Until now. The landscape of online law programs is changing rapidly.
The ABA has recently begun allowing law students to complete more credits online. Law schools across the country are eagerly stepping in to create innovative "hybrid" programs that allow students to earn their Juris Doctor degree largely from home.
What is a hybrid law degree?
A hybrid J.D. program allows students to complete the bulk of their coursework online, and to fulfill the classroom portion of their studies during several concentrated on-campus residencies that generally last several days. At the completion of of these ABA-accredited programs, graduates will receive the same degree they would've earned at an on-campus law program and are qualified to sit for the bar exam.
Why are there no fully online programs? That goes back to the ABA's original hesitancy to allow more online credits.
Historically, a main component of earning a law degree has been participating in classroom discussions and exercises that are based on the Socratic method. This allows professors to lead dialogues that challenge students' assumptions and understanding of legal concepts. In the past, these exercises have been a challenge to reproduce in an online forum.
However, several schools have been working to implement technology solutions that allow for more real-time discussion. That has been a big motivator for the ABA to begin granting waivers to a small handful of law schools, allowing their J.D. programs to incorporate significantly more online credits than in the past.
It's interesting to note that the ABA is being extremely selective in its approval process for hybrid law programs. In fact, several well-respected schools have been rejected.
Let's take a look at the three programs that have been granted ABA waivers so far.
1. Syracuse University
Syracuse University was the second school to get the coveted ABA waiver, launching its hybrid J.D. program in January 2019. It is also currently the top-ranked law school to receive the ABA's blessing for this type of program.
The first class includes 32 students; 241 people applied.
According to the school's website, the hybrid program is just as rigorous as the residential J.D. program. The hybrid option was designed to make Syracuse's program accessible to students who aren't able to attend classes on-campus because of employment or family commitments.
They hybrid program includes three learning components to provide more flexibility for students. They are:
- Online class sessions that include live, interactive instruction
- Self-paced learning modules that students complete on their own, and
- On-campus residencies at Syracuse's campus in Syracuse, NY, to allow students to participate in exercises and discussions in-person.
Students in this program may also have the opportunity to join the Syracuse Law Review.
Applicants for the hybrid program are subjected to the same entry requirements as the traditional law school applicants. The school notes that LSAT scores among the first class were slightly higher than those of people in the residential program.
This program can be completed in three years and three months. Learn more about this program here.
2. Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Mitchell Hamline School of Law, in St. Paul, MN, was the first law school to be granted the ABA waiver. The first class of hybrid law program students graduated in 2018.
This program can be completed in four years. Students must participate in on-campus residences 10 times while pursuing their degrees.
Online study is completed in 11- or 12-week-long semesters. This portion of the program is generally asynchronous, meaning students can work largely at their own pace, on the their own time. However, there are weekly scheduled online discussions.
Tuition is the same as the on-campus law program. Applications are accepted all year, but there are a limited number of seats in the hybrid program. Learn more here.
3. University of Dayton
The University of Dayton has also received the coveted ABA waiver.
This program can be completed in four years or less. It's designed to allow students to maintain their professional and/or caregiving responsibilities while attending law school.
The curriculum is taught by the same School of Law faculty who teach on-campus. Many classes are live, meaning that students will need to ensure that the class times fit into their schedules in order to participate. Students must also attend on-campus residences during several different portion of their study programs.
This program also includes a semester-long externship. Learn more here.
Not sure if online learning is right for you? Check out 8 Reasons Why Online Education is Better than Traditional.