As Law School Enrollments Decline, Schools Consider Online Ed

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

More law schools have begun creating online programs to expand their reach in an increasingly difficult market.

Law school enrollment has declined, along with decreased revenue and jobs for graduates. The most recent recession, combined with the influx of helpful technology, has many companies and organizations relying more on in-house counsel and non-legal services firms. This means that fewer law school graduates are getting hired, reports Burl Gilyard of MinnPost.

Michael B. Horn, the founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute in San Mateo California, researches disruptive innovation in education. Recently, he authored a report entitled "Disrupting Law School: How Disruptive Innovation Will Revolutionize the Legal World."

According to Elizabeth Olson of the New York Times, Horn said:

Legal education is confronting the most imminent threat in higher education. Law schools are increasingly out of step with shifts in the legal services market.

[Schools that] are able to pioneer online, competency-based programs that focus outside of the traditional J.D. will have a leg up in the struggle to survive.

Some of the schools that offer blended learning include the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, and the Syracuse University College of Law in New York State. On-campus Harvard students can enroll in Harvard Law School's free online class on copyright law along with students from all over the world.

There are fewer opportunities to get a full online degree. In 2015, the William Mitchell College of Law began offering a hybrid law degree in January of 2015, and has since merged with the Hamline school. The four-year degree included online courses and about ten required campus visits for workshops.

Gregory M. Duhl, the assistant dean overseeing the Hamline program, said:

We saw that there was a need for a national degree that could be available to students who are not able to move elsewhere to study for their law degree.

This year, the University of Southern California graduated its first online Master of Laws (LL.M.) class. The 20 students are legal professionals from around the world, including Brazil, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, and Kuwait. This degree is the first of its kind.

Deborah Call, the associate dean of the graduate and international programs, said:

International lawyers who are practicing overseas– or are even based here in the United States– know that earning a Master of Laws degree will enhance their career trajectory. Many cannot leave to study in the United States or spend a year here in Los Angeles. We are proud to offer another alternative– an elite legal education strictly online.

Syracuse University announced in April that after approval from New York State and the American Bar Association, it will be offering a hybrid law degree. The online platform would be created in collaboration with 2U Inc., an education technology provider based in Landover, Maryland which has collaborated with other major universities. The program would include live online sessions as well as on-campus courses and internships.

Chip Paucek, the founder of 2U, says that his company plans to invest at least $10 million in the Syracuse University program over the next four years. He said:

It is not only expensive but it's complicated to create a completely interactive system with 24/7 online support.

In 2013, 2U worked with the Washington University School of Law to create an online master of laws degree that is entirely online. The tuition is about $2,200 per credit, just like on campus.

Other programs are offering online certificates in specific areas such as Widener University and Delaware Law School's certificate in education compliance.

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