An Online/Face-to-Face Law School Hybrid

InsideHigherEd reported on a new hybrid program at William Mitchell College of Law. The Law School "has received approval from the American Bar Association to launch a part-time J.D. program that blends face-to-face instruction with online courses. Although the hybrid program marks the first of its kind, experts are split on whether it marks an experiment or a turning point for how legal education is delivered in the U.S."

"The [new] four-year part-time program, meant for students whose location or work commitments prevent them for pursuing a legal education full-time, will mix recorded lectures and quizzes with video conferences and online discussion forums when it launches in January 2015. Students will also be required to complete externships and attend weeklong on-campus simulations at the end of each semester to practice their legal skills."

"Institutions that seek [ABA] accreditation need to tailor their programs to a set of standards that have been in effect since 2002. The program itself needs to consist of at least 83 credits -- Mitchell’s hybrid program clears that hurdle exactly -- but no more than 12 can be granted from pure distance education. Of the remaining credits, one-third of the coursework can also be completed remotely. As an added twist, programs can offer only four credits of distance learning per semester."

"To receive approval for its hybrid program, Mitchell submitted a variance request that exempts the program from the requirements -- under certain conditions. The college must enroll no more than 96 students per year, assess the program on an annual basis and report its findings to the ABA. The college also had to waive its right to confidentiality to help other law schools learn from its experiences."

"If the experiments prove successful, however, they could guide the ABA to revise its own standards."

For some, this might be seen as a step in the right direction for legal education. There are schools that currently operate online without ABA accreditation and others are starting to dabble in online LL.M. programs. The ABA seems to be open to this type of innovations, and the real test will be when the students from William Mitchell graduate. In the meantime, it's great that this experiment is not confidential so all other law schools can learn from it.

Librarians may also want to start learning the online legal research instruction ropes to offer instruction to these folks because it appears that online instruction will become more prevalent as the years go by.

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