An American J.D. in Australia? One U.S law school wants to go international

A general view of Sydney Harbour, Australia December 22, 2017. Picture taken December 22, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Coates

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  • University of Arizona’s law school looking to be first to offer an accredited J.D. overseas
  • American Bar Association must approve the program

(Reuters) – The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law is seeking to become the first U.S. law school to open a branch campus internationally, offering students a dual degree with an Australian university that will allow them to be licensed in both countries.

The Tucson school has asked the American Bar Association for permission to partner with the University of Technology Sydney for the three-year joint degree.

No U.S. school currently offers an ABA-accredited J.D. in a foreign country, according to William Adams, the ABA’s managing director for accreditation and legal education. The last school to try was denied by the ABA.

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University of Arizona law dean Marc Miller, said that approval from the ABA could prompt others to think about expanding internationally.

“Over time, it could be revolutionary,” he said.

Under the proposal, law classes would be taught by Australian faculty at the Sydney campus with Arizona faculty developing the U.S. law components. Students would also have the option to take some online courses offered by Arizona’s law school, Miller said.

Initially most students would likely be Australians seeking to practice in the U.S., Miller said, but they would be able to take U.S. bar exams without the further study in the states that’s typically required. Administrators are aiming for 10 to 15 students a year.

The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar is slated to consider Arizona’s application when it meets in November. Approving it then would enable the new program to launch in the fall of 2023.

The ABA in May sent a fact finder to Sydney who submitted a report this month. That report does not include any recommendations but noted that everyone interviewed was “highly supportive of the program.”

The ABA has not considered accrediting any international J.D. programs since 2012, when it denied an application by the Peking University School of Transnational Law in Shenzhen, China. The school offers both a Chinese law degree delivered in Mandarin, and a western-style J.D. in English, though that degree is not recognized by the ABA.

Opponents at the time told the ABA that accrediting law schools outside the U.S. would force graduates of American schools to contend with more competition for jobs. Those in favor of Peking University’s proposal cited the increasingly global nature of the profession.

Miller said Arizona’s proposal has several key differences from Peking’s because its in an English speaking, common-law country and involves a “first-tier” partner university.

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Karen Sloan

Thomson Reuters

Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at

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