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University of Arizona’s BA in Law: Good or Bad Idea?

The University of Arizona just became the first American university to offer a Bachelors of Arts degree in law. The catch? If you want to be, you know, an actual lawyer, you’ll have to go to law school anyway and get your J.D.

The undergraduate law major will involve classes in law, taught by real-life law professors. Much of the curriculum will resemble what’s normally taken in the first year of law school, though the Socratic method won’t be used quite so much.

The University of Arizona claims to be aiming the undergraduate law major at students looking to work in fields for which legal expertise is helpful but a law degree is not required. We’ll see whether the degree actually helps recent grads get jobs in these fields, but I can’t imagine it would look worse than your typical, say, humanities major on a résumé. So if you’re a University of Arizona undergrad and the major sounds incredibly fascinating to you, there’s little reason not to add it as a double major.

But the University of Arizona’s B.A. in law is likely to attract some students who want to become lawyers. It’s part of the university’s 3+3 program, which lets you combine a B.A. and a J.D. in six years of study. And some other students who want to go to law school will probably be unable to resist the allure of studying law before they even get there, even if the university’s own FAQ page points out that admission to law school doesn’t depend on undergraduate major (though they do claim that the major will provide useful training).

Students who are considering law school should think twice about majoring in law. The prospect of skipping a year with the 3+3 program is tempting, but in the grand scheme of things it’s worthwhile only if you’d want to go to the University of Arizona’s law school anyway. Take a good look at the expected outcomes, and also consider that committing to the 3+3 program might reduce your leverage in negotiating financial aid for law school; you won’t be able to evaluate multiple offers.

And if you’re planning on applying more broadly to law school, stay away. The degree in law won’t help your law school admissions chances. If the major classes borrow law school grading policies (I’d imagine they won’t), it might even hurt your chances. You’ll have plenty of time to study law in law school. Use your undergraduate years as an opportunity to study something else. Anything else. On the other hand, it might be worth taking a class or two as an elective, if that’s possible.

Other universities might well follow suit and offer their own undergraduate law degrees. To see why, let’s look at the incoming class sizes at the University of Arizona’s law school. In fall 2010, they had 157 1Ls. By 2013, they had 105. Across the country, law school applications are way down from a few years ago and many law schools are seeing smaller class sizes. That makes for a lot of antsy law professors with fewer students to teach. Creating an undergraduate law degree is a way to get those law professors some extra work and job security. And who doesn’t like job security?