Marc Miller, dean of the University of Arizona James E. Rogers School of Law in Tucson, AZ.
Marc Miller, dean of the University of Arizona James E. Rogers School of Law in Tucson, AZ. (Melissa Haun)

The University of Arizona is poised to become the first major U.S. university to offer a Bachelor of Arts degree in law.

Arizona will begin offering the undergraduate degree next fall, administrators announced this week. The program is intended for students who want eventually to complete law school, but also those seeking careers for which a J.D. isn’t necessary, such as corporate compliance or human resources.

“A juris doctor is a highly valuable degree, and there are roles that only lawyers can serve,” said Marc Miller, dean of the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. “But training a broader range of students will serve society, open careers in areas of substantial regulation, respond to changes in technology and the forces of globalization, and invite opportunities for the delivery of new and more accessible legal services.”

Arizona’s program will differ from the prelaw or legal-studies majors offered by many universities. Such programs tend to focus broadly on the social sciences; Arizona’s will closely resemble a law school curriculum, with the law classes taught by full-time law school faculty.

Students will take a combination of core law courses plus coursework within the university’s School of Government and Public Policy. The topics will be familiar to 1Ls: property, contracts, torts, constitutional law, administrative law and criminal procedure, plus additional credits in areas of special interest including business, immigration or environmental law. However, lessons will deemphasize the Socratic method, Miller said.

And double majors will be possible, said John Paul Jones III, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

“A degree in law can be combined with degrees in fields focusing on the environment, health, technology, social justice, business, science, culture and economic development, to name just a few,” he said. “In addition to adding value to existing degrees, undergraduates interested in the legal professions will be well served by augmenting their law degrees with study in other fields.”

The program is designed to complement Arizona’s new “3+3” program, which allows students to complete a bachelor’s in law and a J.D. within six years, rather than the typical seven, by taking 30 graduate law credits during their senior year. Those credits will count toward both degrees.

“The new undergraduate law degree, and the expedited path to the J.D. provided by the 3+3, are examples of how law schools can collaborate with other departments to deliver a rich liberal arts education and make legal education accessible to a broader array of individuals,” said Brent White, an associate dean at the law school.

The American Bar Association’s Council of the Section of Legal Education signed off on the undergraduate program in April. Administrators expect around 300 undergraduates to participate next year.

With interest in traditional J.D. programs waning, it makes sense for law faculties to find new pools of students who would benefit from their expertise, University of Oregon School of Law Dean Michael Moffitt said during a law school innovation conference last month. Law professors at Oregon have begun teaching law courses for undergraduate students, he said.

Arizona’s law class has not shrunk significantly in recent years, according to Miller, but he said changes in the legal profession should prompt schools to think more broadly about how some form of a legal education could benefit students who don’t want a J.D.

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