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Current ABA Response to Distance Education

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I wanted to write this post because I have been researching law schools for about 1 year now in preparation to attend law school. I would be considered a Non-Traditional student as I have a BS from 2002 and worked in corporate america for 8 years only to leave and open my own business. My business has started off successful and hopefully will continue the trend. Now is time for me to fulfill my dream of going to law school and becoming a practicing attorney while my wife and her family take the business and run with it, they already do an excellent job. My problem lies in that the closest ABA approved law school is too far away to attend full time without moving my family to a location many hours away. Part-time at an ABA is not really an option either due to travel restraints. So during this time I have been researching online law schools and the education they provide and processes one must jump through to become a licensed attorney. As we all know at this point in time CA is the only state to allow online graduates to sit for the bar exam. I think this is crazy, in today's world we allow people to get MBA's online, Nursing Online and Engineering online to name just a few. There are many more than this and society does not have a problem with them people in active practice. They may have there own society similar to the ABA but it does not prevent them from fulfilling a career in their studies. In my opinion the ABA is an organization used to control the political aspect of practicing and obtaining a universal law degree. States could come out on there own and say the heck with ABA accreditation, if you went to law school and graduated then you can sit for our bar exam, but they will never do that as it is to cumbersome and would cause to many differences between states and judging quality education obtained. So to make things easier the ABA should revise their accreditation standards so that all states would universally accept approved online degrees. For all of the people who graduated from an ABA school, congratulations and we are proud of you as it is no easy accomplishment, however you are no better than any of the rest of us who do not have rich parents or have to work for a living in a small town with no access to local law schools. The socialization aspect that they claim you gain in B&M institutions is completely inaccurate. If you went through undergraduate studies you received socialization. If you went into the workforce after college, you received proper socialization skills. There is no excuse they can use on this point, its a moot point. As far as the Socratic method, there is one online law school that I know of that uses this method, however there is much discussion on this method between legal scholars and others as well. So hard evidence that this method works better than other methods. So before you start bashing my post step back and really think about it. Just because you spent over 100k obtaining a legal education does not make your opinions better than others, so think before you write. Anyway, my point of this article was to share this information with this forum. I recently wrote a letter to the ABA regarding distance education. I know compared to what has been the norm for 50 years the ABA has been considered to have made leaps and bounds with the accreditation process and I applaud them for that. However, the US society has made leaps and bounds in all aspects of growth through the past 50 years and they have been pretty quick to do so. We cant say the same for the ABA growth. I find it hard to believe that it is for no other reason than monetary value. So below is the response that I got from the ABA in regards to distance education and where they plan on heading with this in the coming future. To sum it up they say they will do the research and revise standards as they see fit. So in short, in another 50-100 years they may get to the point of looking beyond the money and political aspirations and give law schools a few more credit hours that they can take online.

           "A few years ago the accreditation standards were revised to clarify and to expand "distance learning" options. The changes recognized that settings other than the traditionally face-to-face instruction are becoming more and more a part of legal education. The move in that direction can best be described as evolutionary. As more latitude is permitted under the standards variants are sure to emerge that will require further re-examination and, if deemed appropriate, revision of the standards. 

The standards do not yet embrace a educational experience that is all, or even mostly, via the internet. Even though such an educational setting might be sufficient to prepare an individual to pass a bar examination, the current controlling view is that internet learning alone is not sufficient to provide the breadth of educational experience to prepare someone to be an effective member of the bar.

The bar examination is but one measure that one is prepared to practice. It is clear that technology is providing exciting new opportunities for learning and for preparing for a professional career.  Our standards must recognize these new opportunities and balance them appropriately with traditional techniques. That will be the challenge ahead, but change will be always viewed by some as moving too fast and by others as moving to slow."

This was the response that was received from the Legal Education department of the ABA. Not exactly what we are looking for. I encourage all of you who would like to get an online legal education to send the ABA a message through general comment on there website. If they get millions of responses regarding distance education then they have to at least take it into better consideration. As of now there are still students who are willing to take 100k - 175k of debt to get that ABA accredited school education, so no incentive for either to adjust the standards.

