Interest in juris doctor degrees has waned during the past two years, but the news for law schools isn’t all bad: The number of students in non-J.D. programs has increased by 39 percent since 2005, according to figures released on December 21 by the American Bar Association. 

By contrast, the number of first-year students enrolled in J.D. programs fell by 8 percent during that same period. ABA-accredited law schools this year enrolled 11,067 non-J.D. students—representing approximately one-quarter of the 44,518 first-year J.D. students.

The increase in non-J.D. students primarily reflects enrollment in master of laws (LL.M.) programs, but also students in non-law degree programs who want a little legal training.

Law schools have rushed to add or expand LL.M. programs for foreign-trained lawyers and specialized LL.M.s for U.S. lawyers centered on fields including entrepreneurship, tax, health care, sports and maritime law. Law schools have billed those programs as giving graduates a leg up in the tough employment market, and as a way for practicing attorneys to break into new areas of law.

Schools have financial incentives to expand their LL.M. offerings, since those students often take empty seats in existing classes.

“Law schools see a demand for non-J.D. programs both for lawyers who want to develop expertise through an LL.M. and in business and professional communities where knowledge of the relevant law and process is valuable,” said Barry Currier, the ABA’s interim consultant on legal education. “As the demand for J.D. degrees slackens, schools are exploring other ways to broaden their revenue base.”

The ABA does not accredit non-J.D. programs, but does require that they not impede a law school’s ability to ensure that its J.D. program meets all the accreditation standards.

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