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For Poets Pondering Law School

It is the English major's dilemma: Follow your muse and pursue an MFA or give in to your practical side and go for a law degree? No longer need you choose, thanks to the new JD/MFA joint-degree program offered by Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul., Minn. "In a sense, what Hamline has done is solve the English student's dilemma," Seth Abramson, a lawyer, poet and blogger now pursuing an MFA tells Inside Higher Ed. "You have an entire cadre of English majors in the U.S. who both love writing and want to see if they can make it as a writer -- but want to hedge their bets so they have an employable skill at the same time."

With the program set to launch next fall, its Web site says its purpose is to produce lawyers capable of exploring social and political issues through creative fiction and nonfiction writing. Enrollment will require separate applications and admissions to each program. Fewer than 10 students are expected to enroll. "Our graduates will be well positioned to serve as global leaders, thinkers, writers and, of course, members of the bench and bar," says Hamline Law Dean Jon Garon.

While Hamline is the first to offer a joint JD/MFA in creative writing, it is not the first to combine the degrees. Columbia University already has a joint JD/MFA program in theater. Still, the joining of these diverse disciplines begs the question: Does marrying them make it right? Dean Garon tells Inside Higher Ed that the joint degree offers students "a certain right-brain, left brain opportunity." But Kurt Heinzelman, director of creative writing programs at the University of Texas at Austin, sees no advantage in the combination. "It’s like that old commercial for Doublemint gum: Double your pleasure, double your fun. This sounds to me like you’re doubling your anxiety and stress." And lawyer-poet Abramson says the dual tracks could be an academic challenge: "I think anyone who goes through those programs would feel like they were in two different tracks pedagogically at once."

To my mind, the pairing makes perfect sense. As someone who has long walked the line between law and writing, I see plenty of crossover in both directions. My rough estimate is that one lawyer out of every 10 has a book or screenplay half written. I agree with Dean Garon when he said, "At the end of the day, lawyers are story-tellers. We make compelling stories for juries, we make compelling stories for courts, for legislators."

[Hat tip to Set in Style.]

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 22, 2008 at 02:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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