Syracuse Law Introduces Hybrid J.D.

An example of the 2U platform for the Syracuse Whitman School of Management. Courtesy photo

An example of the 2U platform for the Syracuse Whitman School of Management. Courtesy photo

According to Albert Einstein, higher-ups in legal education might be insane. About a century ago, he said insanity is essentially doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. And many law schools are certainly still running the show like it’s 2005.

Until now. Yesterday (April 19), the Syracuse University College of Law announced a newly minted version of the J.D. In partnership with 2U, one of the leading platforms for online higher education. Syracuse Law will now offer a hybrid online and residential J.D., pending approval from the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) and the American Bar Association (ABA).

This isn’t your University of Phoenix-type of online degree program, however. Syracuse Law Interim Dean, William Banks says both the integrity of the admissions process and curriculum will be akin to the full-time residential program and will “look in many respects like any other J.D.” Students admitted to the program must take the LSAT and will be held to the same admissions and academic standards as the full-time students. Full-time program faculty will teach the same courses and the program will have the same focus on experiential learning, professional skills and externship programs. Not to mention, 2U runs similar programs with elite schools such as Georgetown University, New York University, Northwestern University, the University of California-Berkeley and many others.

CURRICULUM TO MIRROR FULL-TIME J.D. PROGRAM

Logistically, accepted students will be required to attend an orientation in Syracuse, New York and then return to the campus for “brief but intensive” intervals once a year, Banks explained in a phone call with Tipping the Scales. The rest of the part-time program will run through face-to-face online coursework and will take four years at a clip of nine to 10 credit hours a semester. Unlike a traditional full-time program, students are required to take courses the entire year.

Curriculum-wise, the program will begin with the basics like torts, contracts and property. Then students will be able to begin shaping their specific educational experience with electives, while simultaneously taking courses focused on bar prep and professional skill development. The final year will culminate with an externship that may be completed in the students’ hometowns and will be monitored and supervised by Syracuse Law faculty and staff.

Banks says professional skills development will be emphasized and is the “hallmark of legal education these days.” The live face-to-face online platform provided by 2U will allow faculty to teach and manage through mock interviews and exercises. Other experiential pieces to the program will be emphasized during the residential portions.

DEAN ‘OPTIMISTIC’ PROGRAM WILL BE FULLY ACCREDITED SOON

Of course, the demand for the program will come from the non-traditional space. Banks expects those unwilling or unable to leave full-time jobs, applicants with families and those “deployed or otherwise committed to a place where it’s impossible to be at a residential program” to apply. Syracuse Law enrolled 188 students into it’s full-time program last fall. Banks predicts the enrollment for the first hybrid cohort this fall to be about 30 to 60. However, he thinks once the program is up and running, they will be able enroll 300 students total. As for being admitted, the entering class of full-time students this spring had a median LSAT of 154 and a median undergraduate GPA of 3.33. In the July 2015 bar, first-time test takers from Syracuse Law passed the New York State Bar at a rate of 83.3%–upwards of the state average of 79%.

Banks admits there are some constraints and hurdles for the first-of-its-kind program. The largest of the hurdles being that pesky NYSBA and ABA accreditation. But Banks says the school has already begun the process of accreditation and is “optimistic” the program will be fully accredited in a few months. However, he ticks off a slew of necessary steps to take and concedes the process is “very lawyer-like.”

‘A PHENOMENON THAT WILL LIKELY BECOME AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE LAW MARKET’

As for the future of the hybrid J.D., 2U and Syracuse both believe it’s the way of the future. “That’s the bet 2U is making, I think,” says Banks. “And we’re persuaded that it is a phenomenon that will likely become an important part of the law market just as it has in business and some other fields.”

Syracuse, in particular, has multiple colleges offering hybrid degree programs, including the Whitman School of Management, the Newhouse School of Communications and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Banks nods to the work of Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud as a main driver. Syverud established one of the first hybrid LL.M. programs at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.

“When Syverud traveled from St. Louis to Syracuse, 2U followed him,” Banks explains, noting conversations, logistical planning and market analysis for the hybrid J.D. have been happening for a year-and-a half now.

As for other law schools doing similar models, Banks says to count on it. “I think it’s only a matter of time before the bar and the profession and American people recognize the value of online education in the legal space,” he predicts.

Tuition for the program will be the same as the full-time J.D., which was $45,100 last year. However, 95% of full-time students received some for of scholarship or financial aid.

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