Thinking about an LL.M., but not sure if it’s worth your time? Wondering about Southwestern’s new Entertainment and Media LL.M. Online Program? At the invitation of the Biederman Blog, Prof. Bridgette de Gyarfas answers some frequently asked questions about Southwestern’s LL.M. programs. Before reading the Q-&-A, you can check out how the online program works here, or view a video about the online and resident LL.M. here.

Q: I understand applicants for the LL.M. must have earned a Juris Doctor or equivalent degree, or must have passed a bar exam in the US prior to application for the program. Why earn an LL.M. when you already have a J.D.?

There are a number of reasons to earn an LL.M. in Entertainment and Media Law – here are a few.  First, it is one way for attorneys to keep current with the constantly evolving industry in order to effectively and responsibly represent their clients.  Entertainment Law is no longer just film, television, and music.  It has now expanded to include the Internet and most things digital and is expected to continue to expand even more with the ever evolving new forms of media.  Second, earning an LL.M. degree is one way for attorneys to stand out in a particularly competitive job market.  Earning an LL.M. can provide great networking opportunities for LL.M. students who will have access to professors who are specialists in their respective fields, fellow attorneys, and alumni.  We encourage LL.M. students to be proactive in building their network while in the program.  Finally, although there are undoubtedly many other reasons personal to each individual who is considering life beyond the J.D., Southwestern’s Entertainment and Media Law LL.M. program offers a cutting-edge curriculum taught by an outstanding cadre of professors and adjunct faculty members (who are specialists in their respective fields) that reads like a “Who’s Who” of the entertainment and media law bar.

Q: Because the classes are taught online via Kaplan Legal Education’s proprietary Learning Management System, what do we know about the experience, educational results online versus the classroom?

The U.S. Department of Education has published a 93-page report entitled: Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, Washington, D.C., revised September 2010.  The report can be found at here.

The report supports online learning and acknowledges online learning as an acceptable form of instruction due in great part to the advancement of today’s online learning applications, which can take advantage of a wide range of Web resources, including not only multimedia but also Web-based applications and new collaboration technologies.

Having taught in both a traditional classroom and online, I can say without a doubt that the student taking an online course is as active, if not more so, in his/her studies and engaged with the professor as a student in the traditional classroom setting.

Q: Is the online program taught by different professors than the resident program? And how does it change their teaching and approach, versus what might occur in a Los Angeles classroom?

There are some instances where Southwestern Professors teach both in the resident program and in the online program. For the most part, however, the majority of the online electives are taught by attorneys who are specialists in their field – and they only teach in the online program.

The content is, of course, the same regardless of whether it is taught in the campus classroom or in the virtual classroom.  As you note in your question, there is a difference in approach.  Although a course syllabus might be the same for both a traditional class and an online class, converting the syllabus to conform to the online learning platform requires a bit more up-front work because all of the materials and lectures must, for the most part, be prepared ahead of time.  Given the nature of the dynamic and ever evolving entertainment and media field, the online learning platform can accommodate up-to-the minute changes.

Something that tends to be an initial concern is whether the online students are really getting a good education because they are not there in the classroom for the professor to engage them.  Well, it is true that in the traditional classroom, a professor can look in to the sea of students and get a “read” on whether or not the students are understanding the material . . . and, if not, the professor can make on-the-fly adjustments to their lecture for the day to accommodate the flow of the class.  In the online program, although this ability to look into the eyes of the students is not there, the connection between student and professor is nonetheless strong and the professor knows each student and how they are doing at any given time.  Let me explain . . .

The learning management system used by the online program provides many vehicles for the professor to keep the students engaged and to keep the professors informed as to how the students are performing. A few of the online features: professors have “live” classes every couple of weeks in which the students attend class in a virtual setting; students can access the archived classes over and over at any time should they want to or need to; students have email access to their professors 24/7 and because of the nature of the online environment, professors typically answer student questions within 48 hours; professors prepare lectures in advance involving state-of-the-art technology to keep the students interested and engaged; students may access the lectures over and over again at any time of the day or night; professors and the administration staff can monitor a student’s progress through the coursework at any given time – including where they are in the syllabus and how they are doing on their interim assessments such as quizzes; and generally speaking because of the nature of the flexibility in the program, both students and professors appreciate and  benefit from an environment that caters to the busy professional.

Q: Because this is a new endeavor, you had to look ahead to what kinds of skills and knowledge entertainment law practitioners will need throughout the 21st Century. What can you tell us about your thinking on this topic?

Interesting question because when you ask about skills and knowledge, really, although some is known, so much is not.  The media in which entertainment is disseminated is ever changing and in this rapidly evolving digital era, one must be on top of the latest and greatest technology and how that affects clients whose businesses are entertainment and media related.  This is the very reason that with our amazing collection of talent  – much of it from the Biederman Institute, getting the LL.M. in Entertainment and Media Law out to the world was so important and timely.  No one can do it better – or even as well – as Southwestern Law School.

Starting the online program was, in essence, a must if we were going to keep current and relevant.  The goal in both programs is to have industry leaders develop and teach these cutting-edge courses and prepare students in such a way that they can hit the ground running as soon as they earn their LL.M. degree and go out into the job market.  Our objective is to make sure that the courses are updated each semester (as well as on-the-fly should some change occur while the class is in session for the semester) and that they are updated using the latest materials and resources.

Entertainment attorneys need to be not only great lawyers, but technologically savvy as well.  Working towards a practical curriculum was essential to the success of this new endeavor – weaving in the legal knowledge with the practical skills essential for executing deals and otherwise advocating on behalf of clients.

Q: Because you receive the same credentials if you take the online program versus the resident program, and because the online program naturally seems more convenient, are there other advantages to taking the resident program besides the ability to get an externship/practicum placement?

Some students do not like learning on the computer.  That is not uncommon.  For some, making the commitment to get in the car and drive to class is what they need to be successful students.  These students may need to have that personal “visual” connection with their professor in order to engage in their studies.  Online learning is not for everyone.

Q: What makes the Southwestern LL.M., whether the online or resident program, superior to others?

No other Entertainment and Media Law program has access to and the support of the exceptional cadre of legal professionals in the entertainment and media fields that we do here at Southwesten Law School.  Our LL.M. program offers a cutting-edge curriculum taught by some of the most prominent entertainment and media law attorneys in the country.  Our professors, Biederman Executive Board, and Biederman International Advisory Board read like a “Who’s Who” in the entertainment and media field.