As thousands of students pour onto the University of Utah campus for the start of fall semester in coming weeks, a group of 17 students among the new arrivals will make history as part of the inaugural class of the S.J. Quinney College of Law’s new Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree program.
The program is uniquely designed to serve working professionals who will benefit from an improved understanding of the law — while they continue to pursue their careers.
The S.J. Quinney College of Law will welcome its first cohort of 17 students to the new program when classes start on Aug. 24.
“We have a diverse set of students from industries including public policy, energy, higher education, business and other fields,” said Jackie Morrison, program director for MLS at the S.J. Quinney College of Law.
“Students who are a part of this new program are very excited for this opportunity and are excited to be a part of the broader University of Utah and College of Law community,” she added.
The one-year executive master’s degree program is designed for professionals who may benefit from legal training but do not wish to practice as an attorney. The MLS program’s curriculum is structured for working professionals and is designed to improve students’ fundamental understanding of the legal system.
Students enrolled in the MLS program complete intensive courses every other Friday and Saturday to accommodate their work schedules— similar to how the business school’s Executive MBA program functions. It will take approximately one calendar year to complete the degree.
As demographics from the inaugural class reveal, the MLS degree program appeals to a broad audience working in a diverse set of fields. For example, the degree may be ideal for business executives who want to increase their knowledge of employment law; people who work in government agencies may find it helpful in providing a better understanding of environmental law, land use regulation or negotiation practices. The new offerings are a way for professionals from a wide array of fields to advance their careers and improve future job opportunities. Interaction with the legal system is a critical part of many professions, from human resources to land use planning, business management and financial advising.
The average age of the inaugural MLS cohort is 39, with students ranging in age from 27 to 58.
Students will be taught by the same top-notch legal expertise as students following a traditional law school path, but with a somewhat more focused approach designed to meet the needs of working professionals. While the degree does not allow graduates to obtain a law license or practice law, it will equip them with skills critical in almost every industry and important to advancing their careers, including how to interface with legal and regulatory systems and how and when to optimize use of professional legal counsel. Program participants also will have the opportunity to work with attorneys through a mentorship program and interact with J.D. students.
The addition of the MLS degree program comes as other law schools across the country are also adopting similar degree options to meet market demand. The new executive Master of Legal Studies will expand the College of Law’s footprint in important respects.
“We are pleased to welcome the inaugural MLS cohort to the S.J. Quinney College of Law. A Master of Legal Studies program will expand the educational reach of the University of Utah and the law school to serve a wider range of people who will benefit from some sophisticated training in the legal system and enhance our service to the professional community,” said Bob Adler, dean of the S.J. Quinney College of Law.
“The program will enhance the mission of the university by training working professionals how to effectively engage with the legal system. As a doctorate and master’s-level degree granting institution, our mission at the university is to foster student success by preparing students from diverse backgrounds for lives of impact as leaders and citizens,” he added.
Market research conducted as the College of Law developed the new degree program revealed that Utah in particular is a prime location for such an option. Many companies increasingly provide employees with specific funding to earn degrees that will advance their careers and add value to the company. Law schools are pointing to growth in the compliance industry as a major driver of market demand, noted Lincoln Davies, associate dean for academic affairs at the College of Law who also teaches courses in the new MLS program.
MLS students will take courses such as “Conflict and Legal Crisis Management;” “Contracts in the Modern Economy;” “Procuring and Managing Legal Services;” and “Lawsuits and Litigation.” MLS students will also have the opportunity to enroll in elective classes offered in the College of Law’s J.D. curriculum that may be of interest to particular students, such as health law for health care administrators, employment law for human resource professionals or environmental law or water law for environmental consultants.
The MLS program is the first of its kind in Utah. While a few Pac-12 schools — including Stanford, the University of Washington and the University of Arizona offer similar programs — other Utah schools do not currently offer an MLS degree — and no school in the region offers a program in the executive education format that Utah will.
“This is an extremely exciting program for the myriad professionals or others who can improve what they do by better understanding how our legal system works,” Davies said. “Much like an Executive MBA can help businesspeople advance their careers, this executive MLS program will equip anyone whose job touches on the law, regulation or the legal system with knowledge and skills to improve both their own careers and the performance of the business or organization in which they work.”