Legal studies program online has met resistance from traditionalists, but it is natural that education evolves and adapts to new realities. Just like when Gutenberg invented the printing press it totally revolutionized learning and knowledge, so too the internet has been disruptive to the hallowed halls of education.
A buyer-beware attitude is fine. As critics point out, top law firms probably won’t be beating down your door to give you a job upon graduation. Legal studies programs online have had difficulty with students passing the bar. A major obstacle has been that most states don’t even let you take the bar with an online degree (California is the notable exception!).
But what naysayers don’t tell you is that traditional schools aren’t free from problems. An April 2013 Los Angeles Times article reports that law students have sued their traditional law schools in about 20 different suits around the country for presenting misleading post-graduation job statistics. Grads who bussed tables were reported as “employed within nine months after graduation.”
A New York Times article documents how traditional law schools manipulate their data to rise in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings, which leads to more applications and more donations. In one case, a dean classified low LSAT students as “part time” to drastically improve his bar passage stats of “full time” students.
So if a buyer-beware attitude is to predominate, let it apply to the traditional schools also.
Good news appears on the horizon for the legal studies program online. The American Bar Association is currently re-examining its anti-internet bias as part of comprehensive changes that are being sparked by plunging applications to traditional law schools.
The advantages of the legal studies program online are:
- Affordability – With the exception of Washington U.’s foray into the online market, tuition is one-third or one-fourth the cost of the brick-and-mortar schools.
- Flexibility – Most classes are “asynchronous,” which means they are recorded and you watch them at your convenience.
- Ease – You won’t have to change cities, pay dorm fees, etc., to “move in” to your school’s locale.
- Adaptability – The legal studies program online allows for students who can’t just quit their job or abandon their parental duties.
- Accessibility – Critics say the online student won’t have access to professors and other students, but this is not the case. They can email questions and get answers within 48 hours. Chat rooms provide interaction with other law students.
Do your research right before signing up. The legal studies program online has its deficiencies. But it may be the best option for you.
Legal studies online graduate, Chris Kouboulakis, didn’t face skepticism about his credentials when he interviewed for his job in the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office.
I thought they would be negative,” the former environmental engineer said to the Los Angeles Times, “but they’ve been great.”
Like many of the other graduates, Kouboulakis, a stay-at-home dad, said internet was his only option for law school.
Legal studies online work for people who can’t:
- afford a traditional law school
- pull up stakes and move to a a traditional law school
- quit their job to study during typical law school hours
- abandon parental duties but want to study at night
In the video, practicing family attorney Larry David discusses how his education at Concord Law School equaled–and exceeded–traditional law schools.
To be sure, legal studies online presents extra difficulties:
- Many states don’t allow legal studies online students to take the bar, so you either have to pass California’s bar first and then try in your local state or you take the online classes only to compliment your current career.
- Traditional law firms look first at students who attend brick and mortar schools.
Why, if other areas of study have embraced the online option, has law education been so resistant? Part of the answer lies in simply protecting turf. The American Bar Association, which accredits schools, has a whole host of rules that favor, not the law student, but the law professor (maximum hourly teaching limits, high wages and perks for professors, etc.). In theory, these rules assure quality. In reality, they are excessive and stifle competition. They also make it impossible for law schools to charge anything but the highest tuition.
Online law program has a bright a future. Among the about 200 traditional law schools nationwide, only four this year have seen an increase in admission applications. The rest are coming up short. In 2004, there were 100,000 applications, this year only 54,000 are projected, according to the Law School Admissions Council, as cited in a New York Times article Jan. 30, 2013.
“We are going through a revolution in law with a time bomb on our admissions books,” William D. Henderson, a professor of law at Indiana University, told the Times. Legal education has been among the slowest to adapt to the technological revolution, treating its classroom cash cows as holy cows. From 2001 to the present, traditional law schools have nearly doubled their tuition.
Online law program bursting on scene
Erupting on the scene has the been the online law program. “Despite the majority of professors believing online classes have resulted in inferior education, 40 percent of full-time professors reported that online courses have the potential to match in-class instruction for learning outcomes,” says Kevin O’Keefe on his blog Real Lawyers Have Blogs.
The online law program is substantially cheaper and convenient. California accepts online law program students outright into its bar exam, and other states are currently re-examining their own policies to reflect the new realities of the legal profession. A law degree can greatly enhance your career opportunities. Research options today.
Read Kevin O’Keefe’s fascinating takes on the future of law school:
Consider these specialties in law:
- Elder law
- Environmental law
- Intellectual property law
- International law
- Marine law
- Probate law
Online law programs are poised to boom with the impending overhaul to law education that includes the creation of licensing technicians, downsizing course load to two instead of three years, and less theory and more practice.
Don’t think ABA and tenured law professors — which have taken a dim view of online programs up until now — are surrendering their stranglehold on law education easily. No, they are more resistant to the winds of change than an evolved, hardened virus is resistant to penicillin. Online law programs still have a ways to go to get fully embraced.
What is bringing this upheaval is national malaise in the traditional law school: this year there are 38% fewer applicants, the lowest in 30 years. Apparently, prospective students are wising up to the one-two knockout punch of overwhelming student debt and a dimmer-than-ever job upon graduation, according to a New York Times article on Feb. 10, 2013..
There is almost universal agreement that the current system is broken,” said Thomas W. Lyons III, a Rhode Island lawyer and a member of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education. He was quoted in The Times.
Online law programs edging forward
The State of Washington is taking the lead, setting up programs to graduate limited-license legal technicians — more than a paralegal and not quite a full-fledged attorney. Such middle-of-the-road professionals are exactly what the online law programs can produce.
“The house is on fire,” said task force member Michael P. Downey of St. Louis, quoted in The Times. “We don’t want a report that sits on a shelf.”
If the low tuition and flexible classes offered by online law programs work for you, today is your day to research this option.
Read the New York Times article yourself here:
Questions to ask your prospective online law program:
- How much live interaction with teacher and fellow students will I have?
- What is the bar passage rate? Will my state allow me to take the bar without fighting for a special permission?
- What is the employment rate in law careers of graduates from this program 9 months after graduation?
- How much will it cost to complete and graduate from the entire program?
- How long will it take?
Online law degree is not for everybody. If you can afford the prohibitively high tuition of a brick and mortar school, by all means take advantage of the face-to-face learning and live interaction. But if you can’t get into a first tier school, then you might as well think about the online law degree, although this has additional obstacles.
For entrepreneurs, working professionals, and those who are considering a career change, an online law program offers tremendous value,” said Peter Young, dean of St. Francis School of Law, to US News and World Report. “In the near future, the stigma associated with online education will dissipate as quality improves and as the volume of qualified online graduates grows.”
- no need to move to the city of the school
- flexibility of online class time
Before signing up for distance-learning law, make sure to research:
- completion/graduation rates
- percent passing the bar per state
- types of degrees offered. Almost always, if you want to take the bar, you’ll need a Juris Doctor (JD).
- rigorous academics
- interactivity through chat, email and video-conferencing.
- options in your state for taking the bar with an online law degree.
In California, the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar currently has these schools registered, and graduates can take the bar without any other obstacle:
Abraham Lincoln University School of Law
American Heritage University School of Law
California School of Law
Concord School of Law
MD Kirk School of Law
Northwestern California University
Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy
Southern California University for Professional Studies
University of Honolulu
West Coast School of Law, Inc.
West Haven University
William Howard Taft University
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