The National Jurist - Spring 2017 - 10
How distance learning is
changing legal education
Online programs have more than doubled in the past 3 years, and growth is
expected to accelerate as current programs prove themselves. BY JACK CRITTENDEN
itchell Hamline School of Law is
halfway through a bold test that
if successful, should legitimize
online learning in legal education and bring about unprecedented growth.
The American Bar
Association (ABA) granted the private,
independent school in St.
Paul, Minn., a variance, allowing it to run the first hybrid
online/in-class J.D. program.
The four-year program,
which started in January 2015,
brings students to campus
for one week at the start of
each semester and compresses
simulation training and other
hands-on skills into a 56-hour
marathon. The students then
take classes online for the rest
of the semester.
The program has been an
unqualified success for the law
school, as applications and
enrollment have far exceeded
"This [program] is really
not that unique," said Greg
Duhl, associate dean for strategic initiatives at Mitchell
Hamline. "It has been happening in higher education for
decades. It is just that legal education is
conservative and slow."
But that is changing, and at a rapid
Law schools offer 60 online LL.M. programs, a number that has more than doubled in the past three years. Participating
institutions include such respected schools
as New York University School of Law,
Northwestern University Pritzker School
of Law and The University of Alabama
School of Law. Several other schools offer
certificate programs online for lawyers and
non-lawyers, as well as specialty summer
programs with online classes, which are
open to their students and law students
from other schools.
But perhaps the biggest change in the
past few years is the number of online
courses offered to traditional J.D. students.
A few years ago, the ABA changed its
rules, allowing J.D. candidates to take 15
credit hours through online learning, up
from 12 credits. At some schools, including Mitchell Hamline, more than half of
the student body is taking at least one
And most experts predict those numbers will grow exponentially if and when
the ABA further eases its rules on online
THE NATIONAL JURIST
education. That is expected to happen
after Mitchell Hamline's first hybrid class
takes the bar exam in 2019.
"The bellwether will be bar pass rates
for [Mitchell Hamline's] online students,"
said Ken Randall, CEO and president of
iLawVentures and a former chair of the
ABA's technology committee. "I think we
will see them perform equally
as well. That is what we see in
other disciplines and licensing
But until then, there is plenty of growth opportunity for
Randall's company, which
provides online course content
for law schools, announced a
partnership this past summer
with Wolters Kluwer Legal
Education. Most of the company's 30 law school clients use
the service to include courses in
their curricula that they would
otherwise not be able to offer.
" We help schools with
course coverage," said Randall,
who helped start one of the
first online LL.M. programs
when he was dean at University
of Alabama. "If you are in a
smaller metropolitan region
and want to teach international
law courses, such as international human
rights, we help deliver that curriculum."
iLawVentures aims to hire the best
teachers and create online courses that are
then offered to its law school clients. Each
school decides which course or courses it
wants to offer to its students. If selected,
the faculty member becomes an adjunct
professor at that school, and he or she
abides by the school's policies, in order to
be in compliance with ABA rules.