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William Mitchell First Allowed To Offer Fully Hybrid Law Program

A law school located in St. Paul, MN that has produced at least three Minnesota governors, various members of Congress, and multiple state and federal court justices, expects to offer a hybrid variety of education starting in 2015, which it claims is the first of its kind. The William Mitchell College of Law will offer an online and on-campus juris doctor program that has been approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).

While a number of institutions offer fully online law classes and master's programs in law, no online J.D. program has received approval from the American Bar Association, which means students in those programs can't sit for any state's bar exam. As the ABA states on its Web site, "Earning an education completely via distance education may drastically limit your ability to sit for the bar in many states." Most states simply rely on ABA approval to determine whether their "legal education requirements for admission to the bar are satisfied." (One exception to that is California, which allows for students in unaccredited but "registered" law schools to sit for the bar.)

William Mitchell, however, has received an official variance from the ABA, which allows it to combine its in-class curriculum with the "expanded use" of digital technology. Ordinarily, the ABA allows law schools to make a third of each course available as an online program; the variance allows for half of the curriculum to be delivered that way.

According to the institution, the variance is the first of its kind and arrives as the ABA is pondering the future of legal education and how it might allow law schools to experiment with instructional delivery methods.

The new program at William Mitchell will include "intensive" in-person experiential learning and online coursework. Students attend courses on campus at least one week each semester to participate in 56 hours of simulations and other coursework. The on-campus work will be supplemented with digital curriculum designed by faculty. Students will also be encouraged to participate in "externships" in their local areas under the guidance of practicing attorneys.

The hybrid option will be offered alongside the college's 113-year-old part-time program and its 40-year-old full-time program. The college currently has 813 students in both programs. The ABA variance will allow for enrollment of as many as 96 students in the first year.

"Our research demonstrates that when implemented thoughtfully, courses blending face-to-face and online instruction offer students the best of both worlds," said President and Dean Eric Janus. "By harnessing e-learning technologies, professors expand their repertoire of pedagogical tools, allowing greater creativity and flexibility in achieving desired learning. Adding to traditional law school teaching methods, our courses will include online interactions and content delivery that engage today's students, provide additional teaching and learning accountability and prepare students to use technology that they will encounter in practice."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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