PUBLISHED:February 18, 2015

New dual-degree program combines law, bioethics, and science policy

Nita FarahanyProf. Nita Farahany

A new dual-degree program enables Duke Law students to combine a JD with a master’s focused on the interrelationships between science, law, ethics, and policy – and complete them both in just three years.

The JD/MA in Bioethics and Science Policy, which was approved by the Duke Law faculty in December, prepares students for careers at the intersection of law, science, and technology, from opportunities in government to positions at law firms, including in highly specialized fields such as genomics, neuroscience, public health, and clinical research.

“Whether in a law firm, a startup, or a large federal regulatory agency, the demand for attorneys with a firm grasp of the interaction between science and the law is growing rapidly,” said Dean David F. Levi. “Through this unique interdisciplinary program, our students can add an advanced degree focused on science and technology – in the same time it takes to receive their JD.”

The program is being offered in conjunction with Duke’s campus-wide Science & Society initiative with the support of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, Trent Center for Bioethics, the Philosophy Department, School of Divinity, and faculty throughout the university.

Students in the program are required to complete 36 additional credits to earn the master’s degree. As with its other dual-degree programs, the Law School will accept 12 of those credits towards the JD to make it possible to complete both sets of requirements in six semesters and one summer.

During the first year, all students take the regular 1L curriculum but exchange one law class for two MA core courses: Science, Law, and Policy and Contemporary Issues in Bioethics & Science Policy, a colloquium series that gives students access to distinguished leaders in science, law, and policy through small group meetings and private dinners. The capstone requirement for the master’s is satisfied through a practicum completed during a full summer in Washington, D.C. or other externship locations after the 1L year. The practicum includes work in a federal agency, nonprofit, or other similar placement, and an associated seminar designed for the JD/MA students in the program.

The dual-degree program is tailored to the needs of law students, noted Professor Nita A. Farahany JD/MA ’04, PhD ’06, who holds in appointments in both law and philosophy and serves as director of Duke Science & Society as well as the MA program. JD/MA students can choose specialized concentration Intellectual Property or Health Law & Policy tracks that are not available to other master’s students, or create their own based on their interests.

“This is a very ‘high-touch’ master’s program,” Farahany said. “There’s a low student-to-faculty ratio to ensure that students will have excellent opportunities for mentorship and to work side-by-side with our faculty.”

Naina Soni ’16, who enrolled in the program this spring despite already being a 2L, had been looking for a way to build upon her undergraduate degrees in biology and government and politics.

“I’ve always had this interest in science and how it overlaps with the law, but more specifically, how genetic ethics entwine with the laws and other bioethics issues,” she said.

Soni, whose hopes to become a patent litigator, said on-campus interviewers expressed considerable interest in her science background even before she began the program. She will work in the intellectual property practice at Cooley LLP in Washington this summer.

“Many of the most exciting new job opportunities require a background in law, science policy, and ethics,” Farahany said. “Our students will be uniquely well positioned to take advantage of those opportunities.”