After graduating from college, I had a job interview with Mars. The interviewer asked me, “If you could be a candy bar, which one would you be and why?” I was not prepared for such a difficult question. First, I had to try to recall which candy bars were manufactured by Mars. Second, deciding which candy bar was my favorite was like choosing a favorite child. After a little thought, I responded, “I would be a Twix bar because there are two of them.” In addition to making no sense, my answer revealed a personality flaw that is best not disclosed up front: I am indecisive. And I guess I have a split personality? Unsurprisingly, I did not get the job.

There are a few other issues, beyond choosing my favorite candy bar, that I have difficulty resolving. The issue du jour is whether or not it is worth getting more education to get a (better) job. And I am not just talking about a J.D., I am talking about the Small Business LLM from Concord Law School.

Concord Law School launched its Small Business LLM program in the fall of 2010. Designed to be completed part-time online in two years, the program offers hands-on practical education to equip practitioners or recent law grads with the skills needed to serve small business clients. Tuition is $600 per credit hour, or $14,400 for the program. While Concord does not offer scholarships, there are opportunities for students to obtain outside financial aid and private loans.

Is it worth it? Let’s discuss the pros and cons….

Pros:

(1) The Program Offers Tools for Practitioners to Serve a Key Market

Small businesses are more economically and socially important than ever. According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses generated 65% of new jobs over the past 17 years, represent 99.7% of employers, and produce 16.5 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms.

(2) The Program Provides Hands-On Practical Tools

Despite the importance of small business as a client population, law schools do not focus on issues relevant to this group. The Small Business LLM is designed to impart practical knowledge necessary to serve this group. It is for this reason that the curriculum includes, among others, classes on leasing commercial spaces, employee management issues, governance of closely held businesses, taxation of small businesses, and small business IP. Also, recognizing that your small law firm is itself a small business, the program offers classes on law firm management and virtual practice.

(3) Current Students Feel the Program Is Worthwhile

Check out these testimonials:

“Unlike law school, this is very applicable real world content. Each term, I have at least one client who had an issue that was directly related to my current coursework. I was able to retain these clients instead of having to refer them out. For example, in my Intellectual Property course, we developed a licensing agreement that I was able to use immediately with a client who was developing a mobile phone application. At the end of my current Virtual Law Practice course, I will have a business plan in place to add a virtual component to my existing practice – something I did not consider prior to the program.”

David Leonard, LLM candidate, May 2012

“The material in this program is structured so that the content is immediately usable in my practice – whether in the middle of the course or at the end. I was able to use information from this program for one of my clients to better understand how companies may use their benefit packages and their policies to modify the behavior of their employees – something I had never considered before.”

James Lake, LLM candidate, May 2012

(4) The Program Is Entirely Online and Part-Time

One of the biggest gripes against going back to school (aside from cost) is taking yourself out of the labor market. Because this program is done online while you are working, this is not an issue.

Cons:

(1) You Are Already in Debt

Many law students graduate in debt, and this program adds an additional $14,000 to that burden. Experts in student loan-backed bonds claim that law school is “a sucker’s bet in periods of high unemployment.”

Additionally, according to University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law Dean Jim Chen:

To maintain a “good” level of financial viability — meaning they could easily secure loans and would be very financially secure — graduates must earn six times their annual tuition, Chen calculates. That means graduates of $16,000-a-year schools would need to earn $96,000; graduates of $32,000 schools would need to earn $192,000; and graduates of $48,000 schools would need to earn $288,000. To maintain “marginal” financial viability, graduates of $16,000-a-year schools would need to earn at least $32,000; graduates of $32,000 schools would need to earn $64,000; and graduates of $48,000 schools would need to earn $96,000.

So, graduates of the Small Business LLM would need to earn between $28,000 and $84,000.

(2) You Don’t Even Need a J.D. to Practice Law

Remember Clifford Winston? According to a recent article in the National Law Journal, reading the law is a way to practice without attending a three-year program.

(3) The Value of Traditional LLMs Is Unclear

The experts are unclear on how valuable a traditional LLM is to obtaining post-graduate employment. And that is for advanced legal degrees that (allegedly) teach specialized skills. The skills taught in the Small Business LLM are ones that can be self-taught, or ones that can be learned by attending one of many CLEs about small business issues.

So, should you get a Small Business LLM? Don’t ask me. I am the Twix girl. If you are on the fence, Concord allows you to take a single course. Or enroll in a small business CLE and see if you need more specific training. At the very least, do what you can to get in on the small business market.

For questions on the Small Business LLM, contact Program Director Professor Ellen Murphy at emurphy@kaplan.edu or 866.762.1550.


When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at Valerie.L.Katz@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.


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