Students, faculty build a case for UT’s first ever law certificate

London Gibson

A group of students and faculty members are currently building a case to add UT’s first law-focused certificate to the course schedule.

UT-Austin currently does not offer a minor or certificate program for pre-law students. Students from the Senate of College Councils and administrators in the College of Liberal Arts are working to change that by developing a certificate to offer students the chance to take law-related courses as an introduction to similar classes they may encounter in law school.

Current pre-law students often have difficulties receiving college credit for law classes, because they do not always fit into their degree plans, Senate policy director David Jenkins said.

“Because pre-law students come from a lot of different colleges and backgrounds, taking those classes is often difficult because they don’t contribute directly to your degree,” Jenkins, an English honors junior, said. “You have to take them as elective hours, and the University only really allots for so many of those."

Work on the certificate started about two years ago when students brought the need for a pre-law degree program to the attention of the Senate. After a series of roadblocks on both student and administrative sides, the organization is finally bringing the initiative back to the table, Jenkins said.

Government professor Raul Madrid is working with the team to get the project started, and they are currently in the process of working with members of the liberal arts college to form a committee and develop a proposal. He said the certificate would probably not be available to students for at least two to three years.

“We’re just in the process of forming a committee to try to study what it would consist of and what it would be called and the gist of what would be the requirements,” Madrid said. “We’re in the very early stages.”

Although the certificate will draw across departments for law and the criminal justice system classes, it will likely not be advertised as a pre-law certificate, so that students do not interpret it to be preparatory in any way for law school applications, Madrid said.

Madrid said he would like to dissuade students from thinking graduating with the certificate will tip the scales in their favor in regards to law school applications.

“Law schools themselves are not particularly interested in recruiting students that have a pre-law certificate,” Madrid said. “This has never been a priority for law schools.”

Senate vice president Lu Barraza said he does not expect the certificate to be a contentious proposal to pass, and that adding the certificate would be beneficial for students who want to take the first steps towards law school without the jump of taking the LSAT and applying.

The certificate might also have an affect on the number of applicants for the UT School of Law, Barraza said.

“One of the things that the law school brought up to us was that law schools across the country are experiencing a decline in applicants overall,” Barraza said. “We hope that this certificate will allow UT’s law school, as well as law schools around the country, to tap into the incredible students that we have here on campus and hopefully motivate them to pursue a career in law as well.”