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American jurisprudence at Master’s level

Michigan State University Dubai begins a unique Masters in Law programme for GCC students

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Professor Melanie Jacobs, Dean of InternationalProgrammes, Michigan State University, Dubai
Gulf News

Professor Melanie Jacobs, Dean of International Programmes, speaks about the only Masters in Law in English in the GCC region being taught at the Michigan State University, Dubai.

1. How did you choose to introduce teaching law in English at Master’s level in the Dubai campus?

Melanie Jacobs: Dubai is global hub for business and law. It has attracted many talented professionals from around the world, many of whom might wish to have additional training in the U.S. legal system.

We offer Master of Laws and Master of Jurisprudence degrees in the American Legal System for Foreign Educated Lawyers at our main campus in East Lansing, Michigan, and thought it might be attractive to offer a similar programme here, for people who are unable to commit to spending one to two years in the United States.

Through our East Lansing programme, we have developed a strong alumni base of Middle Eastern students who agreed that offering a degree programme in Dubai would be a good idea. We have strong interest in the Dubai programme among our faculty, many of whom are scheduled to teach here over the next few years.

Finally, we believe that we are one of the first law schools to offer such a programme here.

2. How is this course to be introduced in the UAE?

We believe that we are a unique programme in two important ways: first, we believe that we are the only law school teaching law in English and focusing on common law. Second, the professors who teach in our Dubai programme are our regular, MSU College of Law full-time faculty. We take great pride in offering the same quality instruction in our Dubai programme as our East Lansing programme.

3. How do you envisage foreign students putting this course in American law and jurisprudence to practical use in countries outside the US?

Dubai’s prominence as a global business hub makes American law relevant for many multinational corporations and law firms. Greater experience in common law research and reasoning are important skills for attorneys working in the new global economy. Greater exposure to and understanding of American legal systems and common law more generally should expand career opportunities for our students.

4. What are the main issues that have been kept in mind to tailor the course to suit foreign students?

Although our curriculum is intended to largely mirror the course offerings in our East Lansing programme, we have modified the courses to make it easy for working professionals from the UAE, GCC and beyond to take the courses.

So, rather than teach over a 14-week semester, our two-credit courses are taught over a four-day weekend. The intensive instruction provides a strong immersion experience in the common law system and in 
legal English.

To accommodate and attract students from the Middle East, we have endeavoured to develop materials that provide a useful point of comparison with civil and Sharia law. Our purpose is not to advocate for American common law, but to provide a strong foundational knowledge of the historical and cultural underpinnings of American law, to better inform our students of the differences among the legal systems. The readings, while largely the same, have also been edited and modified to make the 
materials a bit easier to follow for non-native English speakers.

5. Could you throw some light how you have designed the curriculum?

While most courses have a transactional or business focus, we have also included courses in legal technology, professional ethics, American Constitutional law, global education law, and family law (among others).

All courses include a global focus. The course work is certainly designed to provide students with significant substantive knowledge in particular areas but all of the courses further emphasise the basics of common law reasoning and 
practice, so that students are learning more about American legal practice generally. The course work is structured to benefit students who have and do not have previous legal training.

6. Who or what are the kind of students who should take up Masters in Law based on American jurisprudence?

Our current students are mostly professionals with successful careers, who wish to learn more about the American Legal System, both for general knowledge purposes and career advancement.

We encourage anyone who does business with American companies or multi-nationals as well as those who just want a better understanding of the different legal systems to contact us for more information.

7. Prior to taking on this post, you have taught law in leading institutes including Harvard, in Boston, and in China. Based on that, what would your advice be to students in the UAE?

One of the greatest privileges of my career is the opportunity to work with students from around the globe. Just as my students learn from me, I learn from them and to be in an 
environment such as this, where we have students from all over the Middle East and beyond, makes for a particularly vibrant and dynamic learning experience. It is fascinating for me to hear the variety of perspectives on various topics. My students in the US benefit from my teaching overseas, because I am able to share the perspective of my non-US students, which in turn broadens their world view.

On a more practical level, law school in the United States is far more interactive than in many other countries: we expect students to be fully engaged in classroom discussion and not to just listen to the 
professor lecture. My advice to my UAE students is not to merely come prepared to answer questions in the reading but be prepared to hear 
questions that require application of the reading. I also encourage them to ask questions, too.

8. While students who enrol in this course may be proficient in English, they might not be adept at the legal English required or practice. How do they polish the legal terminology of American jurisprudence?

Our students have good English language skills and part of the curriculum is to improve their knowledge of important legal terminology.

The programme is designed to be highly interactive so that during the course, students are applying their knowledge and not merely listening to a lecture. This allows the students the opportunity to use legal English and practice their newly acquired skills.

This approach further enables professors to identify any particular points of confusion and work with the students to ensure clarity.

9. Is this Master’s degree recognised in the US? Does it allow students to practice law in the US?

Since every US state has different standards for admission to practice, students should check with our office and with the Board of Law Examiners in the state in which they wish to practice to find out whether they are already qualified, and whether this LL.M. will help them become qualified.

We do not anticipate that the majority of students pursuing this degree are doing so for bar admission but rather to enhance their legal knowledge and improve their career opportunities in their home country.

10. What are the placement possibilities after this course for students?

As noted, many of our students are pursuing this degree not for a new job, but rather to have a greater knowledge base and skill set for their current job and perhaps a promotion.

Professionals who have a greater knowledge of the common law legal system will be attractive employees for American companies doing business in the student’s home country, multi-national corporations and NGO’s and government agencies that do business with multi-nationals and US corporations.