Bucking Trend, Cornell and Fordham Launch New Programs

Photo by Martin du Lusenet

At a time when many law schools have reduced class enrollment in response to a decline in applications, two schools are going against the trend. Cornell Law School and Fordham University School of Law in recent weeks both have announced the creation of two new masters programs for lawyers.

LLMs, as the masters degrees are more commonly known, are certainly not new, although many are geared towards either foreign students hoping to practice in the U.S. or focus on specialties, like the longstanding tax program at New York University School of Law.

But changing, challenging times have spawned new LLM programs that can address both the uncertainty in the legal market and the ability to train practicing lawyers in areas that either didn’t exist, or weren’t as important, when lawyers were initially in law school, some just a few years ago.

Cornell Law School is collaborating with Cornell Tech, the university’s program located in New York City, to pair lawyers with entrepreneurs and engineers, who are also obtaining masters at the school.

Dan Huttenlocher, dean of Cornell Tech, said in an interview that his campus has“dozens of companies run by the students and each one needs legal representation.”

Students will spend the majority of their time in the classroom but approximately one-third of their time will be spent working in interdisciplinary teams, Cornell Law dean Eduardo Peñalver explained. For lawyers, the program provides an opportunity to receive first-hand experience working with start-ups, and the tech students will gain “a better understanding of how lawyers can help” early-stage companies.

Fordham, on the other hand, is launching an LLM in compliance. The program is, essentially, capitalizing on the capital markets based in New York.

Corporate compliance departments have grown rapidly over the last decade at financial services firms, accelerating with the passage of laws like the Dodd-Frank Act after the onset of the financial crisis.

But it’s not just financial firms that are affected; other public companies need compliance for a host of federal laws like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that prohibits bribes to government officials overseas and the raft of privacy and data protection laws in the U.S. and abroad, Fordham dean Matthew Diller said in an interview.

Fordham’s first class of students in the compliance LLM program began last fall. But the school also is starting another masters program for non-lawyers because of the “creation of thousands of jobs” in the compliance area, Diller said.

Tuition isn’t cheap, of course. Cornell’s one-year, primarily full time program has a price tag of close to $64,000; Fordham’s LLM costs more than $53,000.

But the schools are betting that because both fields are hiring, practicing lawyers will invest both the time and the money in the programs.

As Diller said, “These are challenging times for law schools, but the world is changing and so new opportunities are being created.”