With Arizona hoping to become a major player in the bioscience industry, the Arizona State University College of Law is preparing to offer what it bills as the nation’s first advanced legal degree in biotechnology and genomics.
The program is designed to meet the need for attorneys to know about the legal ramifications of developments in bioscience ranging from genetically modified foods to the forensic criminal investigations popularized by the "CSI" television program.
"It’s a matter of supply and demand," said Gary Marchant, executive director of the Center for Law, Science and Technology at the law school, which is developing the program. "The students are interested."
The law college had been planning to accept 10 students into the program, which will begin in August 2005, but so many are expressing interest that more probably will be admitted, he said.
To be accepted, a candidate must already have a three-year J.D. degree. The program requires an extra year of fulltime study, longer if the student attends part time. When completed the student receives a Master of Law, or LLM, degree.
The law college has hired two faculty members to teach courses and recruited scientists from the Arizona Biodesign Institute, ASU’s biotech research group, to provide instruction.
Marchant said many legal issues are arising as a result of advances in bioscience that require knowledgeable legal representation such as establishing rights to intellectual property, the confidentiality of genetic and medical information, the safety of genetically modified foods and the use of DNA evidence in criminal cases.
Also the field is creating a growing interest in legislation, and graduates from the program may provide advice and information to assist in writing laws, he said.
"The law evolves, and this program gives (lawyers) a chance to get up to speed," said Andrew Askland, director of the center. "Many of them (who) went to law school 20 years ago and . . . they want to get a stronger handle on it."
The legal profession can strengthen the biotech industry by helping to set the framework for doing business, said the program organizers.
"The law provides the parties with stability," said Jonathan Swartz, director of graduate admission at the ASU law college. "Knowing the rules, for example, on how to transfer and protect intellectual property will help people move forward."
Stephanie McRae, chairwoman of the biotechnology and life sciences practice group at the law firm of Jennings Strouss and Salmon, said the firm’s attorneys are interested in studying in the program. It also may encourage other attorneys to go into biotech law, she said.
"When I speak to students and other attorneys, there is always a huge interest in biotechnology," she said. "I think it will receive a tremendous amount of interest from people in the legal field because the areas they talk about are current issues that are really cutting edge."
The law school will begin accepting applications in October. More information is available by contacting Swartz at (480) 965-6340 or