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Launching master of law programs in tax seemed like a great idea when employers were confident that there would be a demand for the credential. But the legal market has changed dramatically since then, and the University of Southern California Gould School of Law is backing off a plan to add a tax LL.M. program. “We started talking about it when things were going great in the legal market,” said Dean Robert Rasmussen. “Quite frankly, the demand was drying up and people coming out of the tax LL.M. program would not have had the same prospects as students coming out with a J.D. from USC. The recession hit, and we just didn’t feel comfortable saying, ‘Please give us $50,000 and a year of your life,’ unless we could improve their job prospects.” The school launched a feasibility study in 2007 and planned to open the program with approximately 15 students, eventually increasing that number to 30. The tax LL.M. would have been USC’s first LL.M. program for domestic students. It already has one for international students. But the 2010 target date for opening the program was put off until this year. And then the law school pulled the plug, Rasmussen said on Nov. 17. Law schools have been adding LL.M. programs at a fairly steady clip. The number of LL.M. degrees conferred by American Bar Association-approved law schools grew by 65% between 1999 and 2009 — far outpacing the 13% growth in J.D.s. LL.M. programs were seen as good revenue generators for schools, since they often don’t require the hiring of many additional faculty members. Advanced law programs have also been viewed by some students as a way to wait out a difficult job market. Rasmussen said the law school was never motivated by the bottom line. “Our degree has tremendous value,” he said. “We don’t issue degrees to make money.” He noted that USC retains ABA approval for a tax LL.M. program and has the faculty to run it. It could pursue the program in the future if demand for the credential improves, Rasmussen said. Contact Karen Sloan at [email protected].

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