USC law school unveils a new online program

The USC Gould School of Law announced Tuesday that it will start offering an online master of laws degree in the fall of 2014.

The school aims to provide international attorneys the opportunity to earn certificates in business or entertainment law. The program, which will begin accepting applications in the new year, offers 10 of the residential program’s core classes in an online format and has received official consent from the American Bar Association.

The school partnered with technology company Pearson Embanet, who will provide web support, maintenance, instructional design and course conversion.

Gould Dean Robert K. Rasmussen began considering an online program last year shortly after university President C. L. Max Nikias announced USC’s efforts to expand online education.

“It was really a perfect compliment of our team’s initiative and President Nikias’ university initiative,” said Deborah Call, associate dean of USC Gould’s Graduate and International Programs. “We’ve had a very successful residential master of laws program for international students for 12 years.”

Over the past 10 years, Call said, the American Bar Association has noted a significant increase in the number of international students seeking a legal education in the United States.

“By coming to the United States and earning the master of laws degree, it improves their opportunity for growth within the company or the law firm so they typically earn a promotion, and after they complete the degree it allows them to earn a higher salary,” Call said.

All courses will be taught in English and, similar to the international students in the residential masters of laws program, students who take the online courses will be required to take a test proving their English language proficiency. Call hopes the program will attract students from countries including South Korea, China, Japan, India, Brazil, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

“These are countries where there are large populations of licensed law practitioners and this program will be targeted at those that who can’t take time away from their busy law practices, their professional careers and their personal family obligations,” Call said.

While developing the program, Call and her colleagues spoke to alumni who said they enjoyed the on-campus experience but many of their associates did not have the luxury to take a year off and come to the United States. Those who take the online course, however, will have the option to attend a four-week long on-campus Summer Law and English program.

Washington University in St. Louis offers a similar program for international students and both New York University and Boston University offer online programs in tax law. Call said Gould consulted with other USC graduate schools that offer online programs during the development phase.

“We’ve worked closely with many of the university administrators across the graduate schools to ensure we are going to bring excellent quality and high-caliber students into our programs,” Call said.

More than 90 percent of students in the residential master of laws program return to their home country, Call said, but many have taken advantage of the opportunity to sit for an American Bar exam and a comprehensive understanding of the U.S. legal system allowed them to conduct more international business. The online program will offer similar benefits.

“It gives them qualities and skills that many of their colleagues simply don’t have because they haven’t had the opportunity to study in the master of laws program and that will translate whether they accomplish that through a residential or online modality,” Call said. “The online environment provides a larger audience with the opportunity to study and I feel that this is really the way of the future.”