Roy M. Sobelson Roy M. Sobelson (Photo: John Disney/ ALM)

Georgia State University College of Law is debuting an LL.M. program for U.S.-trained lawyers, offering a general degree as well as specializations in health, environmental and land-use or intellectual property law.

The school first launched a Master of Laws program in 2015 with a course for foreign-educated lawyers seeking a Georgia bar license. A 2014 rule change from the Georgia Office of Bar Admissions meant that a one-year LL.M. from a Georgia law school focused on bar prep could qualify foreign-licensed lawyers to take the state bar exam. Before, they had to earn a J.D. from a U.S. law school.

The new LL.M. offerings serve U.S. lawyers seeking extra training for career advancement or a transition into a new practice area, while creating additional tuition income for the school, said Roy Sobelson, the GSU Law professor directing the program.

“We feel like we have enough faculty to offer expertise in health law, IP, environmental and land use law. Lawyers can come out, hit the ground running and be an expert in this,” Sobelson said. “Generally you do not come out of law school being an expert in anything.”

The general LL.M. allows J.D.-holders to design their own course of study, Sobelson added. “Let’s say someone wants to head up the HR department in their company, and they need to know more about ERISA benefits and employment law. They can use the general studies degree to pick what will help them.”

The one-year course costs the same as one year of the school’s J.D. program, $17,050, and requires 26 credit hours.

GSU Law is starting the new LL.M. programs in fall 2018 after a soft launch of the health law LL.M. last fall. The school hopes to enroll about 35 students annually in the LL.M. programs, Sobelson said. Its J.D. classes range from about 200 to 215 students.

The LL.M. for foreign-trained lawyers has enrolled 78 lawyers in the three years since it launched, with annual enrollment ranging from 14 to 37 lawyers, Sobelson said, adding that about 75 percent of them are taking the bar-focused course with the aim of sitting for the Georgia bar exam.

The American Bar Association, which regulates legal education, signed off in the fall on the IP and environmental law offerings, plus the general LL.M., after already approving the health law track, Sobelson said.

The LL.M. courses don’t require accreditation from the ABA, but the organization must give what is called “acquiescence,” basically saying that a law school’s LL.M. offerings will not stretch its J.D. program too thin.

GSU Law decided to offer the IP, environmental and health law concentrations because that’s where it has the infrastructure. The interdisciplinary programs are designed in conjunction with GSU’s Center for Intellectual Property, Center for the Comparative Study of Metropolitan Growth and Center for Law, Health and Society, respectively.