Bruce Hopkins DITL

Bruce Hopkins is a professor of practice in the University's School of Law. After practicing as a lawyer for many years, Hopkins recently returned to law school at the age of 72 to earn his third law degree. Hopkins' third law degree is a doctorate in law.

You can say you've had an interesting professor and a great classmate, but only a few in the School of Law can say they have had both, and with one person.

Bruce Hopkins is a professor of the practice at the University, teaching students on nonprofit organizations and law while practicing that same law in Kansas City. Hopkins boasts almost 50 years of experience within nonprofit and tax-exempt law, working with a wide range of nonprofit organizations.

In 2013, at the age of 72, Hopkins decided to enroll back in classes at the University to pursue his third law degree.

“I saw this degree as a goal. I saw it as an objective,” Hopkins said. 

The SJD (Scientiae Juridicae Doctor) is seen as the law equivalent of a Ph.D,

Although he said the degree does not have much of an impact to his career, Hopkins said experiencing the University setting as both a student and professor was well worth the journey.

“I really don’t see them as law students, in a way. I see them more as budding lawyers,” Hopkins said.

The respect goes both ways. Jacob Wilson, a University law student from Park Ridge, Illinois, expressed his thoughts on Hopkins’ teaching.

“When you compare his lecturing style to other professors, he has a wealth of real world information,” Wilson said. “He seems to know all the ins and outs of what clients will need and really infuses real world applications into the lectures that he gives every week.”

Hopkins said the road to earning the degree was difficult, because he not only teaches and practices law, but is both an author and speaker.

He has written over 30 books and spoken at events for nonprofit law across the nation. In fact, Hopkins wrote a memoir discussing his journey for the SJD titled “SJD: What’s the Point of Three (Law Degrees)? The Adventures of an Older Lawyer Who Returned to Law School for the Third Degree.”

The memoir explores Hopkins’ experiences in teaching his classmates, learning from those years younger than him and why he decided to pull the trigger on his dream.

“The ultimate point of the book is that if there’s something out there that somebody wants to do, then by all means, do it. As long as it’s lawful,” Hopkins said.

Many of his colleagues at the law school, who just so happened to end up teaching him, were very supportive of his journey. So supportive that Hopkins dedicated the memoir to two University law professors: Stephen Mazza, the dean of the law school and Michael Hoeflich, the former dean of the law school.

“Both of them, they were just extraordinary to me,” Hopkins said. “Extremely helpful, and it was a remarkable experience just to be able to work with them by itself.”

Hopkins said that the experience of earning a third degree was life changing for him. He said he now understands what exactly will help students the most instead of just lecturing for his two hour class period. The classes Hopkins took also improved his writing.

The degree may not have progressed Hopkins further into his career at his law firm, but he was able to accomplish his dream.

—Edited by Paola Alor

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