Washington University (St. Louis) has become the first “highly ranked traditional law school” to offer a fully online LL.M. degree program that will qualify students to sit for the bar exam in a dozen U.S. states. The Wash U program is aimed at foreign lawyers, who can become experts in U.S. law without the pesky necessity of coming to the U.S. for a legal education. Other schools, like Florida Coastal and Alabama, offer online degrees, but Inside Higher Education notes that Wash U’s ”decision to create a fully online program might be seen as a bellwether for evolving views on online teaching and learning within a notoriously staid segment of higher education.” Foreign lawyers can already practice law without the LSAT or the J.D. in many states, so long as they have a U.S. LL.M. Now they can get that over the Internet.
So the justification for not approving online J.D. degrees is . . . what, exactly?
The money quote from Dean Kent Syverud — as distinguished a “traditional law school” leader as you’ll find, ought to send chills through the folks who think that keeping our heads in the sand is a practical option:
I think if we can deliver legal instruction online to people at a level of quality that mimics what we’re able to do in the classroom … [then] it’s going to be a change agent over the coming years, even if people don’t want it to be . . . . And the best schools are going to face that, and are going to make what they do better in all their degree programs and instruction, and everybody else is going to be left behind.
If I say something that online education can be as good as the in-person kind, I understand why people might ignore me. But you ignore Kent Syverud at your peril.