LL.M degrees are now becoming the next big thing. Like the specialization that once was the MBA degree, LL.M’s are now becoming much more commonplace. Just as the MBA degree went from being obscure and specialized, to commoditized, and is now to online and widely available, the LL.M is following right behind.
Institutions need products to offer students. They provide services and they need something new to constantly draw more students to them. Also students will need an edge over someone else, so new degrees that are constantly becoming more specialized and have their place in our mature economy. The problem with this model is that everyone wants an edge over everyone else. That is great for institutions that have years to bank on this kind of system before the “edge” loses its sharpness, or until the economy takes a structural turn, or until the bubble that fueled the “need” in the economy for so many specialized graduates bursts. A while ago, so many real estate licenses were given out, just as there is now an oversaturation in certain markets now with MBAs. It’s a fine balance between specialization and the equilibrium of demand in the market. Because many things happen with a lag, the changes often affect the latest entrants into a system. Like the last entrants onto a massive pyramid scheme, the payoff is usually not worth the cost.
Online schools benefit as they have almost no administrative costs and overhead, while their class and semester costs aren’t too much lower than a brick and mortar school with professors. The online LL.M degree is simply the next evolution of educational institutions products. As law schools shrink and face cash problems, online programs, exponentially growing at this time, can be a good way for the schools to tap into new markets. As schools shed their staff and faculty, they can ramp up enrollment with their virtual arm, and keep the expenses low there. Without expensive benefits packages and salaries to pay, a couple of professors and technology consultants and staff can handle an online program. That could potentially cost a school only a fraction of their current costs. So the trend for growth in the online segment of schools is happening across the country.
According to Prospect.org, Seton Hall’s faculty and staff were informed they will likely be laid off. Pacific McGeorge School of Law also is downsizing. The Vermont School of Law removed 20 percent of positions. Because the legal industry’s job growth is sliding, schools will face downsizing pressures. The decision to get on board with distance learning is a great one for institutions. It helps them reach more students, and the lure of the LL.M degree, which could provide students an edge over their peers, is also strong. Schools with lower ranks or employment statistics have been offering this degree the most. Pepperdine Law professor Paul Caron commented that the LL.M degree does not significantly improve a job candidate’s resume, and that it doesn’t justify the costs. “With cavernous shortfalls in their budgets, law schools are trying to avoid the fate of Seton Hall, or Vermont, etc. [They] will do all they can to rob Peter (students) to pay Paul (faculty).”
Rebecca Purdom, chair of the Working Group for Distance Learning in Legal Education and a professor at Vermont Law School, commented that since students feel they need that extra degree to get the job, and since Law Schools are under immense pressure to increase revenues, it seems possible tat the LL.M programs around the country will expand. “I can’t predict what’s going to happen,” says Purdom. “It’s going to be fun to watch. Or sad.”