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Motivated professionals pursue Emory graduate law degree in first juris master class

Emory University School of Law |

This fall Emory University School of Law launched its innovative Juris Master program, designed to attract working professionals, graduate students and select undergraduate students who recognize that a foundation in the law provides a valuable window into our complex world.

“An understanding of legal principles is increasingly important in a growing number of fields,” said Robert Schapiro, dean of Emory Law. “It is important to think of law schools as not simply training lawyers, but as providing a broad legal education to both lawyers and non-lawyers. Professionals in business, technology, journalism, engineering, politics and healthcare would benefit from grounding in the law that applies to their areas.” ­

The i­­naugural Juris Master class is comprised of professionals from diverse industries, cultures and backgrounds. These students select courses based on their areas of interest such as healthcare, journalism, and human resources. For example, the incoming class includes:

  • The sports assignment coordinator at a national news affiliate,  
  • The director of Emory’s Environmental Health and Safety Office,
  • A former Carter Center intern who worked on conflict resolution in the Middle East, and
  • A contributing opinion writer and blogger for The Times of Israel’s online edition.

The 24-credit hour program recognizes that “law school is not just for lawyers anymore,” said Lynn Labuda, Emory Law’s director of graduate programs. The degree can be pursued either full- or part-time with up to four years allowed for completion.

Of the 24 students who began classes on Aug. 20, 19 will be pursuing their degrees part-time, Labuda said.

“There are a few programs out there that are similar to the JM, but what’s unique about Emory’s is that our program is highly customizable,” Labuda said.

After an intensive introductory course in the foundations of U.S. law, the balance of the curriculum is self-designed. The top three courses of study for JM students thus far are healthcare, media and labor law.

Emory Law’s depth of faculty and course offerings provide JM students a broad range of electives, from intellectual property law and contract drafting to public health and negotiation.

Dr. Wendy Wright is among the JM program’s first students. She is a medical director of Emory Hospital’s Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit and assistant professor of neurology, neurosurgery and pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine.

Legal issues affect delivery of care every day, Wright said. Patient consent and surrogate decisions, medical ethics, conflict between healthcare providers and the patient or their families, and malpractice are some of the examples she noted.

“I felt I had reached the limit of what I could conceptualize about the legal aspects of medicine without a formal education,” she said. “Emory is offering an amazing opportunity to professionals who want to learn law in their field, but don't necessarily want to practice law,” she said.

“Ideally, [the JM program] will allow me to provide better care to my patients, better education to my trainees, and better service to the University,” Wright said.

The program is also designed to enhance other graduate degrees such as an MBA or master’s in public health. Both fields interact with and are affected by law to such a degree that a legal grounding is an asset.

The Juris Master is also a way to “test drive law school” for those unsure if law school is a fit for them, Labuda said. JM students interested in pursuing a JD degree can apply through the Emory Law JD admissions process, and will be evaluated under admissions standards similar to a first-year law student transferring from a JD program.