Friday, March 13, 2020
Law.com, ABA Loosens Reins on Online Legal Education Amid Coronavirus Spread:
In less than a week, more than [half] of U.S. law schools have suspended in-person classes and moved classes online, or have announced plans to do so in the coming weeks in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
But the American Bar Association’s law school accreditation rules limit the number of course credits law students may receive online, and the rush to shift classes online has created plenty of confusion and questions over whether those distance education classes will count toward the minimum 83 credits that Juris Doctor students must complete to graduate. Under the ABA rules, no more than a third of a student’s credits may be earned via distance education classes. And first-year law students may take no more than 10 credits online. Classes count as distance education if more than a third of the instruction is delivered online—which will most likely apply to any classes transitioning online this week and next week.
The ABA in late February issued a guidance memo on emergency and disaster operations that makes clear that law schools have some latitude to adopt temporary changes to their educational program that may fall outside of the current accreditation standards. Law.com caught up Thursday with Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director for accreditation and legal education, to clarify how the accreditor is approaching the changes schools are making in response to the coronavirus, particularly regarding the move to online classes. Currier said that it’s the responsibility of individual law schools to determine the right responses for their own circumstances, and that legal educators will have to live with a certain amount of ambiguity during this emergency period. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Law.com: I think the question foremost on the minds of students and law school administrators is whether credits earned through these newly online classes will count toward their J.D.s. What clarity can you offer them?
Barry Currier: It’s the school’s responsibility to operate in compliance with the standards. That has been amplified by the guidance memo. We think that guidance memo gives schools ample room to make accommodations that should allow for a considerable amount of online teaching. Schools are free to do that within the language of the guidance memo.
For complete TaxProf Blog coverage of the coronavirus, see here.