In 2009, the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth School of Law (UMass Law) became the first and only public law school in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The historical moment came after the formerly private Southern New England School of Law donated all its assets to the public university in order to provide the Commonwealth with its first opportunity to open a public law school. In a region dominated by private law schools, UMass Law plays a critical role in offering affordable legal education to students in Massachusetts. Since its incorporation into the commonwealth’s university system, UMass Law has built a reputation for providing an affordable and practical education with a number of flexible degree options.
UMass Law offers a full-time, part-time day, and evening and weekend program to earn their Juris Doctor degree. All three programs require 90 hours of coursework and the same curriculum requirements. The core curriculum includes all six of the traditional foundational courses of American legal education–civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts–as well substantive courses on criminal procedure, evidence, and professional responsibility. These academic courses are married with an extensive skill-based requirement that stretches across three semesters of study. Students learn the skills of legal analysis, research, writing, oral advocacy, client counseling, negotiation, and collaboration. All UMass law students must take at least one course covering statutory law as well as two additional foundational courses from a menu of options. Students complete six hours of experiential learning as well as an upper-level writing assignment prior to graduation. In their final semester, all students take a course to prepare them for the bar exam.
The remainder of UMass Law’s curriculum is elective in nature. The traditional full-time path takes six years to complete while the part-time or evening/weekend program take approximately nine semesters. All students may accelerate their degree program through summer session.
UMass Law students can follow one of the school’s five focus areas that provide suggested courses and clinical experiences to help students prepare for a particular career. Of note is UMass Law’s highly regarded focus on public interest and government law. The school has built a national reputation for preparing students to practice in this area.
Juris Doctor candidates at UMass Law may earn a second degree through the school’s joint degree program. In a joint degree, students study concurrently through another graduate program at the university. Students must be admitted to both programs independently but, once enrolled, share courses between the two programs. This approach reduces the total amount of time to pursue both degrees. Joint degree options include pairing the J.D. with a Master of Business Administration, a Master of Public Policy, or a Master of Social Work. All joint degrees help diversify a student’s understanding of the law as well as strengthen their professional resumes.
UMass Law also offers a “3+3” fast track program to earning a law degree and an undergraduate degree in a total of six years. The program is available to undergraduate students in over a dozen universities and colleges in the region. Students spend the last year of their undergraduate studies in the first-year curriculum at UMass Law. This allows students to complete both degree programs in a total of six years.
UMass Law students may also spend a semester at the University of Limerick School of Law as part of an exchange program. Students spend a semester studying full-time as they gain an understanding of international law and culture.
Career and Career Placement
Over 82% of the most recent graduating class of UMass Law were employed within 10 months of graduation. Of those employed, nearly 85% found long-term, full-time careers that either required a law license or preferred a Juris Doctor degree. Half of the employed graduates opted for a career in law firms with less than 25 attorneys (most in law firms under 10 attorneys). Over 20% of employed graduates chose careers in government or public interest law firms, a point of focus at UMass Law. Another 15% of graduates chose careers in the business sector. More than half of graduates began their professional careers in Massachusetts.
The Career Services Office (CSO) at UMass Law helps students navigate from their academic to their professional careers. The focus on the CSO is tailored to individual counseling during each phase of a student’s career. In their first year, the CSO works with students to prepare their resume and cover letter as they work towards their first summer internships. In their second year, students meet with the CSO for a number of self-assessment tests as they begin to plan their career strategies to leverage their skills and interests. During their final year, the CSO prepares students for interviews and networking events through a variety of programs. All UMass students have access to the school’s vast online resources including a job database for UMass students.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
At UMass Law, students learn to practice law through participation in the school’s clinical program, external field placements, and simulation courses. In the clinical program, UMass students work with real clients in a variety of legal contexts. The school houses several in-house clinics and works closely with outside legal clinics such as the Mashpee Wampanoag Legal Services Clinic that serves low-income tribal members in the tribal court system. In all clinics, students learn by doing and working with real clients as they learn to apply their classroom skills to the actual practice of law. All clinical work is supervised by faculty experts.
UMass Law students may opt to satisfy the requirement for experiential learning through a field placement. The program offers three levels of external field work from co-curricular work, a three or four credit field placement that involves 12 to 15 hours per week in an external office, or an advanced field placement after completing a first assignments. All field placement put students in a local legal office or judicial chambers to serve in a variety of roles. Students build their professional networks, earn credit, and learn a variety of skills.
Each semester, UMass Law offers a range of simulation based courses that teach students practical skills by replicating real-world legal problems. Through collaboration, students learn to solve these problems in a classroom setting.
The small, close-knit campus of UMass Law has a commitment to social justice and a strong sense of community. The school seeks to foster collaboration and inclusion through initiatives and programs that celebrate the school’s diverse student body. The law school houses a number of student organization that bring students together to share common view or socialize outside of the classroom. As part of the larger university, all UMass Law students have access to the school’s health, fitness, dining, and counseling services. The law school campus is located off the main campus north of Dartmouth and close to New Bedford.
The law school’s location offers students close proximity to a range of housing options in the immediate area or in nearby cities such as New Bedford, Providence, or even Boston. The town of Dartmouth is a quintessential New England college town while New Bedford offers additional dining and nightlife options as well as a stunning waterfront. At UMass Law, students have easy access to Southern New England’s many forests and unique coastal waters. The famed Nantucket Sound and Martha’s Vineyard are a short drive and ferry ride away. In all, students at UMass Law enjoy a quiet town with easy access to the best of Southern New England.