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Advancing Legal Education

Legal Literacy: Loyola Law School thinks beyond the JD with innovative degree programs

Law schools teach their students to identify problems and offer solutions. So it should be no surprise that one Los Angeles law school has employed that approach in adapting its curriculum to address changing legal needs after examining forecasts projecting double-digit job growth in areas rife with increasingly complicated legal issues,

“Everyday business and regulatory transactions are becoming increasingly complex,” said Sean M. Scott, senior associate dean at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. “That is particularly true in Los Angeles, where the areas of technology, entertainment, healthcare and policing face new legal challenges.”

To accommodate this shifting landscape, Loyola developed several degree programs that afford a rare opportunity for professionals and entrepreneurs to capitalize on the increasingly complicated legal intricacies found in burgeoning industries like financial services, healthcare and entertainment — all on Loyola’s Frank Gehry-designed downtown L.A. campus.

“Loyola is uniquely poised to pivot its JD offerings to a new audience because of its nimble culture,” Scott said. “Loyola has a well-established tradition of being entrepreneurial and innovative to keep up with market demands.”

Expertise for nonlawyers

The new Master of Science in Legal Studies (MLS) is designed for those who want to improve their legal fluency in areas related to industry regulations, compliance, deal making and more without committing to three or four years of law school. “The goal is to provide legal literacy,” Scott said.

Focusing on rapidly expanding sectors rich in legal complexity, Loyola is offering five specializations: corporate law, criminal justice, entertainment law, intellectual property and international business law. Or students may design their own program, pursuing a course of study such as healthcare law or fashion law with classes selected from a wide array of law school course offerings.

Given the number of hospitals and health insurers in the Southland — and the ranks of medical and health services managers expected to grow 22% by 2022 — Scott uses the healthcare industry as an example: “The Affordable Care Act has made life much more complex for the nonlawyers who must act in compliance with the new legislation,” she said. “The MLS is designed to help nonlawyers deftly navigate legal terrain and to be better prepared to engage with lawyers when matters demand that level of expertise.”

Beyond healthcare, industries that have expressed interest in hiring MLS graduates include law enforcement, law firms that employ librarians and the fashion industry.

MLS students also have access to many of Loyola's JD courses normally taken by students studying for their law degree. “The law school offers subject-matter concentrations, which provide in-depth focus in 12 practice areas, and programming that creates synergies between law students and others in complementary fields such as accounting and venture capital financing,” Scott said.

Anticipating the talent agent field to grow by nearly one-third in the next seven years, the entertainment law specialization features classes like Law and Practice with the Hollywood Guilds and Introduction to Negotiations. Likewise, Loyola designed the intellectual property specialization with an eye toward the rapidly growing tech industry on Silicon Beach.

Moreover, the MLS program provides access to the law school's myriad networking opportunities.

“With Loyola’s alumni base of about 17,000, MLS students will be able to connect with graduates who are practicing law as well as those who have chosen to use their degrees in careers that do not involve the direct practice of law,” Scott added.

Offered in full- or part-time formats, the MLS has flexible day and evening classes, allowing students to choose either option or a mix of both to complete the degree in one or two years. As a result, MLS students can benefit from Loyola's roster of full-time faculty plus top legal practitioners who take over the classrooms at night.

Mastering tax laws

Now in its second year, Loyola’s Master of Tax Law (MT) program provides nonlawyers with the skills necessary to excel in the practice of tax planning and consulting.

“Tax planning and consulting is a high-demand field, and our contacts at large accounting firms tell us that as they outsource more basic tax functions, they need more employees with high-level tax training focused on planning,” said Jennifer Kowal, director of Loyola’s graduate tax programs.

Loyola’s MT program — offered on a full- or part-time basis — also meets the fifth-year education requirement for CPA licensure in California. And it comes at a time when the number of those working as accountants and auditors in L.A. County alone is expected to grow by about 19% by 2022.

“Our program is unique in that it is offered at a law school with a top-ranked graduate tax law program,” Kowal said, noting that professors include the faculty of Loyola’s highly ranked Tax LLM program for attorneys. “Students take tax law courses taught by law professors using an analytical problem-solving approach.”

Rather than simply learning basic tax laws, Loyola's MT candidates learn how the laws apply to common situations and how to structure business operations and transactions to achieve the most favorable tax results, Kowal added.

With an undergraduate degree in accounting, Jin Gu decided to enroll in the MT program at Loyola because it provides a strong law education to students who don't have a legal background.

“These tax courses definitely add more value to an accountant because they are tax planning-oriented rather than tax compliance-oriented,” the full-time student said. “They increase my capability in my professional life in the long run. I have a huge interest in tax planning, especially in international taxation and partnership taxation.”

Interested? Better be prepared. The program is highly selective, requiring candidates to have a strong accounting, finance or economics background. The 2014 entering class reported an average GMAT of 730.

Taking a law career to the next level

Through its Master of Laws (LLM) degree, Loyola also offers continuing education for attorneys. For lawyers with at least three years of practice experience, the new LLM Specializations allow attorneys to focus on one of five practice areas: civil litigation and advocacy, criminal justice, entertainment law, intellectual property or international business law.

“An LLM degree with a specialization could benefit a lawyer in a variety of ways,” said program Director Joel Mosemann. “A lawyer who has not yet specialized can prepare to specialize by taking a cluster of specialized courses. The LLM degree may help a lawyer to transform his or her own practice, or to find a new position.”

Attorneys who have already specialized can benefit by gaining new skills in their practice area and enhance their expertise, Mosemann said.

“A fresh degree may help some lawyers return to the practice of law after a hiatus, and others may wish to pursue an advanced law degree for the intellectual exercise provided by a return to academics,” he added.

 —Julia Clerk for Loyola Law School, Los Angeles

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