Law School MOOCs

Could Free Online Law Courses be the Wave of the Future?

If you’ve been following recent developments in the online education space, then you have likely heard of websites like Coursera and Udacity, which offer what are referred to as massive open online courses (MOOCs).  Students now have access to a wide variety of courses from a broad range of institutions (none of which are law schools, so far).

Most MOOCs are “self-study” in that students watch the lecture materials (typically video, or audio files), read the reading materials, and then submit assignments which are typically  peer-graded.  Many courses include an interactive discussion board in which students submit questions and comments, and in many courses, comments are then voted up or down by fellow students.  At the end of the day, the curriculum of many online law schools is quite close to what is being offered in MOOcs (in other words, there is a lack of synchronous interaction).

Which Online Law Courses Would Make good MOOCs?

While certain law school courses that are informational or “seminar”-based might be good candidates for MOOCs because the educational goals of such courses is providing students with exposure to new or different areas of law, most quality law school courses would be difficult to teach using a MOOC format.  Why?  Mainly because law school is a much different learning experience than any other type of graduate or undergraduate program.  A quality law school education is aimed at two key pedagogical goals: teaching students how to learn and teaching students how to think.  Both of these goals are achieved through the use of synchronous, interactive learning including, for example, the Socratic method, in which the law professor engages in a “give and take” conversation with a single student.

The conversation resembles more of a cross-examination than a conversation, but the professor’s goal is to force the student to form a legal conclusion based on the facts at hand. Once the student has stated a conclusion, the law professor explores, through a continued series of questions, how valid the student’s conclusion is by introducing additional facts, or otherwise examining the logical premises of the student’s conclusion.

All of this to say, is that much of the learning in law school occurs in real-time.  For that reason, many MOOCs could be a useful tool to expose students to interesting areas of law, or to provide students with exposure to the development of certain doctrinal areas.  But arguably, a student would be missing a key piece of a very important component of their legal education if such student were not exposed to a variety of interactive experiences.  Thus, teaching fundamental critical thinking skills that require students to think on their feet and change legal conclusions based on changing facts would be difficult using an asynchronous MOOC format.

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Top 3 Online Law School Advantages

In a recent article posted here, the deficiencies in law school curriculum were discussed.  The top 2 complaints were the fact that law school is expensive and most law schools don’t adequately train students.   Given such realities, attending a quality online law school can have tremendous advantages for the right student.

1.Top Online Law School Advantage:  Cost

With many top-ranked law school programs topping $50,000 in student costs, we have discussed the fact that in most cases, online law schools are usually much more affordable than brick and mortar schools, which is clearly a large advantage for most students.

2.  Top Online Law School Advantage:  Preparing Students to Work as Lawyers.

This advantage manifests itself in two separate manners.  First, the students who are the most successful in correspondence law schools and distance law schools are students who have self-discipline and a well-established sense of personal responsibility.  These students understand that they are responsible for creating results and the hard work involved in creating results.  Unsurprisingly, many of the most well-known lawyers share the same traits.  Students who have succeeded in a reputable online law school are arguably ahead of their competitors who are just learning the importance of self-discipline and ambition.  The best online law school students have been practicing such skills from day one.

The second manner in which online law school students at St. Francis are better prepared to work as lawyers is the fact that our entire upper-division curriculum has been designed to emphasize the most important practical skills our students might need (the same skills traditional law schools leave out).   What is a working capital adjuster? Our students know because our business transactions course covers actual business transactions and not just theory.  What key things should you consider when drafting a motion to dismiss?  Our students know because our civil procedure course is designed to teach them relevant litigation strategy instead of merely doctrines.

3.  Top Online Law School Advantage:  Flexibility

Of course, flexibility is the key advantage to many of our students.  It is difficult for ambitious professionals to pause their careers for three years to attend online law school full-time.  However, by attending law school on a part-time basis for four years, students are able to earn a law degree without falling behind.

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Online Juris Doctorate Curriculum

Some describe the online legal education changes as being “disruptive” and a new article published on the Harvard Business Review blog describes in more detail how online law schools such as St. Francis School of Law are able to deliver premier educational experiences in a virtual environment.

Unlike students at traditional law schools who are engaged primarily in reading cases, our curriculum (particularly our upper- level, post Baby Bar curriculum) focuses on emphasizing critical thinking and problem solving by placing students in real-world scenarios that are chock full of competing business considerations, gray facts, and varying levels of legal risk.  We intentionally place our students in situations that require that they work together and leverage each other’s expertise in order to arrive at the best solution.

Of course, the ABA has not warmly embraced the online law school movement and therefore accredited online law schools cannot exist given the ABA’s refusal to accredit any online law school.  Similar to the teachers unions who are concerned about online education in K-12 environment, the ABA’s worries underscore a misunderstanding about the tremendous advantages that can accrue to students who pursue an online JD program.   We believe, much like other innovators in the online education space, that online law courses can make it easier for law professors to provide more real-world, practical exercises.

Additionally, as  DOE data demonstrates, “[s]tudents in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction.”  From our perspective, any top online law school focused on admitting quality students should not be surprised by this statistic.  Students who are self-motivated and ambitious are eager and efficient to learn more and absorb as much information as possible.  Online law courses formats provide that opportunity, especially when they allow students to 1) solve real world problems and 2) interact and meet other students of similar intellectual caliber.

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The Search for the Best Online Law School Programs

Given that ABA-approved law schools are disqualified from allowing student to take more than 12 credit hours through distance-education methods, it is safe to say that nearly all of the nation’s top law schools are prohibited from launching online JD programs.

