USC Gould Graduate and International Programs Celebrates 20-Year Anniversary

Graduate & International Students on a tour of the USC campus in 2019. Helping international students acclimate to their new U.S. surroundings is a hallmark of G&IP.
Graduate & International Students on a tour of the USC campus in 2019. Helping international students acclimate to their new U.S. surroundings is a hallmark of G&IP.

The LLM degree is one of many milestones to celebrate as USC Gould’s Graduate & International Programs Office marks its 20th anniversary in 2023. In that time, more than 3,588 residential students and 713 online students from 92 countries have earned degrees or certificates in G&IP’s many programs, changing the trajectory of their lives and broadening the scope of their legal education.

Led in tandem by Associate Dean and Chief Programs Officer Deborah Call, and Associate Dean and Dean of Students for Graduate & International Programs Misa Shimotsu, the program has expanded educational opportunities for those seeking an understanding of the U.S. legal system, or specialized knowledge through certificate programs including business, media and entertainment and cybersecurity.

G&IP’s on-campus and online options make legal knowledge available to USC students and professionals anywhere in the world.

“Over the years, we have remained flexible to the changing landscape of graduate legal programs — from expanding our program modalities to include on-campus and online programs, to developing new specialized degrees and certificates,” says Shimotsu. “We are thrilled to enroll exceptional students from around the world to provide a perspective on the American legal system and to enrich our community with diversity of thought.”

G&IP gets off the ground

Call was in on the ground floor of G&IP. As a business consultant, she was brought on by then-Dean Matthew Spitzer in 2000 to explore the best advanced program offerings to complement USC Gould’s breadth of courses and the university’s vast resources and services for international students. Dean Spitzer recommended a Master of Laws program as the initial program to launch, and Call was hired at USC Gould to develop the degree program.

In fall 2002, the one-year LLM officially launched with 12 students hailing mostly from the Pacific Rim. By 2003, class size doubled. As the LLM Program Office expanded and new programs were developed, the name “Graduate & International Programs” was chosen to more accurately reflect its rapid growth.

An important early program designed to complement the LLM was Summer Law and English (SLE), launched in 2004, anticipating the need for international LLM students to acclimate to their U.S. surroundings and receive an introduction to foundational legal English terminology and core legal topics before classes began.

“This program was an immediate success and continues to serve as a great opportunity for students to come to the U.S. ahead of their LLM studies to prepare for their U.S. law school experience, enhance their English skills and to enjoy LA in the summer,” G&IP Director Sarah Gruzas says. “SLE was a pivotal program for us as it has been so attractive to LLM students and has expanded our LLM enrollments every year.”

With the arrival of Dean Robert K. Rasmussen in 2007, G&IP continued the expansion of its LLM and SLE programs. As a result of increasing interest from students sponsored by their law firms or government agencies, G&IP’s Master of Comparative Law degree enabled students to extend their LLM curriculum for an additional year.

Through its many international connections, and under Dean Rasmussen’s leadership, the G&IP office launched several study-abroad programs. As a result, when Gould’s JD students want to expand their worldviews, they have the opportunity to enroll at universities across the globe including Brazil, France, India, Hong Kong, Italy and Australia. Ten years later, with online programming gaining favor, G&IP launched the online LLM program.

When Dean Andrew Guzman was hired in 2015, he encouraged the development of specialty programs, including the Master of Laws in International Business & Economic Law (IBEL), Master of Studies in Law (MSL), Master of Laws in Privacy Laws and Cybersecurity (PLCS), an LLM in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and a Master of Dispute Resolution (MDR) and a joint degree with USC Dornsife College, a Master of International Trade Law and Economics (MITLE).

With Guzman’s leadership and strong support, G&IP has also bolstered its degree programs by launching myriad certificate specializations for its on-campus and online programs.

“They have served to distinguish us from our peer schools and to drive enrollments into our Online MSL and Online LLM programs,” says Call.

Today, G&IP’s certificate offerings support trending career fields including Business Law, Media and Entertainment Law, and Technology and Entrepreneurship Law. G&IP also has developed standalone non-degree programs and a robust custom and corporate education program. Another popular offering is the Master of Studies in Law with its Progressive Degree Program option for current USC undergraduate students.

Collegial atmosphere enhances learning

For Peter Steinwachs (LLM 2008, JD 2010), a love of learning was nurtured by the collegial atmosphere he found in the on-campus LLM program.

“The classes were much smaller and everyone knew me — I couldn’t believe that professors would actually know their students,” says Steinwachs, who previously studied in Germany and Japan. Favorite professors and courses include Donald Scotten, from whom he learned how businesses are organized; Doug Levinson, who taught Steinwachs about financial statements, earnings reports and industry consultants; and syndicated lending in a weekend seminar taught by Professor Robert Rasmussen and Andrew Kaufman, a partner with Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Steinwachs, now the chief compliance officer and counsel at Willett Advisors LLC, was also one of the first students at USC to earn a JD following earning his LLM.

Masahisa Mitsunaga (LLM 2007) enrolled in G&IP’s LLM program to pursue interests in law and learning English, and wound up with the extra benefit of building his confidence. Prior to the program, he noted how speaking about himself “seems so difficult.”

At G&IP, he found opportunities to lean in, starting with the four-week SLE program, and G&IP networking events and workshops in resume writing, plus encouragement from Professor Steve Yamaguchi, who he says helped him navigate the job search process. With his courage bolstered, Mitsunaga asked one of his instructors, Stanton “Larry” Stein (JD 1969), a powerful entertainment and media lawyer, if he was hiring, and wound up working at his firms for eight years.

Mitsunaga works at Buchalter, a full-service business law firm as shareholder and chair of their Japan practice group, and he gives back to G&IP by welcoming incoming students to the LLM program every year and coaching LLM students on taking the bar exam.

Online education helps fulfill dreams

When Susana Thurber (LLM 2015) was working as a law clerk at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and considering how to advance in her career, going back to school seemed like a distant dream. As a mother of three children ages 3, 4 and 11, the logistics seemed almost impossible. Then she found the online LLM program offered by G&IP, and became part of the inaugural class in 2014.

“I knew of USC’s prestige and always wanted to pursue a degree there, so when I saw that USC was starting that program, I knew that was my opportunity,” says Thurber. “It furthered my career in many ways.” Today, she works as an attorney in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C.

Ensuring students feel a part of USC Gould is a priority at G&IP. Since 2018, G&IP has hosted its own commencement ceremony for masters students. In 2022, when in-person commencement resumed at USC, a record 653 G&IP graduates showed up to celebrate with classmates and walk across the stage for their diplomas.

Exciting future developments

With USC Gould’s interdisciplinary focus as a guide, G&IP has established partnerships with other schools including the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. USC Gould and Dornsife’s Department of Economics plan to launch a second joint degree, the Master of Science in Innovation Economics, Law and Regulation (MIELR) in fall 2023.

“This program combines Dornsife’s courses in microeconomics, regulatory economics and econometrics, with Gould’s courses in antitrust law, intellectual property law, and information privacy and internet law,” says Anne Marlenga, G&IP’s director of special projects. “Our new program will equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to address the economic and regulatory complexities of innovation-intensive industries.”

In the next two years, G&IP plans to launch four new online graduate certificates in Technology & Entrepreneurship Law, Law & Government, Real Estate Law and Dispute Resolution.

“Our dedicated team of G&IP advisors communicate closely with our students to help us stay apprised of changes to trends in higher education and in the legal market,” says Gruzas. “We continually review and revise our programming to remain responsive to students’ needs and interests.”
BY USC Gould