Cleveland-Marshall College of Law
Cleveland-Marshall College of Law (Photo: Balaji810 via Wikimedia Commons)

The Cleveland-Marshall College of Law is launching what it calls the first “risk-free” juris doctor program.

The initiative will allow students who complete one year of studies but don’t want to continue their legal educations to receive a master of legal studies (MLS) degree. The idea is to provide a foundation in the law without actually preparing students to practice. Holders of the master degree are not eligible to sit for the bar examination.

“There are many good reasons why a law student may decide not to continue to pursue a J.D.,” dean Craig Boise said. “They might have financial concerns, family or personal issues, or they may realize that though they still have an interest in law, a career in traditional legal practice is not right for them.”

With this program, that year won’t be a waste of their time, and the degree would be attractive to employers, Boise said.

Cleveland-Marshall began offering a master of legal studies degree this year, following a trend among law schools that hope to broaden their student base amid waning interest in the traditional J.D. But it does appear to be the first to offer such a “convertible” J.D.

“This new opportunity removes at least some of the financial and personal risk inherent in a large educational undertaking, and comes at a time when people appreciate more guarantees,” Boise said. “It represents yet another positive innovation for our law school.”

Students would complete the regular core 1L curriculum and leave—no additional coursework required, said Alan Weinstein, director of the masters program.

There is considerable debate among legal educators about the value of a one-year master in law, as most of the programs are still fairly new. Proponents hope they can help people move into fields including human resources, compliance and health care. Each of the 12 students in Cleveland-Marshall’s program are working while they complete their studies, Weinstein said.

In a sense, the best outcome for the school is that none of its J.D. students go the one-year route, Weinstein said, but having that option may be enough for would-be students to give Cleveland-Marshall serious consideration.

“Obviously it’s a much more competitive environment for bringing in qualified students, and I think schools are looking for ways to distinguish themselves,” he said.

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