school the next year — will attract students. “I would not have gone to law school if I hadn’t gone to journalism school first,” says Elizabeth Spainhour, an associate who practices media law at the Raleigh, N.C., law firm of Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard. Spainhour graduated from the UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication with a master’s degree in 2002 and, like David, went directly from the master’s program to the School of Law. She graduated in May 2005 and has just begun practicing law in Raleigh. “I grew up in a family of lawyers and always said �no’ to law school,” says Spainhour. “When I started the master’s program, I had no intention at all of going to law school, but one of the first classes you take [in the master's program] is media law. I knew by first semester finals that I was going to law school.” David’s story is similar. “I had always been interested in law, but I didn’t know why or what kind of law I would want to practice until I went to journalism school,” he says. “I think probably if I had known I wanted to go to law school, I would have done [the dual-degree program], but it took going to journalism school to figure out that I wanted to go to law school.” There are clearly benefits to completing the dual-degree program instead of pursuing the degrees separately. “I was out of the work force for five years, and that’s a long time to be a student and go without income,” says Spainhour. “I would have enjoyed finishing in four years.” Additionally, Spainhour’s master’s degree helped her in making connections and securing jobs while she was in law school. “The people in this office are really interested in communications law, and the fact that I had that degree made getting an interview and a job in media law much more possible. It demonstrated that I’m committed to the field,” she says. Spainhour is also certain that the writing skills she learned at the journalism school have helped. “I’m so glad that I have a background in journalism writing,” she says. It has helped her in her law career as well. “I try on a regular basis to present things to clients in their language and not in legal language, so I think it is helpful to have had practice in writing clearly and briefly,” she says. CONNECTIVITY Hoefges adds that one of the benefits of attending both schools at once is the ability to make contacts and network with people both in the media law field and in journalism. “That kind of connectivity can be very valuable,” he says. “In the media law and journalism field, it’s a pretty small world. Everyone is connected in some way. The benefit for the student is being able to draw on all those resources.” Marshall thinks that the dual-degree program will be very valuable for law students who want to break into the media law field, and not just because of the contacts. “I think that people who see the practice of law in this area from a journalist’s perspective will be better media lawyers,” says Marshall. “The experience of seeing [journalism] from the inside and thinking critically about the problems that face journalists from their point of view will make lawyers much more responsive.” Says Spainhour, “There is a real overlap between journalism and the law, both in subject matter and, I think, in the kinds of people that are attracted to both professions.”
Beth Soja is a legal fellow with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Arlington, Va.

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