Nonetheless, online education is clearly the wave of the future, and many prestigious law schools are beginning to realize that they can capture a share of the online education marketplace by offering degrees other than juris doctorate degrees in an online format.

So far, the most common online law degree offered by such institution is an online law master’s (L.L.M) degree.  Typically,  such online law degrees (such as Masters degrees and L.L.M’s) offered by top law schools are not the best route to a J.D. and are not engineered to prepare online law students to take the bar exam.

Washington Law, Florida Coastal College of Law, the New York University Law School , the Loyola University Chicago School of Law and the University of Alabama each offer an online law program in one or more discrete areas of law, but none offer a juris doctorate degree online.

As traditional law schools attempt to capture revenue from the increasing demand from U.S. students and students located internationally, all of whom desire the flexibility that comes with a distance learning law program, it is likely that the number of “traditional” law schools creating a single online law program or even multiple online law programs will increase.  This is a great development and will help credible online law school programs gain more credibility in the legal profession.


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Are Online Law Schools Keeping Pace?

Online Law School Curriculum

Despite the fact that the legal field has seen revenues drop 10% at US law firms since 2008, law schools are still failing to provide educations that prepare their graduates for successful careers.  Law schools (both online law schools and traditional law schools) continue to ignore the benefits of including practical skills in their curriculum.  Law school students today are facing one of the most dismal job markets in history, and yet, most law law degree programs are not doing anything to keep pace.  Are online law schools any better than traditional law schools in this respect?

In a word, no.  Online law schools have long been stigmatized due to their poor quality.  In our experience, such poor quality results from:

–          Marketing processes that target students who do not have the intellectual capacity to compete in a rigorous law program and who have little chance of passing either the California Bar Exam or the Baby Bar Exam;

–          A “hands off” approach that leaves online law school students on their own, struggling to understand difficult legal concepts without proper support from the online law school faculty members;

–          The poor quality of faculty members, who oftentimes themselves have graduated from very low quality online law schools;

–          The treatment of online law schools as  revenue streams instead of an academic institutions.

In our opinion, most online law schools have not mastered (or even tried to master, for that matter) how to deliver a minimally adequate “traditional” legal education.  Trying to incorporate practical skills and the innovation demanded by the market is a task that requires tremendous thought and expertise.  It is much easier for online law schools to continue teaching students in an outdated, myopic fashion (and even then, most don’t do that component well).

One would think that online law schools should be on the cutting edge of delivering legal education since their entire platform uses the internet and technologies that traditional law schools only include in a minimal manner. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case so far.

Building a Top Online Law Degree Program

At St. Francis School of Law, in addition to providing real-time classes for our law students (students who are incredibly accomplished and driven), we also strive to heed market demand and deliver online law classes that are both practical and relevant.

Our JD program is different….

Our online law degree program differs from both traditional law schools and online law schools by:

–          Focusing on high quality law students;

–          Taking an immensely personal, dedicated approach to every single one of our students to help them understand the materials presented in our online law courses in an efficient manner,

–        Fostering a sense of community among our close-knit student body and faculty members, who are passionate about our mission and dedicating to doing their part to make St. Francis a better place;

–          Attracting and retaining some of the very best faculty members available, who parallel the faculty members students could expect to find at top traditional law schools;

–          Committing to a long-term vision that focuses on student performance and the growth of our long-term reputation over short-term financial metrics.

A comparison of online law schools would demonstrate that, vis-à-vis our competitors, not only is St. Francis School of Law the most committed to our distance learning law students,   but each of our graduates will be ready to weather the legal landscape, no matter what form it takes.

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Is the Best Law School Available Online?

St. Francis School of Law—An Online Law School for Exceptional Students

Each top law school has selective admissions procedures, a rigorous curriculum, and a dedicated student body –and St. Francis’ online law school is no different. In contrast to many traditional top law school programs, St. Francis School of Law allows you to continue excelling at your career while earning your Juris Doctorate degree online, without spending in excess of $100,000.  The best law school may no longer be made out of bricks.

As a top online law school, our Juris Doctorate degree program offers:

  • an educational platform that fosters relationship building and real-time interactive classes;
  • a challenging, relevant curriculum that demands the same level of critical thinking as classes taught in top law schools;
  • a well-qualified faculty who boast top credentials and come from top law schools themselves;
  • a highly accomplished student body;
  • generous scholarships and reasonable costs.

The Top Choice for Accomplished Students

The best law school for you should be one where you feel challenged by your peers and where you are in class with students of similar intellectual capacity.  Check out the competition and see what our top online law school has to offer.

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St. Francis School of Law Curriculum: Ahead of the Curve

Online Law School Curriculum

At our recent Curriculum Development Committee, discussion abounded regarding one of the more interesting statistics to be included in the ABA’s  first report on law school curriculum to be released in 10 years:  The number of ABA accredited law schools offering online, synchronous (i.e., “real-time”) classes is up thirteen percent since 2002 and the number of  distance education courses offered by ABA approved law schools in an “asynchronous” format is up fourteen percent.  Unfortunately, an ABA approved online law school is not possible given the ABA’s refusal to accredit online law schools, but this is a very positive step in the right direction.

It’s great news for St. Francis law school students that online legal courses are becoming widely incorporated into the curricula of ABA approved law schools and we’re excited to continue to be on the leading edge of legal education.

Read more commentary here.

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