The University of Arizona is offering a master's degree program for people who need to think like lawyers but don't actually need to be one.

The new Masters in Legal Studies program is enrolling students for the fall semester. As part of the James E. Rogers College of Law, the program allows students to skip all the years of study needed to graduate with a juris doctor from law school but still gain the knowledge necessary about how the legal system works.

"The goal here is to provide an alternative for those who need legal training for their job or would like to pursue legal training but don't need to spend three years in law school," said Brent White, associate dean for the master's program.

White said many people enter law school with no intentions to become lawyers. This program would benefit those people.

The MLS program requires that students take introductory courses to the U.S. legal system and legal research, which White refers to as the "framework" for the program.

"We're trying to empower professionals who work in law to be able to find the answers themselves, to be able to understand legal problems, and to be able to do the research necessary to reach the right answers without consulting with a lawyer," White said.

The program requires students to earn 30 units in order to get their master's degree. If students are full time, they can complete all 30 units in one academic school year.

As a UA law professor who specializes in environmental law, Kirsten Engel is supportive of the program.

"I think there's a great need for more widespread legal knowledge," Engel said.

She said this program would "fill the gap" in legal education and be useful to those who don't need a full three-year law degree.

The program offers students generalized study and specialized courses in several areas. Students who sign up for Engel's classes would be able to earn a certificate in environmental law and policy.

Other certificate programs that the degree offers are family law; legal compliance and risk management; mining law and policy; international trade and business law; tax law and policy; and criminal law and policy.

As of now the program is available full time and part time to students, but White said the UA hopes to add online courses soon.

The American Bar Association created a task force last summer designed to implement legal studies in colleges nationwide.

"They urged law schools to begin thinking in innovative and different ways about how to provide legal education to a larger, broader audience," White said.

More info

For more information on the UA's Masters in Legal Studies program, go online to

Did you know?

The number of licensed lawyers in the United States in 2012 was 1,268,011. The number of practicing lawyers in Arizona for 2013 is 16,208. The UA's law school graduated 149 students with juris doctor degrees in 2012.

Source: American Bar Association.

Kimberly Gonzales is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at 573-4117 or