William S. Ramsey, P.C.

ON-LINE LAW SCHOOL

Most every thing else can be done online. Why not law school? It turns out there is at least one online law school, Concord University, www.concordlawschool.com. Concord is a division of Kaplan, Inc., a Washington Post Company. (Parenthetically, this appears to be a for-profit educational institution. Not so long ago I would have laughed at the idea that a for-profit university could successfully compete with established universities. Of course, that was before becoming a part time instructor at University of Phoenix).

The Concord program can be done entirely online, takes 4 years to complete, and costs approx. $6000 per year in tuition. The costs appear comparable to in-state tuition at the Maryland Law Schools, the University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore. The University of Concord law school claims some 800 students, representing 48 states and 9 countries. The tuition can be financed.

Before you sign up with Concord University, there is just one thing. Since Concord University Law School is not accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA), a graduate is not allowed to take the bar exam in 49 states and D.C. (The University of Maryland and University of Baltimore Law Schools are ABA accredited). The online degree therefore is useful in only one state, California. Most will agree California is not a bad choice if you are going to be limited to just one state.

The California Bar Committee lists (www.calbar.org)19 ABA accredited law schools located in California, 20 law schools accredited by the California Bar Committee, 13 unaccredited law schools, and 11 correspondence schools. Concord University is included as a correspondence school. A listing indicates the law school offers courses which, if taken by a student, will allow the student to be admitted to the bar exam, regardless of whether the law school is accredited by the ABA or any other accreditation group. I imagine at least some of the other correspondence schools also provide online degrees.

Can a Concord graduate ever become a Maryland lawyer? Apparently the answer is yes. A member of the Bar of another state who has practiced law for 5 of the previous 7 years as a lawyer, law teacher, or judge, can become admitted in Maryland with the payment of a fee and passing a test. There are some other requirements, but none would appear to prevent a Concord graduate California lawyer from becoming admitted.

Can an online law school give you a good legal education? It would appear the main difference between an online and a conventional legal education is the absence of the Socratic Method in the online program. Conventional law school classes are in large lecture rooms with up to 75 students and one professor. Students are assigned homework to read consisting of cases which illustrate legal principles. The Socratic Method involves the professor calling on individual students to recite about a specific case or to answer questions on that case. Since the professor probably studied that case when he or she was in law school, and probably has taught that same case many times, while the student likely has only a hazy recollection of the case, it is not surprising that the student often handles the recital badly. Some students hate and fear the experience, some have already learned that looking like blithering idiot is not the end of the world, but very few face the Socratic Method impassively. The Socratic Method is ubiquitous but controversial. Professors think it teaches students to think like a lawyer. Students think of it as hazing, or as just one of those things you have to do to become a lawyer.

While an online law education lacks the Socratic Method, it is claimed that online students do have much more student-teacher interaction with the professor than do conventional law school students. I can believe that. On the other hand, in my law student career I never had the time to delve into a subject, and rarely saw a professor outside the classroom.

So should you consider an online law school? Why not, if you are highly motivated and don’t mind moving to warmer climes to practice your profession. But of course first do your homework; ask about the dropout rate, the bar exam passage rate, the financial stability of the law school. Get some sample class assignments; email some students. And let me know if you try it.

William S. Ramsey     410-740-2225