A National Law Journal article notes that there are three law schools that have taken the plunge into online LL.M. degree programs -- USC Gould School of Law, Florida Coastal School of Law, and Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.
"Florida Coastal School of Law was the first to offer an online LL.M. in U.S. law in 2010. Washington University in St. Louis School of Law followed suit in 2012, effective at the start of 2013. Administrators initially expected to enroll about 20 students, but 51 are participating. In a further bid to break out of the pack, USC’s online program will offer students the opportunity to concurrently earn a certificate in entertainment law or business law at no added cost."
This makes sense as online degree programs gain traction and also because "LL.M. tuition has become something of a lifeline for some law schools as J.D. enrollments plummeted during the past three years. [LL.M. programs] face little oversight from the ABA and law schools are not required to report the incoming academic credentials of students or their employment outcomes. Thus law schools like LL.M. programs because they do not affect rankings.
And LL.M. programs are financially appealing to law schools. "Most foreign students pay full tuition, which can run as high as $70,000. Plus, LL.M programs generally don’t require many new faculty members, since students often take open seats in J.D. classes already on offer. As with the program at Washington University, tuition for USC’s online LL.M. will be the same per credit as for the residential program—for a total cost of about $42,000."
Not only do LL.M. programs face little oversight and are a smart financial option, they are also the only degree program where enrollment has significantly increased since 2000. "The total number of non-J.D. students—of which foreign-trained LL.M. candidates comprise the single largest group—increased by 52 percent between 2000 and 2012, according to the American Bar Association. By contrast, J.D. enrollment grew by just 1 percent during that same period."
I suspect that it is only a matter of time before all law schools jump on the bandwagon. These law schools are smart to be the first to adopt these online LL.M. programs because there is currently little competition.
However, I do think that online programs should not cost as much as face-to-face. Online students have to purchase their own hardware/software, and they are not using the physical infrastructure of the campus. I think that this should be taken into account with pricing. Otherwise, the online idea is a sound one. There are simple platforms, such as Blackboard, that facilitate lectures and discussion, which is the heart of any LL.M. program today. And many prospective LL.M. students would be dissuaded to uproot their lives to attend a traditional program. On paper, it seems to work. We'll see if this type of innovation transfers to the JD program, as well.