Engineering a law degree — Ole Miss launches new, interdisciplinary program

Richard Gershon

Richard Gershon

OXFORD — At first glance, law and engineering seem to have little in common.

The University of Mississippi, however, says look again.

Ole Miss has launched a new accelerated, interdisciplinary program offering engineering students early admission to the public university’s School of Law. Officials officially kicked off the program last month in an effort to be more “user-friendly.”

Through the “3+3” law program, students in the general engineering pre-law program can be admitted into a fast-tracked bachelor of engineering and law degree program, trimming a full year off of attaining a law degree. In addition the admission requirements of minimum 3.6 grade point average and 160 on the LSAT makes prospective students automatic qualifiers for full-ride scholarships from the School of Law.

“If they are admitted to the program, in their engineering senior year they are simultaneously the first-year law students and will be taking the first-year law courses,” said Alex Cheng, dean of the engineering school. “At the end of four years, students are granted a B.E. degree. In another two years, they earn a law degree. Hence, rather than the traditional four-plus-three years for a law degree, it becomes three-plus-three.”

According to Matthew Hall, associate dean for academic affairs at UM, engineering/law programs are “hot,” but the public university took approximately four years to develop the program.

Hall said one of the goals of the program is to keep students in Mississippi and not have them transfer out to schools in other states. Richard Gershon, dean of the UM School of Law, agreed.

“The program benefits the students, because they can complete the engineering and law degrees in six years instead of seven, which is a huge savings to them. The schools benefit because we keep strong students at Ole Miss, rather than having them go to other law schools outside of Mississippi.”

Jim Greenlee, UM alumnus, former U.S. attorney general and partner at the law firm of Holcomb Dunbar, said the new program is a win for both the engineering and law schools.

“The School of Engineering gains by providing the future legal support for the profession and its emerging advances,” Greenlee said. “The School of Law is provided with top students of outstanding analytical ability to mold into leaders in law in this ever-advancing technological society.”

Marni Kendricks, assistant dean for undergraduate academics, will be managing the program for the School of Engineering and advising students in this degree path.

Hall stressed that Ole Miss’ law school already offers technical-background law degrees, including intellectual property/patent law and LLM in air and space law.

Bill Clemmons, a UM alumnus and senior partner with Smith & Nephew Inc. in Cordova, Tenn., said, “Patent law continues to be one of the most attractive areas of specialization for attorneys. All licensed patent attorneys must have a technical background in engineering, math or science. This is an outstanding opportunity for Ole Miss engineering students, especially those interested in patent law, and I hope they take advantage of it.”

The School of Engineering is hoping to see new interest in its engineering programs that continue to see an ever-increasing number of students.

“We anticipate that we will have another record enrollment in the fall,” Cheng said. “The daily tracking shows that our pre-enrollment numbers are 20 percent higher at this time than they were this time last year. In the end, I anticipate it to be 15 percent or more.”

UM is not expecting an immediate flood if applicants. In order for the engineering student to take advantage of the accelerated law program, he or she must take certain electives starting as freshmen to meet the law school’s entry requirements. Thus, it may be a couple of years before the program’s numbers swell.

“We never expect it to be a big program in terms of enrollment, but we do believe it will prove popular for certain students and are excited about the future,” Hall said.

 

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