Historic MOU sets the stage for grad program growth

One of the University of Washington School of Law’s fastest-growing graduate programs is poised for massive expansion following a historic partnership in the law school’s top international market.

This May, UW Law leadership traveled to China to sign a memorandum of understanding with the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China. The MOU lays the groundwork for a tailored Master of Jurisprudence program that will bring dozens of Chinese students to the School of Law each year.

“It’s a huge career builder in China to have a graduate degree from the U.S. or Europe that they can apply to their careers,” said Pat Kuszler, UW Law Charles I. Stone Professor of Law and M.J. program director. “That’s how this is designed to work: Provide that U.S. credential for them in a way that is customized to their actual needs.”

Over the past few years, the legal services industry has been diversifying at a record rate to respond to demand for professionals with some kind of legal background or training. And like a well-fitting suit versus something off the rack, a tailored education just looks better to potential employers and current supervisors — something that is at the very core of the M.J. program.

Dean Barnes and Professor Kuszler meet representatives of the National Health Commission.

The program is designed for non-lawyers seeking a deeper knowledge of the law in a specific field. Degree paths are mapped out one on one with advisors and constructed to fit one’s career, interests and lifestyle. The curriculum blends law classes with courses from other schools and departments on campus — business, public policy and governance, international studies — providing for an educational experience unlike any other.

Say, for instance, you're an executive at a large tech company and want to gain expertise in tech policy laws. Or perhaps you’re a small business owner seeking a broader knowledge regarding taxes. Maybe you’re a healthcare administrator who needs to understand malpractice liability. Each of these programs can be built; no two are alike.

“We have ideas of what a student wants, and we figure out what courses will work with their home or work schedule,” Kuszler said. “It presents huge opportunities for law schools like ours when we have at our disposal this entire campus with all these schools and departments from which we can draw courses.”

The China program is particularly special. In collaboration with China's National Health Commission, the 12-month program is designed for mid-level managers in the healthcare field and includes intensive English, health law and health administration courses. Between 30-35 students are recruited in China locally and presented to UW Law for inclusion in the program each year. For Chinese students who cannot move to the United States for a full year, a five-week executive management program is also in development.

UW Law’s M.J. program is on the cutting edge of an explosive trend in higher education. Even just five years ago, there were but a few dozen law schools offering an M.J. degree. Today, between 70-80 schools offer a similar program, Kuszler said.

The diversification of the legal field is similar to the nurse practitioner boom in the '80s and ‘90s, said Kuszler, a former emergency department physician. In 1979, there were approximately 15,000 NPs in the United States; by the end of the millennium, there were 68,300, and in 2018, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners estimates there were more than 248,000 practicing NPs.

If current trends are any indication, the legal services field is primed to see a similar trajectory in this emerging space.

As demand continues its steady growth stateside, in China it is skyrocketing. To this end, this historic MOU uniquely positions UW Law to leverage a huge opportunity to expand the M.J. program around the world and foster a global workforce that is more educated and better prepared to advance the rule of law than ever before.