UA Law Degree, a First of its Kind in the U.S., Also Available Completely Online
About five years ago, law faculty at University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law struck up a conversation with Chad Westerland, associate director of UA’s School of Government and Public Policy, about a different type of law degree – one that could serve a wide range of professions but didn’t require the traditional academic path of a Juris Doctor. Their dialogue centered around a question other academics weren’t asking: Why is the J.D. degree the only legal education path out there?
“It’s just part of our culture to have these conversations,” Westerland said. “We asked the question: Why aren’t we delivering legal education to undergraduates? Eighteen months later we had a (bachelor’s) program in place. There really is no other program like this in the U.S.”
The UA Bachelor of Arts in Law launched about four years ago and has nearly 1,000 students in it today. It’s the nation’s first B.A. program in law. What’s more, the degree can now be achieved 100 percent online.
“This is certainly filling a need in legal education that is not accounted for,” said Keith Swisher, the program’s director and a law professor. “We’re working to train a new category of legal professional.”
Driving the conversation
The program serves a wide range of students who would benefit from legal education in their careers but may not need a graduate law degree, Swisher explained. Examples can include employees working in compliance, procurement, contracts, human resources, health care, insurance, law enforcement, government and administration, to name just a few.
“What some architects of this program recognized is that so many careers and professionals use law and regulation as part of their work duties on a daily basis, yet they don’t need to be a licensed lawyer,” Swisher added. “That was a huge impetus for the program.
The B.A. in Law is now offered through the UA main campus and through micro-campuses overseas in partnership with Ocean University in China and American University in Cambodia.
The program initiated another U.S. first in fall 2017 when it began offering the degree completely online through UA Online. Westerland said this was a natural and necessary next step in accommodating those who need a more flexible schedule. A career counselor is also available to students who take the online option.
“We think the online program reaches a different population of students,” Westerland added. “They (online students) tend to be older; they are those with professional experiences.”
The traditional law path – obtaining a bachelor’s degree and then attending a three-year graduate program for a J.D. degree – is still available to B.A. in Law students at the UA. For those who know they want a traditional law degree or a master’s in law degree, the program can save them time and money, too.
The UA offers a 3+3 B.A. and J.D. program, which allows students to start taking first-year graduate school classes in their senior year of the B.A. in Law, effectively eliminating one year from the standard seven-year track from bachelor’s degree to J.D. The UA also offers an accelerated Master of Legal Studies program, which enables a student to complete a B.A. in Law and a master’s degree within 4.5 to 5 years.
The B.A. in Law stands out in several other key ways. First, undergraduates are taught by full-time College of Law faculty, the same professors who teach these subjects in the UA’s J.D. program. Students also study the same subjects seen in the first year of any J.D. program around the country, Swisher said. In addition, the core curriculum and elective credits include courses from the School of Government and Public Policy.
“This is a well-rounded social sciences curriculum,” Westerland added. “It covers both political science and criminal justice. It helps students see the world through a social scientist’s eyes and a lawyer’s eyes. It’s a broader, more unique view.”