Arizona Attorney Q&A with Dean Marc Miller Covers Improving Access to Legal Education, JD-Next, Innovation for Justice and More

Sept. 19, 2023
Marc Miller standing University of Arizona Law courtyard

Arizona Attorney Magazine 
Update’s from Arizona’s Law Schools 
September 2023 

University of Arizona Law Dean and Ralph W. Bilby Professor of Law Marc Miller discussed improving access to legal education, the Innovation for Justice Laboratory, and clinic achievements in Q&A with Arizona Attorney Magazine. 

From Arizona Attorney Magazine: 

What are a few significant developments you’d like to share about your law school? 

This year has been a time of ongoing change for legal and higher education. Some of those changes have been under way for years, such as new pathways for J.D. admissions, expansion of legal education to degree and certificate programs in addition to the traditional J.D., creative responses to the deep and longstanding access to justice challenge, and the forthcoming changes to the bar exam used by most states. Other changes appeared more suddenly, like Chat GPT and the significant change in the methodology for US News. 

University of Arizona Law continues to explore ways to broaden access to legal education. That is one of the reasons we began accepting the GRE as an alternative to the LSAT, for traditional J.D. studies, in 2016 – an innovation followed first by Harvard, then by more than 100 law schools, and since December of 2021 approved by the American Bar Association Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar for use by all accredited U.S. law schools. 

When we proposed the GRE alternative, we were asked why we did not develop our own law-specific exam. The answer then reflected the difficulty, time and expense of developing a new exam that would be valid and reliable across law schools, the widespread prior acceptance of the GRE for other graduate and professional study, and the willingness of ETS (which owns and administers the GRE) to support the studies necessary to prove validity and reliability of the GRE for J.D. programs. 

But since that time, we have been working to do precisely what people asked then: to develop a law-specific admissions test, called JD-Next. After five years of research and peer-reviewed publication of the results, the ABA Council on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar has now approved JD-Next for use by Arizona and invited all law schools to use it as an alternative J.D. admissions pathway through a simple four-line online variance process. 

JD-Next operates on a different testing theory than the legacy admission tests. That theory goes by several labels, including proximal testing. The idea is that we train people to do the actual kind of reasoning they will do in law school, then test them on that actual skill. We believed this theory had the potential to reduce or eliminate disparate racial outcomes in the existing tests. 

The JD-Next test is conducted after students are first offered a seven-week course built around fundamental training in how to read a case and a slice of our BA in Law contracts materials. We have been joined by more than 30 law schools nationwide in developing this test. The value for schools and admitted students during the testing phase was being part of a research project and gaining the benefit of the “bridge” function – basic training. Our research demonstrated that the JD-Next course as a bridge saw participants on average had a 0.20 increase in their first-year law school GPA compared to classmates who completed an alternative placebo (watching legal dramas). This was not just statistically significant; early J.D. success is professionally significant, opening doors to participation on journals and additional job opportunities.  

But our core goal was to assess the JD-Next exam, given at the end of the class. Our findings show that the JD-Next exam predicts law school performance as well or better than the LSAT and GRE. Critically, the JD-Next exam predicts performance without reproducing the racial score disparities seen on other standardized tests. Reducing score disparities has become a priority for law schools as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that affirmative action in college admission is unconstitutional. Affirmative action had been barred in Arizona and a handful of other states by state law before the Supreme Court decision. 

The team responsible for the creation of this groundbreaking endeavor include Jess Findley, Ph.D., J.D., director of JD-Next, director of Bar & Academic Success at the University of Arizona Law and professor of practice, and Chris Robertson, the founding principal investigator, a former longtime Arizona Law faculty member, and now associate dean for Strategic Initiatives and professor of law at Boston University School and Law and professor of health law, policy & management at the BU School of Public Health. The development of JD-Next has been fully funded over five years by two non-profits – the AccessLex Foundation and the ETS Foundation.  

While we can begin using JD-Next as an additional J.D. admissions pathway this coming year, in the meantime, relying on the traditional LSAT and GRE scores, academic and life records, we continue to admit a strong, deep, diverse class in our traditional J.D. program. For our fall 202 class, a majority of our incoming J.D. students identify as female, and again in fall 2023 a majority are from outside Arizona. With only two law schools in Arizona and a thriving economy, it is not surprising that a majority of our J.D. graduates stay in Arizona for their first job.  

