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May 8, 2012
Washington University To Offer Fully Online LLM Program to Foreign Lawyers
Washington University in St. Louis is offering a Master of Laws in U.S. Law for Foreign Lawyers (LL.M.) as a completely online experience. The program is aimed at foreign lawyers who are interested in the degree but are not necessarily interested in coming to the United States to take classes. These prospective students will still have to meet admission requirements to the program no matter where or how it is taught. Washington University law faculty will teach the classes, limited to 15 students, using technology provided by 2tor, Inc., a company that specializes in distance learning services.
The article from Inside Higher Ed offers some interesting points on the program. The program does not lead to a J.D. or an opportunity to take the bar exam. It describes the American Bar Association to have “acquiesced” to the program. I’m not sure what that means, other than the ABA isn’t going to stop Washington University from going forward. One of the concerns that Washington University faculty had before approving the program was whether they could deliver a quality experience online. They must be satisfied enough that the school will offer an LL.M. through the program.
I have no doubt that the current level of technology is up to the task. If that’s the case, what then does this mean for traditional legal education? Inside Higher Ed quotes WUSL Dean Kent Syverud as saying:
“I think if we can deliver legal instruction online to people at a level of quality that mimics what we’re able to do in the classroom … [then] it’s going to be a change agent over the coming years, even if people don’t want it to be,” he says. “And the best schools are going to face that, and are going to make what they do better in all their degree programs and instruction, and everybody else is going to be left behind.”
I have to believe that the program’s success would lead to pressure to teach some general law classes via the web. That’s where the ABA might resist, not that the organization would dislike the idea. Rather because it has a hard time adjusting to change in its oversight of law schools. I wrote last Friday, for example, that the ABA can’t make up its mind on whether to require law schools to use the LSAT or not as an entrance exam. The Association seems to grudgingly respond to market conditions despite pressure from newspapers, advocacy groups, disgruntled law graduates, and members of Congress, no less. I can only imagine what would happen, or more realistically, how long it would take for the ABA to bless full-fledged basic legal instruction via the web. It might take years upon years before the Association discovers what other degree programs have, that distance learning works, depending on how it’s implemented. Oh, there goes that danged external change again.
One of the things that the WUSL program does in this age of declining enrollments is to reach out to potential students who otherwise would not consider attending classes due to logistics. I think this is a novel approach to market a program. The big schools would never have to worry about attracting students as their name and reputation sustains them. Other schools, however, may find distance learning a cost-effective alternative to reach qualified students. The WUSL program may be a proving ground if the faculty delivers the quality they seem to think they can. I wish them success, especially if it has the potential to positively disrupt the status quo in domestic legal education. [MG]
There is also an online LLM in China at Beijing Foreign Studies University:
Posted by: BFSU Online LLM | Jul 22, 2012 1:26:45 AM
If anyone can offer online law school, I am sure Washington University will do a great job. But have you noticed lately how many new law schools there are? Have you notice how many lawyers we are graduating each year? Have you notice that placement of attorneys in their own profession is declining? If you were to enroll and graduate from an online law school, would you be a competitive candidate in the job market? I don't think that because we can create an online law school that we should.
Posted by: Matt Powell | May 8, 2012 8:13:19 PM