The MOOC Revolution: Law Schools

What’s more, there are regulatory hurdles to climb. For starters, the ABA prohibits law students from taking more than 12 credits online–and none during the first year. Even if students pursue a paid online degree, it wouldn’t be recognized by the ABA (though seven states, including California, allow online graduates to sit for the bar). Most states also require students to complete law school before taking the bar. California, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, are the exceptions, where candidates can study under a judge or practicing attorney before the bar. The other exceptions are New York and Wyoming, where students must complete a year of law school before being eligible for the bar; and Maine, where students with two years of law school can replace a third year with an apprenticeship.
Fact is, law school is an exercise in endurance as much as anything. It’s easy to drop out of a free MOOC, over 90% already do. And it takes real drive to complete the readings and tests without supervision (or peer pressure). But what about the underlying premise of law school: To learn how to think, to be challenged with hypotheticals, to question your suppositions, and create doubt? Well, let’s just say Socrates would probably prefer a physical town square to an online one. To examine cases and statutes, precedents and procedures, and details and ambiguities, you need a dialogue. And nothing can replace that face-to-face give-and-take inherent to law schools. Often, you learn as much from your fellow students as anyone else. To make it through the tough times, you need the personal attention–and the esprit de corps–of faculty, staff, and peers. In a pressure cooker like law school, students need structure and support more than anything. Many times, those areas are where MOOCs are most lacking.
We live in a different world. You won’t find any John Marshalls, Abraham Lincolns, or Frank Abagnales practicing law without a diploma. Let’s face it: Unless they hang out a shingle, no one will hire a lawyer who lacks a degree from a respected educational brand. This isn’t Suits! That said, MOOCs have a place in legal education. They may not disrupt the law school model, but they can certainly add value to it. Take lectures, for example. Here, MOOCs could facilitate a blended learning environment, where students view lectures ahead of time (along with reading their cases). This would free professors to devote more time to how students really learn: discussions and simulations.
Remember this: The number of MOOCs is growing every month. And you can expect more MOOC law courses, as law schools vie to grab attention, build brand, and stem declining enrollments. While MOOCs won’t stay free forever, they should stand the test of time in their various incarnations. And legal education can only benefit as a result.
For a list of available MOOCs, continue reading.

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