Thursday, June 12, 2008

Graduates of Concord, First Online Law School, Admitted to US Supreme Court

[posted by Bill Henderson]

As I was catching up on my reading, I ran across an interesting story on four Concord Law grads who were recently admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court. See Tony Mauro, "Online Law School Grads Defies Expectations," Legal Times (May 6, 2008). It is noteworthy because Concord is a 100% distance-based law school which was founded in 1998; it was subsequently acquired by Kaplan, which has long specialized in test preparation. 

Although Concord is ineligible for ABA accreditation (because the accreditation standards require, among other things, a face-to-face classroom experience), its graduates can sit for the California Bar.  Of course, once admitted to the California Bar, Concord graduates can practice in federal court, including the US Supreme Court, according the same rules as any ABA-accredited law school grad.  The irony here, however, is that Justice Ginsberg gave a speech back in 1999 that was openly critical of "distance learning" at the newly opened Concord, reasoning that educational process "inevitably loses something vital when students learn in isolation."  In March, Ginsberg looked on as four Concord Law graduates were sworn in to the Supreme Court Bar (NB: to be admitted to SCOTUS, an attorney must (a) be a member of the bar in good standing for three years, and (b) sponsored by two attorneys already admitted to the Court).

The story reports that Ginberg's critical comments actually helped build momentum for the school.  According to Concord Dean, Barry Currier, the school enrolls a large number of nontraditional students and stay-at-home parents who cannot afford either time or geographic relocation to attend a traditional law school.  According to a related story, 40% of Concord students (total enrollment now at 1,500) have at least one master's degree (including MDs, MBAs, and PhDs), with many pursuing a legal degree as a second career or to enhance their own career.

The four Concord Law graduates certainly appear to be a diverse and impressive group that could end up in a brochure of virtually any ABA-accredited school:

  • A former businessman with a general law practice who also handles domestic violence cases pro bono;
  • A former dentist who currently serves as a consultant on risk management and forensic dentistry;
  • A computer consultant who is now promoting online education and multijurisdictional practice of law; and
  • A retired telecommunications manager who now takes court-appointed juvenile dependency cases.

According to Dean Currier, "Having our graduates sworn in at the Supreme Court symbolizes the fact that we have attracted people to our school who are highly qualified and passionate about becoming lawyers."  Arguably, this is a "but for" group:  But for Concord's distance learning program, these professionals would not be lawyers.  I would love to hear a renewed argument against distance learning.

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