I'm a Concord student, at least 'till the end of week when my transfer out is final. I completed part of the 4-year program and decided it's time to move on. Reason: value.
The ten or so correspondence schools in CA seem to operate with the same formula which is based on two essentials: a) provide 864 hours of instruction within a 48-52 week period, b) provide a 4-year degree granting curriculum. Anything beyond that is pure marketing, designed to attract and retain clients. Concord's edge is its association with Kaplan, a very big name in the distance learning industry. That seems to provide its program the illusion of quality, something many of the others struggle to achieve. Does it make Concord a better school than the rest? Opinion reserved.
For the most part these correspondence "schools" are basically expensive prolonged bar prep courses, in essence not substantially different than commercial short courses. To me there is no doubt that some people could learn enough in other ways, in less time at far less cost to pass the Bar, but CalBar has made attendance at one of these businesses almost mandatory. In my opinion they do this to protect their reputation, such as it is. Imagine the fallout if the Bar started being passed by the unwashed masses with nothing but an undergraduate degree and a cheap Bar Review course under their belt. Outrageous! .....and potentially bad for the business of distance law education which not surprisingly is by and large run by California attorneys. What a coincidence.
My personal experience has convinced me that those enrolled essentially teach themselves. The "school" does very little beyond the bare business basics to help it's clients prepare for the Bar. After paying what in many cases is an exhorbitant tuition you do nothing more than read the texts, do the limited assignments and pass some open book quizzes. Even Concord's final exams are technically open book since they merely depend on students' compliance with their Honor Code to not use notes. Yeah, right, like that really happens when no one's looking. NWCALaw at least requires its finals to be proctored, which is to its credit. Day to day in these schools there is virtually none or very limited intellectual interaction with teaching staff. Concord, however, does provide email access to professors and does provide interactive chat sessions. Hardly ground-breaking 21st century technology. Grading is another interesting and frustrating experience. First, its slow. Finals from early December are still not graded. That has not stopped the administration from advancing students to 2L even though their PR clearly indicates advancement is predicated on successful completion of all prior year requirements and achieving a passing grade. Hmmm, could it be the lure of that $7800 which can be transferred immediately to their account, only later to be returned in cases of academic failure? Business first, academics second.
Those considering the correspondence school route should understand there is no substitute for real, live one-on-one discussion with a professional, and by and large these businesses do not provide that, depite the marketing hype. The hidden costs should also be carefully considered. The texts required by the programs are generally not adequate to provide a student with a clear understanding of the law. Most of the folks I've talked to purchase various 3rd party study aids which are not particularly expensive, until you realize you need to do this for all four years. It will add considerably to the cost of the degree. So what does Concord provide that justifies $7800 a year? It's a matter of opinion, but if you are one of those people who needs someone constantly checking on your progress and reminding you to keep moving then maybe it's the place for you. If you are self-motivated, which I would hope most correspondence school students are, then there are much cheaper solutions.
Concord makes a very big point of touting its high tech methodology. While adequate, it is by no stretch of the imagination particularly high tech. Each student is provided a home page from which they can access school resources. Included is a progress chart that tracks accomplishments as you chunk throught the various modules of instruction. If you get too far behind they change color to warn you. If you attempt to go too fast the system will stop you by proventing access to the assignments which consist of readings, online videos, essay writing and quizzes. Attendance at the periodic live chats is optional. The videos run inside RealPlayer which some people would just as soon not have installed on their machines because of its annoying tendency to hook into other functions. Access to the system is restricted through the use of a Verisign digital certificate, which you must purchase each year. Only about $15 bucks just another little nickle-dime annoyance.
For the most part I believe that Concord provides as good a learning experience as you will find among the various correspondence schools. In my opinion, it could be better. There is also a fairly robust student community which is accessible through various Yahoo groups where just about anything is discussed. Unfortunately, lawyerly analysis of issues is not high on the agenda of most of these groups, but rather an uncomfortable amount of opinionated dialogue on various current affairs. Something you could find on any number of open Usenet boards. But the students are enthusiastic and, for the most part, supportive. They are also notably well-educated. You will find yourself in and amongst a fair number of post-graduate educated individuals. They seem to develop true friendships despite the virtual connection. One particularly noteworthy board is that moderated by Dr. Wm. Weston called Res Ipsa Loquitor. Here he restricts discussion to the analysis of specific legal dilemmas. He participates openly and provides valuable feedback to posters on their legal theories. A real gem of a resource but it's something he does on his own, not something sponsored by Concord, as far as I can tell. I will miss that board. There is also a student bar association which I believe is fairly unique among correspondence schools. Its value to students is questionable but it does provide an outlet for the joiners to play-act as budding lawyers. There is no law review or moot court. Pay the big bucks and attend a traditional school for these.
In summation, it is my opinion these "schools" are primarily businesses and academic institutions second. Some provide the bare minimum to satisfy the Cal Bar requirements and some others throw in a bell or whistle to make them distinguishable from the crowd. From what I see, students should be forewarned they will be largely responsible for teaching themselves the law and that mere attendance is probably not going to be enough to pass the Bar.
Having said that, I'm transferring to Northwestern California Law School. It meets the test I described above at a much lower price point then most of the others. It boils down to value, how much you get for your money. Whether or not this is a good decision, time will tell.
Hope this helps. The information here is my opinion only. It is not intended to interfer with any business relationships or compromise the conduct of business. It is provided with the intent to facilitate reaching an informed purchasing decision. Any inaccuracies in the information are unintentional and will be corrected immediately upon notification by a recognized authority.