T he 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 degree. The idea is to provide a foundation in the law without actually preparing students to practice. Holders of the 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 — with no additional coursework required, said Alan Weinstein, director of the masters program.

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

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

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com.