Fordham has launched a new M.S.L. degree program in two fields: corporate compliance and fashion.
Understanding the law is no longer just for lawyers. Workplaces today want professionals with a broad knowledge base, especially when it comes to the legal side of many industries, including fashion and corporate compliance. In the fashion world, for example, virtually every business and design decision is also a legal decision. As a result, everyone involved with fashion will have to acquire fundamental “legal literacy” in the coming years, says Professor Susan Scafidi, Founder and Academic Director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham.
“Every designer should be able to understand the basics of law,” says Scafidi. “It protects their business and their name and helps them make good decisions.”
Though legal knowledge may be crucial, many professionals who encounter legal issues are not lawyers and have no plan, or need, to pursue a J.D. degree. Fordham Law offers them a way, however, to gain that legal know-how without becoming an attorney: the Master of Studies in Law degree. With a growing need for legal knowledge among those who do not have law degrees, the Law School has launched a pair of M.S.L. degrees in fields where knowing the law is increasingly valued: fashion and corporate compliance.
“These degrees represent an exciting type of innovation in legal education that Fordham Law will wholeheartedly embrace,” says Dean Matthew Diller. “One of my strategic priorities is to help the Law School continue to build new offerings like this and expand our impact more broadly to more audiences.”
Anyone with an accredited undergraduate degree from the United States or another country may apply for admission to the M.S.L. program. According to Toni Jaeger-Fine, Fordham Law’s Assistant Dean for International and Non-J.D. Programs, the creation of these degrees—which have been in the works for over two years—expands the opportunity to study law to a much broader audience.
“This enhances the educational experience,” says Jaeger-Fine. “It gives access to students who have never had a chance to study law.” Jaeger-Fine adds that the buzz over the corporate compliance and fashion law M.S.L.s has traveled beyond Fordham. “News of the new degrees has fostered excitement in these industries,” she says.
Both areas of study are increasing in popularity and importance. In today’s corporate world, compliance plays a critical role, whether it’s in the financial sector or the banking industry. On a daily basis, compliance officers may deal with everything from codes of conduct to risk assessment. For someone to work in compliance, a law degree may not be an absolute necessity, but having a background in both compliance and law is quite valuable.
Students pursuing the M.S.L., in either fashion or corporate compliance, must complete at least 30 credits as well as a capstone/thesis. The degree may be pursued on either a full-time or part-time basis. For the corporate compliance program, there are seven required courses, including Global Corporate Compliance, Risk Assessment, and International Financial Crime. Students will have access to different programs and events offered through the Law School, the Corporate Law Center, and the Gabelli School of Business—along with the opportunity to study and network alongside others who are also interested in the compliance field.
“They will have access to the larger Law School curriculum and be able to work with their J.D. and LL.M. peers,” says Gerald Manwah, Senior Director of Compliance Programs.
As Manwah notes, one of the greatest assets for students is the chance to interact with professors who are entrenched in the field, as they bring a wealth of practical experience to the classroom.
“There’s the benefit of participating in several classes that are taught by practicing compliance officers,” he says. “Students also
have the benefit of networking and of being able to truly understand what is required of a compliance officer.”
Given the landscape of the corporate compliance job market and the importance of a legal background in the field, Manwah says that adding an M.S.L. program fills a need.
“Compliance is a very hot and very important area,” he says. “There are a lot of opportunities for compliance officers, and there is a shortage of people who are experienced in compliance. There are very few accredited degrees in compliance.”
As in the compliance field, there was a need to create an opportunity for those in the fashion industry to gain legal knowledge. There are many positions within the fashion world where knowing the law is key, whether someone is a designer, an executive, an entrepreneur, a licensing director, a production or supply chain manager, a human resources coordinator, a manufacturer, or a retailer.
“Almost every business decision in fashion has a legal component,” says Scafidi.
The fashion industry is enthusiastic about the new access to legal knowledge, and both Diane von Furstenberg, iconic designer and Board Chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and Steven Kolb, the organization’s president and CEO, joined Scafidi and University Provost Stephen Freedman in announcing the world’s first degrees in fashion law.
Within 24 hours of the announcement, Scafidi says, the first application was submitted. In fact, Graduate Admissions Officer/Enrollment Specialist Martin Slavens says that he has been fielding calls and e-mails from interested potential applicants since even before the Law School began accepting applications, including inquiries from the UK, the Philippines, and Ghana.
Students pursuing the M.S.L. in fashion law will be immersed in a wide spectrum of topics that are integral to the fashion world, including intellectual property, contracts, licensing, employment, consumer safety, green fashion, and wearable technology. Students are required to take Introduction to the U.S. Legal System, Thinking Like a Lawyer, and Fashion Law. Additionally, candidates must take at least four courses related to fashion law, such as Fashion Modeling Law, Fashion Retail Law, Fashion Law and Finance, and Fashion Ethics, Sustainability, and Development.
By having a degree that teaches students the ins and outs of the legal world surrounding fashion, the industry benefits by promoting legal literacy, according to Scafidi.
“Opening the doors of the Law School to non-lawyers means that we are sharing that knowledge,” says Scafidi.
She adds that Fordham also benefits by bringing in students from diverse backgrounds who can provide new perspectives in the classroom while sharpening their legal backgrounds.
“This really enriches the learning climate and the community at the Law School.”