While the ABA does have an important role in determining who becomes a lawyer, the other part of the "system" is each states' supreme court.  Most court opinions say that the reason why they depend on ABA accreditation is because it would be too costly to hear every individual petition to sit for that states' bar exam.   So, the ABA is not the only "bad guy" here.  The ABA is responding to the state supreme courts' demand for services.  There is a state, I think Wisconsin (but don't quote me), who will allow any graduate of one of its two law schools to earn a license to practice law without taking a bar exam.  Some state supreme courts also say that they are not relying only on the bar exam to determine who should become a lawyer.  Some of them are looking at the whole person.    On the other hand, I do believe that law school and becoming a lawyer is really all about money.  If you can afford to pay the high cost of tuition and books for three years, without having to work, becoming a lawyer is virtually guaranteed.

CA Law Dean:
There is no question that legal education is well behind the curve in embracing alternative delivery methods such as online and hybrid courses. The is really no excuse other than law schools have not been forced to make the changes and the typical law professor tenure model does little to encourage improved or revised classroom pedagogy. That said, there is also a valid point that not everything that we have traditionally expected to be part of the legal education experience is being replicated (or preferably improved upon) in the current models of online law degree programs. Learning law is best achieved as a group experience. Unlike other disciplines, it really isn't just about reading the materials and taking exams. As I have said in other threads, it is hard to know what you don't know unless you are challenged by a classmate or faculty member or you have the benefit of listening to and engaging with other opinions. Can this be achieved in an online environment . . . absolutely. Is it the format that the current online law school models are using . . . not really. Therefore, although ABA regulations are fairly challenged for being about money, unionism, and a cartel mentality, there is still work to be done before online legal education is shown to provide an equal (or I hope . . . better) education. We are working on a hybrid model at our law school that would take advantage of on-site and online education . . . but it is a slow process since we are sensitive about any one group of students being at risk if an attempted course redesign turns out to be ineffective. An effective bar review program can make up for some inadequacies . . . but only to a limited extent.

I am going to agree with CA Law Dean having been through law school I think brick and mortar is the way to go and I believe to become a MD you must also attend a brick and mortar institution as well. I think online law school can work and if you go through the California Online school and fight to sit for the bar in another state, which I believe a few aspiring attorneys have done and won you can, but I went to a school that offered both a full-time and part-time program and a significant number of part-time students failed out. I imagine the attrition at online schools would be even higher.

None of these people were stupid they were highly intelligent motivated people, but learning the law is a lot of work. I meet many people who say they can handle work and a part-time program and it does happen, but the majority of times it does not work out. I think the ABA is doing this for consumer protection purposes more than anything many people are intrigued by the legal profession it can be awesome gig if you put the time, energy, and effort into it, but it takes a lot of time, energy, and effort and a lot of it.

CA Law Dean is also correct that in the social aspect you learn a great deal. Just interacting with students and talking things through after class is very helpful. I cannot tell you how many times in class I literally felt like I had no idea what was going on, but then I would talk it through with friends and it would come together. I also think there is more accountability with a Brick & Mortar institution and more access to resources you need.

A final point my law school did a study on our Bar Exam Passage Rate with students using Barbri, which you can do entirely online or do in a classroom setting it is your option. Students who did the online option had a much higher fail rate than those who came to the classes. The content of what you learning was exactly the same , but when your by yourself it is a lot easier to take a 15-20 minute break that turns into a 4 hour break. Much the same way home gym equipment never seems to be get used, but if you go to the Gym you will work out.

Just my two cents, but I think Brick & Mortar is the way to stay for law school, but if you are fully focused on doing the online route and it does sound like your situation is unique you could get an online J.D. and challenge a State Supreme Court to let you sit for the exam it has been done.

The problem is that online and correspondence law schools often attract the wrong type of student who will never pass the bar because they lack the basic skill set at best.  The problem is not online education.  England has dished out online law degrees for years.  When the ABA finally accredits online learning sometime in the year 2069; the problem will be solved.  However by that time lawyer's will likely be largely obsolete having been replaced by LegalZoom Avatars.  The field of law is hopelessly backward and still in many ways resembles what Dickens wrote about two Centuries ago.


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