Law schools often play the role of legal innovation laboratory. Can you share new practice areas the school is excited to instruct in? 

Much of the scholarly work of our faculty has qualities of legal innovation, in the topics, research methods, and focused recommendations.  

Innovation for Justice is literally a legal innovation laboratory, aimed at developing access-to-justice solutions. Led by Professor Stacy Rupprecht Jane, it is conducted jointly by University of Arizona Law and the University of Utah Eccles School of Business. That makes i4J the nation’s first and only cross-jurisdiction and cross-discipline legal innovation lab. This past year, we announced the Changemaker Award, an honor recognizing a law firm, non-profit or government organization that has made an original, creative, distinctive or sustained contribution to increasing access to legal services.  

The award was made possible through a generous contribution from Stephen Golden, like Stacy a 2002 alumnus of the University of Arizona College of Law. Nominations will be solicited throughout the summer and fall, with the award committee selecting a winner in November. Self-nominations will be accepted.  

Another great example is the expansion of educational pathways for law librarians, led by Associate Dean and Law Library Director Teresa Miguel-Stearns. Arizona Law has long had a leading program to train law librarians with J.D. and MLIS (Master of Library & Information Science), in partnership with the University of Arizona School of Information. But there is a need for more – and more diverse – librarians. Teresa and her colleagues recognized that our MLS and BA degrees could provide alternative but excellent pathways to legal information careers. 

This is only one example of many innovations taking place in our law library! To get a sense of the full range of work that is reshaping information science, and deeply engaged with our larger legal community, see the University of Arizona Law Library annual report

Our international connections and proximity to the Mexican border have led us to create two one-of-a-kind programs for lawyers and professionals in Tucson and abroad. Our Foreign Diplomat Training Program has trained 230 Mexican diplomats on foundational U.S. law to better serve their citizens living, traveling and working in the U.S. The distinct Diplomado Program in Mexican Public Law and Policy, offered through a partnership between the University of Arizona and the Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), is taught in Spanish by elite Mexican legal scholars and practitioners. Available to University of Arizona graduate and advanced undergraduate students as well as lawyers, judges and working professionals, this certificate program expands students’ understanding of Mexican public law and helps them develop immediately useful expertise. We encourage members of the State Bar who are bilingual and have an interest in Mexico and comparative law to join this program. 

Do you have any news to share about new hands-on clinics or expansions of current ones? 

As a national leader in practical training, our clinics are a core element of ensuring our students graduate fully prepared to enter the job market. With 16 clinics, we guarantee placement for every student who wants it. Our curriculum has also been strategically crafted to include a variety of simulation and skills courses, from legal writing and advanced drafting to trial advocacy and mediation, to professional and legal practice.  

I should mention that our current fundraising priority, in additional to the eternal efforts to raise funds in support of students, is called A New Day in Court, which will completely redo our two law school courtrooms to beautiful modern form and standards, to match our highly rated advocacy program, and to honor the retirement of legendary Professor Tom Mauet, for whom the program is now named. 

In the Spring, the University of Arizona Innocence Project was awarded a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to increase the clinic’s capacity to investigate, litigate and overturn wrongful convictions in Pima County. The funding comes from the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Upholding the Rule of Law and Preventing Wrongful Conviction Program, which awarded grants to five other organizations this fiscal year.  

Innovation for Justice celebrated their fifth-year anniversary this past spring, reflecting on the dozens of projects they have taken on since their 2018 founding. Among them is the Housing Stability Legal Advocate Initiative, which has received approval from the Supreme Courts in Arizona and Utah to implement a new legal service model that aims to keep more low-income families in their homes by training licensed advocates to provide limited-scope legal advice and services to tenants who are facing housing instability. 

Our Natural Resource Use & Management Clinic has also received funding this year as part of a new state statute allowing the clinic staff to support those hoping to adjudicate small water claims in the region. 

While you asked about clinics, I would also note that from an educational standpoint the relevant category may be the entire panoply of clinical and experiential education, including externships, and our top-ranked legal writing program. Indeed, our superb writing program led by Professor Susie Salmon, and which has ranked 8th in the country by US News, is a critical foundation and advanced ally for so much of what we do at University of Arizona Law – and so much of what our students do out in the world.  

Read the full Q&A in Arizona Attorney Magazine