Online Education for Law Schools?

Following our discussion in class this week, I wanted to do some further research into what options for online courses currently exist in the higher education sphere, and where the market for online education seems to be moving. One of the first articles that I came across dealt with a type of school that I had not considered as being a key target for online education– law schools. According to this article, the American Bar Association itself has initially approved a proposal to allow for more credits of law school to be taken online.

Specifically, the proposal “increase[s] the amount of distance learning that a law school could allow as part of its J.D. program.” One-third of a school’s required credits for graduation could be earned through “distance learning.” In addition, the proposal removes a currently existing prohibition on distance learning courses for 1Ls. The proposal will be put out for Notice and Comment in Washington, D.C. on April 12th.

I found these developments to be impactful for several reasons. While I think that online education for undergraduate institutions is quite common, I had not specially considered the advantages of online learning for law students. Upon thinking about this, I have realized that online education for law students could help to confront some of the issues with law education that we mentioned in class. Particularly, if these online courses allowed for some sort of tuition deduction, this could help students avoid some amount of the burdening student debt that seems to affect an exorbitant number of law students. Another potential advantage for law students would be that if they are able to take courses on their own time online, that may leave more time to get hands-on work experience during typically working hours, rather than being stuck in class.

While I personally think that the in-person law school experience is invaluable, especially as a 1L, I can imagine a plethora of situations where being able to take online courses in law school could help potential lawyers financially and socially.

5 thoughts on “Online Education for Law Schools?

  1. I agree with your opinion and can also share that I actually experienced something close to your proposal when I attended Law School. As Professor Hollis said in class, in most civil law countries, Law School is an undergraduate program. In my country (Brazil), Law School is a 5-year undergrad program and some institutions have offered some online courses (but I haven’t heard about a Law School which is entirely online). During the time I attended Law School, for example, I took two online courses that I don’t think needed to much in-person experience (Legal Writing and Real State Law). I thought it was a good experience and also provided me more flexibility to structure my studying period. Also here in Notre Dame I noticed that some students are able to attend classes through videoconferece, which is a great way to allow people to continue their studies while pursuing some professional experiences. I believe that distance learning will be able to soon develop ways that closes the online experience with the in class one.

  2. This is really interesting. It might be protectionist, but my first thought wasn’t about if this would be effective or not, but if it would allow for more law graduates. If I actually think about efficacy though, I would probably attend class more often if I could do it from home! I agree with the concept of financial needs as well, individuals with heightened external responsibilities (work, family, illness, etc.) would likely find this alternative mode incredibly useful.

  3. Very interesting development. Personally, I would love the opportunity to take a few courses online throughout my legal education. This would help keep costs down and would also allow students to move to their target city or region during a semester or full year to develop their legal network and line up a post-grad job. Law students already refer to their 3L year as 3LOL. I think offering online classes would allow these students, who have already developed the basic skills needed to conduct legal analysis on their own, to finish out their education while working part-time in the legal field. Not only would this aid in job prospects, but this would also ease the transition between law school and full time work.

    The article pointed out that the proposal would allow for 10 hours of 1L coursework to be completed online. I do not think this would be a good move for law schools. 1L year teaches you how to conduct basic legal analysis, network with classmates, and integrate yourself into the legal world. I think it would be much more beneficial to make it mandatory that all students take first year courses “in-person” and then allow them to take half of their remaining credits online. Wish this was available to us at Notre Dame as I could really use a semester in Denver or another Mountain West city to establish a good network for lining up a post-grad job.

  4. Katherine, great article. I agree with Michael that 1L courses should not be conducted online. Aside from 1L courses, the opportunity to take courses online would allow for a more flexible and cost-effective schedule. This would allow more people to be in the legal profession without sacrificing the quality of education.

  5. I’m not sure if the in-person experience for law school can really be replicated online. I feel like taking classes online almost guarantees that people will pay attention less, and therefore the law students taking them will not learn as much. Are the cost savings really worth it if the quality of education goes down?