Pre-Law Emphasis Gives Engineering Majors Two Degrees in Six Years

New program provides early admission to law school, shaves a year off usual academic path

Robert C. Khayat Law Center

OXFORD, Miss. – Following a national trend to make higher education more “user-friendly,” the University of Mississippi schools of Engineering and Law have joined forces to create a new program that provides early admission to the latter.

Through the accelerated law program, students in the general engineering pre-law program can be admitted into a fast-tracked Bachelor of Engineering and law degree program. Juniors who have maintained a 3.6 grade-point average and passed the LSAT with a minimum score of 160 can be admitted early to law school.

“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.”

UM alumnus and former U.S. attorney general Jim Greenlee (BE ’74, JD ’81) was very supportive even in early discussions about the program.

“This innovative program not only provides a saving to the gifted students through efficient use of their education dollars,” said Greenlee, partner at Holcomb Dunbar in Oxford. “It provides much more value to all, the students and the schools.”

Students gain an incalculable analytical, technical and scientific education that transitions to a vibrant legal education, providing a path to excel in both fields, Greenlee said.

“The School of Engineering gains by providing the future legal support for the profession and its emerging advances,” he 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.

“This 3+3 Accelerated Engineering + Law Program provides an excellent opportunity for the student with an interest in both fields,” Kendricks said. “We’re very excited to have formed a formal partnership between schools.”

The arrangement also benefits law school students, Dean Richard Gershon said.

“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,” said Gershon, also a law professor. “The schools benefit because we keep strong students at Ole Miss, rather than having them go to other law schools outside of Mississippi.”

Alumni attorneys agree that engineering is a great background for a career at a law firm.

“I definitely think having a technical background would help,” said Sally I. Gaden, an attorney in Cordova, Tenn. “With so many attorneys finishing law school and not having job prospects, I think having a technical background is extraordinarily helpful and can give them an edge.”

“There are so many technical aspects of product liability litigation, medical devices in particular, and having someone who could explain engineering, mechanical and technical issues is invaluable,” Gaden said. “Instead of going to an outside engineering expert, we had someone on our legal team who knew what to look for in engineering and technical documents, where to look for it and how to decipher what we located. He was also helpful in vetting experts, knowing what questions to ask them, knowing what questions to ask plaintiff’s experts, identifying aspects of a plaintiff’s expert’s reports that were nonsense and knowing how to translate technical issues to lay terms.”

Bill Clemmons, a UM alumnus and senior partner with Smith & Nephew Inc. in Cordova, Tenn., highly recommends the program.

“Patent law continues to be one of the most attractive areas of specialization for attorneys,” Clemmons said. “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.”

Christy Lea, a partner at Knobbe Martens in the firm’s Orange County, Calif., office, said her Ole Miss engineering degree (chemical engineering, 1997) prepared her well for a successful career in patent law. “The 3+3 Program gives students even more options for pursuing such a rewarding career,” she said.

School of Engineering officials are looking forward to another bump in enrollment.

“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.”