Chicago’s John Marshall Law School Offers M.S. Degree Options with Legal Focus through Classroom, Online Courses

The John Marshall Law School has been molding attorneys for well past a century, but in recent years a new type of student has entered the law school’s classrooms.

John Marshall is one of a limited number of law schools across the country offering master’s degrees to non-lawyer professionals.

“Our master’s degree programs give working professionals a way to boost their careers by learning the myriad legal issues surrounding a given field,” said Kathryn Kennedy, associate dean for Advanced Studies and Research.

Since it began offering MS degrees in 2002, the law school has awarded 87 to non-lawyer students. Currently, John Marshall offers MS degrees in five specialties: Employee Benefits, Information Technology and Privacy Law, Intellectual Property Law, Real Estate Law, and Tax Law.

MS students can increase their value in the workplace by understanding the legal issues surrounding their area of expertise. They take the same specialized courses as lawyers earning LLM specialty degrees and often elevate class discussions by offering a point of view that comes from workplace experience.

Alison Brunelle, a privacy and data protection specialist manager at Deloitte & Touche, received her MS in Information Technology and Privacy Law in 2004. She has since become an adjunct professor at John Marshall, teaching law students and MS students about emerging trends and issues impacting information security and privacy.

Brunelle was a paralegal working in electronic discovery and consulting on litigation support matters when she began the program.

“I came in the door wanting to legitimize, from an academic standpoint, what I was already doing in electronic discovery,” she said. “But because the program is so multi-disciplined, I was also exposed to intellectual property law, public policy and privacy law.”

The program enabled her to expand her consulting career, she said: “It was very leading edge when I came into the program. It covered all facets of how technology impacted not only the law but business as well.”

“Our MS students are diverse, coming from a wide range of professional areas including corporate management, law enforcement, education, government and law practice management,” said Professor Leslie Reis, director of the Center for Information Technology and Privacy Law, supervising the center’s MS students. “They can increase their value in the workplace by expanding their understanding of the intersection of technology, privacy and law within their given fields.”

Donna Gayden is one of those MS students who brings a different perspective to class. Gayden, who expects to complete the MS in Tax Law in May 2013, is the village administrator in Glenwood, Illinois, about 20 miles south of Chicago.

Gayden said she is already finding ways to use what she has learned to help her community.

“The benefits not only include a better understanding of property, sales and other municipal taxes, but also how tax increment financing and private partnerships can bring economic development to the community,” she said.

Wiley Ransom, who is taking classes for his MS in Employee Benefits, is a 25-year employee of the Internal Revenue Service, where he works as a customer education and outreach analyst.

Ransom calls his studies “very satisfying” and says the research skills he learned at the law school were alone worth the cost of tuition.

“It’s satisfying because now I can look at a problem more analytically and come up with reasons why something happened. Once you understand the ‘Why?’ of a problem, you truly understand,” he said.

Expanding his knowledge of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) is a key component of what he is learning.

“You need to know what ERISA is all about in order to really understand what retirement plans are all about,” he said. “It just takes you to the next level of understanding of what and why we’re doing the work that we’re doing.”

The master’s degrees can be completed in two semesters of full-time attendance or part-time over a period of up to five years. In many cases, classes are offered late afternoons or evenings and on Saturdays and can therefore accommodate students who work a full-time job.

John Marshall continues to expand its distance education program and some MS courses are offered online, giving students more flexibility in fitting classes around work schedules. The Higher Learning Commission reviewed and approved the law school’s specially designed online MS degree programs in Employee Benefits and Intellectual Property Law. Select MS courses in Information Technology and Privacy Law are also online.

Work experience is considered a prerequisite for admission to some of the programs. Master’s degree students must complete 24 credit hours, and published academic papers are required for several of the programs.

In addition, The MS in Intellectual Property Law offers two tracks; a patent track for candidates with technical backgrounds and a general IP track for candidates who want in-depth knowledge of the full range of IP laws and developments.