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With hordes of baby boomers reaching retirement age, the demand for estate planning is at an all-time high. It’s also an increasingly complex area to specialize in. But Massachusetts lawyers looking to break into the field or expand their existing expertise will soon have an opportunity most of their colleagues across the country are without: an LL.M. (Master of Laws) degree program in estate planning in their own backyard. Western New England College School of Law last week announced plans to begin offering such a post-graduate law degree program during the fall semester in 2005. The expansion of the school’s curriculum was recently approved by both the school’s faculty and its board of trustees. Professor Frederick D. Royal, who will be the director of the new LL.M. program, said it will be the only program of its kind in Massachusetts, and one of only a few nationwide. While many LL.M. programs in taxation offer courses in estate planning, only the University of Miami School of Law and the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law currently offer an LL.M. program specifically tailored to estate planning. The new program is “designed to appeal to the many solo practitioners and small firms, within a 100-mile radius of Springfield, that practice in this complex area of law,” said Royal, noting that the aging baby boomer population will contribute to the continued growth of trust and estate planning practice for years to come. It’s a part-time, evening program that can be completed in either two or three years. Students taking the two-year program will attend classes two nights a week for a total of six hours, while the three-year program entails once-a-week, four-hour classes. Students will be required to complete a total of 24 credit hours, culminating in a detailed, simulated drafting course. Local attorneys who practice trust and estate law are excited about the new program. “I would love to have the time to take it,” said James W. Gelinas, of Gelinas & Lefebvre in Chicopee. The certification, Gelinas added, is definitely worth the time commitment, although he acknowledged that “work and family obligations make it difficult to handle.” The program will be especially beneficial to new lawyers, who may not have built a large clientele yet, said Gelinas. Hyman Darling, of Bacon & Wilson in Springfield, who practices trust and estate law, said the course will be a unique opportunity for local lawyers. Darling said nonlawyers can benefit from the program as well. “This program would be great for financial planners, accountants, trust officers, and anyone else working in this field.” Students who enroll in the program, Darling predicted, will go into it with some knowledge of estate planning, which will further enhance their experience. And, while he practices trust and estate law exclusively, Darling is sure there will be classes that he will take because, as he says, “this profession is a continual learning process.” Professor Royal said he expects to have a link on the WNEC School of Law Web site by the end of this summer, and will work on “promoting the program for one year.” While he wouldn’t speculate on how many students may enroll, he said he would be delighted to have at least 10 enrollees for the fall semester in 2005. Attorneys who satisfactorily complete the program will have the added benefit of being able to advertise themselves as specialists in the field of estate planning. According to Board of Bar Overseers Counsel Sarah Chambers, attorneys who receive their LL.M. in estate planning can do such advertising within the parameters of Rule 7.4 of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct.

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