There’s just too many lawyers on Earth and especially in America. I’ve got nothing against lawyers, but that’s just the truth—there are more than two law grads for every estimated job opening, according to Matt Leichter, author of the law blog Law School Tuition Bubble.
But law schools gotta feed the monkey, as they say, and keep that sweet, $40,000-per-year tuition money flowing. So if the litigious Earth is already saturated with lawyers, where do you turn? You shoot for the stars, and offer a space law degree.
The University of Nebraska and University of Mississippi are the first two law schools to offer degrees in space law, which will train students to deal with issues ranging from commercial space flight to asteroid mining, just as those fields are getting off the ground.
Mississippi, coincidentally or predictably, has the worst case of lawyer glut, with over 10 law graduates for each opening. Nebraska is the fourth worst state for lawyer glut, at over four to one. This fall, Ole Miss is adding a master of law degree in space and aviation law; UNL is starting a doctoral-level program in space law.
According to the story at USA Today, “There are opportunities out there and there are many emerging space law issues that need to get answers,” said Jacqueline Serrao, the director of the master of laws program in Air and Space Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law. “The money is there. The infrastructure is there. Where are the laws?”
The same story explains that “classes will examine issues ranging from determining liability in commercial space accidents to who can legally take resources from a planet or a moon.”
This might seem premature considering private companies won’t even start testing spacecraft to visit asteroids for another two years under their most optimistic estimates. NASA’s mission to bring back two ounces of asteroid cost a billion dollars.
But the people backing these plans—James Cameron, Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt—are loaded, and they’re not waiting for things to be practical. So yes, the money is there. And it probably should be no surprise who sniffed it out.
The USA Today story has quotes from optimistic, space law graduates and students, who describe the field as "cutting edge" and the "new frontier of American law." And we all know that the best thing about that open frontier, is getting some legal red tape all over it.
Or perhaps space law is more about keeping that frontier spirit alive, particularly on a state level. Legislators in Texas, Virginia and Florida have already begun passing laws to attract the commercial space industry and all the states have enacted legislation to protect space tourism companies from liability if passengers are hurt or killed in flight. California lawmakers are currently debating legislation that would extend protection to space manufacturing companies, according to USA Today. Sticking up against the little guy.
On the plus side, I can honestly say that "space lawyer" is something that didn't exist when I was a kid (or an adult up until recently), and maybe these schools are taking the long-view. And maybe there is a possibility to turn all employment gluts into space assets. Space English professors anyone? Space American autoworkers? Space journalists?