To increase access into the legal workforce, Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management and College of Law have collaborated to establish the first-of-its-kind joint online Juris Doctor and Master of Business Administration degree program.
The launch of this program is an expansion of the school’s already implemented residential joint degree program in law and business administration. Syracuse also offers a separate online American Bar Association-accredited law degree, called JDinteractive, and M.B.A. programs.
“We wanted to take advantage of that synergy and bring that joint program that we have had residentially for decades to students online,” said Nina Kohn, a David M. Levy Professor of Law and faculty director of online education at the university’s College of Law. “It was a no brainer to do that once we had these two fully online degree programs combined for the joint degree.”
The program is currently open to receiving applications. To be eligible for the program, students must first apply to the JDinteractive online law degree program. From there, they also must complete 34 credits of law school and be accepted into the Whitman School.
Amy McHale, assistant dean for master’s programs in Syracuse’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management, said there is uncertainty about the number of students who will apply but there is “high interest” in the program.
“It is not going to be for everyone,” she added. “But there are certainly a number of students whose career goals do rely on that intersection of two worlds.”
From 2015 to 2019, joint J.D. and M.B.A. residential students at Syracuse have had a 100% pass rate of the bar exam within one year of graduation, according to school officials.
“This program will make it possible for students to get a really high-quality education, even though residential education may not be practical for them,” said Kohn. “We expect this program to really open the doors to students who may be caregivers, who may be employed full-time, who may be military connected, who are looking to be lawyers but are unable to otherwise get this kind of education.”
Each course combines live virtual classroom lectures by Syracuse professors with self-paced instruction videos and experiential learning opportunities.
“My metric for my faculty is that if the students could wash the dishes while taking your class, you are doing it wrong,” said Kohn.
Despite being a “human- and feeling-oriented discipline,” online law programs have worked in the past, according to attorney Amos N. Jones.
“I believe that, ideally, legal education occurs face to face, but it has been done successfully in other types of programs and other schools,” he said. “I know that the learning objectives should not be compromised by the method of delivery of instruction and the mode of interaction.”
Jones added that online education can provide more opportunities for students to interact with their professors and gain a better understanding of practicing law.
Though students can complete the program on a part-time basis, Kohn emphasized that it is not a “passive learning experience.”
“This is really about a program designed to increase access to education for college students,” she said. “In part, it is time consuming but it really makes something possible that had not been possible before.”
One benefit of the program is time. Students can earn both their M.B.A. and J.D. degrees in 4.5 years, with the completion of 114 credits. This compares to a five-year commitment and a total of 141 credits if the degrees were completed on an individual basis.
The joint degree program can also help individuals stand out within the legal workforce, according to Kohn.
“That combination of business education or legal education can be very powerful in the workforce because you are preparing students to engage both fully with the law and with the business environment,” said Kohn. “That is helpful in terms of the skill set the students have when they move into practice.”
Career interests vary for students seeking the joint program including a focus on corporate law, labor law, tax law, banking law, real estate law, risk management compliance and corporate management.
“They are going to get exposure to people from all sorts of backgrounds,” said McHale. “It has just made for a lot of rich discussion and learning while you are in the program.”
Kohn added that this program could help diversify the legal profession, as racial diversity at Syracuse has increased with the implementation of the online J.D. and M.B.A. programs.
Sarah Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.