Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Legal Education Will Never Be The Same After COVID-19: Online Is Here To Stay

Andrew Strauss (Dean. Dayton), Post Coronavirus: Legal Education Will Never Be the Same. Online Is Here to Stay.:

Coronavirus[T]he nature of American legal education will be one of the many great transformation wrought by the coronavirus crisis. The University of Dayton is one of four ABA-accredited schools currently operating under an ABA variance that allows us to pioneer an online J.D. program. So, I already know what law schools all over the country are in the process of discovering.  Online legal education works, and in some respects is superior to the traditional on the ground model.

Like most of the four schools operating under variances, our program consists of a mixture of weekly online synchronous and asynchronous classes as well as an occasional short visit (typically once a semester) to campus. ...

The unexpected result is that the students and faculty in our online program often experience a greater level of learning and interpersonal connection than they do in our bricks and mortar program. ...

The fundamental flaw of the Socratic method, however, is that only one student at a time is so engaged. In our asynchronous classes every student is actively engaging all the time. While most professors do not have the ability to produce quality asynchronous classes on the fly this semester, by sampling the online medium, they will come to appreciate conceptually the potential power of the asynchronous dimension.

Finally, what the coronavirus crisis has made readily apparent about online legal education is that it increases accessibility. Beyond emergency situations, it makes law school available for students who cannot leave rural areas or who have work and family obligations that make school commutes infeasible. Synchronous classes, after all, can be done anywhere, and asynchronous classes can be done anywhere and anytime.

For complete TaxProf Blog coverage of the coronavirus, see here.

Coronavirus, Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


Ever since the great recession and the dramatic drop in applicants, law schools have been searching for a magic bullet that will revive interest in young adults for going hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for a JD. The first movement to emerge was the "practice ready" educational reform that was expected to calm future student's anxieties about the job market. This ended up being more of a marketing campaign than an educational reform, and it has largely dissipated for the reasons that 1) practice ready programming does not create more jobs, and 2) prospective students did not care about practice ready curriculum at all.

The online JD is the heir apparent to "practice ready" curriculum reforms. And it too will fail to deliver the long-sought "new market" for legal education. Online education, again, is not a response to a specific demand, but a brainchild of Boomer educational leaders that is derived from their assumptions about younger generations, now mostly Gen Z. Such assumptions include that young adults a) don't want to get out of their pajamas or leave their parent's basement, 2) they don't want face to face contact and wish to live their entire lives online, and 3) they are unwilling and unable to keep any type of normal and consistent schedule. There may be kernels of truth to these assumptions, but they are very weak factors, and not at all the reason for the declining law school applications. As I have said 1000 times here, there is and always has been tremendous interest in attending law school, however young people are increasing unwilling to pay the rising cost. Online education, like the practice ready curriculum, does nothing to address cost, so it will not result in a meaningful increase in law school applicants.

There could also be an unintended negative consequence to moving classes online, which is price deflation. Not only are classes moving online, they are now, as the article explains, pre-recorded. Tell me why a 24 year old should pay $55,000 per year to watch pre-recorded classes from his parents' basement? It is absolutely insane, and no one, save the most ignorant and naive (e.g. bar failers), will agree to it. What will happen is that some aggressive law school that is lower down the rankings and with nothing to lose will reduce physical overhead, price a pre-recorded online JD appropriately (say, $8,000 per year) and accept as large a class as they can get (5000 per year?). These few schools will absorb the entire online JD market until all other schools drop their prices accordingly, and online ed is no longer the money making reform it was intended to be.

I continue to believe that most young adults want the full experience of attending law school in person, meeting new friends (and potential spouses), seeing professors in person and actively engaging with a community. Instead of continuing to look for an easy way out, law schools should take up the challenge of providing that educational experience for a fair price, perhaps something in line with the cost in 1995, adjusted for inflation. Then law school will finally have the stability it has long sought.

Posted by: JM | Apr 16, 2020 5:45:27 AM

See my comment on Oklahoma, above.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Apr 16, 2020 3:41:19 AM