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New graduate program disrupts lawyer monopoly over legal knowledge

The Northeastern University School of Law will launch an online master’s program in Spring 2015 that focuses on equipping non-lawyers with legal skills and knowledge that can be applied in the workplace.

Professor James Hackney, program director for the School of Law’s new initiative, designed the curriculum as an alternative to the traditional, more comprehensive juris doctor program.

Courses in the program will be rigorous and detailed as befits a graduate program, but they will be targeted for working professionals in fields such as compliance, human resource management, and health care administration.

Portrait of Professor James HackneyIncreasing regulatory complexity means such professionals will benefit from a deeper understanding of legal matters and the language used by their attorneys.

“We’ve noticed an increasing demand for legal knowledge, as well as a desire to interact more effectively with lawyers in a variety of settings,” said Hackney, who serves as associate dean for entrepreneurial programs and research support in Northeastern’s School of Law.

This unique program also represents Northeastern’s recognition of a change in how law schools teach and educate their students, according to Hackney.

“We consider educating a broad segment of the population about the core legal concepts that structure our government and our economy to be central to our mission,” said School of Law Dean Jeremy Paul, who initiated the program soon after arriving on campus.

The program will begin in Spring 2015 and the students will take courses on topics such as regulation, general business law, intellectual property, and healthcare. Hackney said the university has reached out to businesses and organizations in various industries to get direct input on what they would like to see in this program.

“The courses are unique because they were developed with working professionals in mind and what they need in the legal studies area,” he added.

The program will also use students’ own workplace experiences and interactions with attorneys to help them better understand legal issues. “It allows us to make the degree recipients more attractive to industry and make the degree more useful,” Hackney said.

This new program is not designed for students seeking to sit for the bar or practice law. But one need not be a lawyer to benefit immeasurably from substantial familiarity with the language of the law that drives so many workplace decisions. The degree was designed to have broad appeal to anyone seeking professional advancement in workplace settings where legal regulation plays a major role.

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