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Law school can be a killer with long hours of study and a mountain of information to absorb. But a handful of students take on an extra load by studying for another graduate degree simultaneously, often shortening the time it would take to earn a J.D. and a master’s separately. The work is tough, but these dual-degree seekers leave with a double dose of knowledge that can give them an edge in the job market. The joint degree programs cover a range of topics, from business to Middle Eastern studies to theology. Nancy Rapoport, dean of the University of Houston Law Center, says joint degrees, especially those that combine law and business administration, are increasingly useful. The law center offers six joint degrees, some with UH departments and the rest with other Texas universities. “The goal is to save employers some of the start-up training costs,” Rapoport says of the joint J.D.-MBA degrees. “If someone already knows some business in a law firm or some law in a business firm, that saves training money.” Christine Szaj, associate dean for administration at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas, agrees. She says joint degrees help lawyers better represent businesses. “You simply understand some of the issues from a different perspective,” she says. To earn joint degrees, students must apply to the law school and the other graduate program. Usually, they take only law classes during the first year of study, then add courses from the other field of study. Some law school hours count toward the other graduate degree and vice versa. A master’s in business administration is the most common degree, and one of the most popular, that’s paired with a J.D. in joint degree programs. However, Texas law schools offer plenty of other choices. At Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock, a few students are learning about torts and molds as they purse a J.D. and a master’s in environmental toxicology. Across the state in San Antonio, at St. Mary’s University School of Law, students can tackle secular law and religious dictates at the same time. The University of Houston Law Center offers joint degrees in history, social work and public health, among others. In Austin, University of Texas School of Law offerings include Latin American Studies and Middle Eastern Studies. A doctorate in philosophy was added this year to the joint degrees offered by the UT law school. Victoria Sutton, a scientist and law professor at Texas Tech, says there are six students in the joint J.D.-toxicology program, which takes about three-and-a-half years to complete. Two others left the Lubbock university this year with a J.D. and a master’s in environmental toxicology. Sutton, who has a J.D., a doctorate in environmental sciences and a master’s in public administration, says the university is setting up joint degrees in biotechnology and crop science. “It’s clearly a trend,” the professor says of the joint law-science degrees. “It’s just becoming a great new practice area.” Brie DeBusk, one of the two students who completed the Texas Tech joint degree program this year, says her bachelor’s degree in biology gave her the background to apply for medical school but she opted to go into law instead. “I didn’t know how I would use my science degree until I met Professor Sutton,” she says. DeBusk now works as a contract lawyer at the Dallas firm of Baron & Budd doing toxic tort cases. Her interdisciplinary skills helped her land the job, she says. Christopher Pepper, the other graduate, also credits Sutton’s law and science class with showing him how he could use his educational background as an attorney. Pepper, who has an undergraduate biology degree, does both science and law in his new job at the Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech. MORE CAREER OPTIONS In addition to giving graduates a boost in the job hunt, joint degrees can give them more options. “Not all graduates go into the practice of law,” Szaj says. “Some go into business or other areas. The degrees enhance part of the curriculum that they already get in law school.” SMU offers two joint J.D.-master’s degrees: one in business administration in a four-and-a-half year program offered with its Edwin L. Cox School of Business and the other in applied economics in a four-year program with its department of economics in the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. Sjaz and other school officials say only a small percentage of law students pursue joint degrees. At St. Mary’s, there usually are about 10 students out of a graduating class of 240 to 260 who earn joint degrees, says Victoria Mather, the law school’s associate dean for academic and student affairs. The law school has 10 joint degrees, the most among Texas schools. The most popular joint degrees at St. Mary’s are the MBA and the master’s in international relations, Mather says. Many of the other degrees were established when a student expressed interest and the university crafted the new offering, generally having 12 credit hours of the law curriculum count toward the master’s degree and six hours of the master’s degree coursework count toward the J.D. “It’s a lot of work and a big commitment, but it’s doable,” Mather says. 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