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Online Law School Reviewer

Factors to Consider in Choosing 

 An Online Law School, by Al Thomas 

 

 

Introductory Note  


Online law schools
 always provide a viable alternative for persons for whom attendance at a traditional “residential” or “fixed facility” law school is not a practical possibility due to family or job commitments, financial limitations and/or geographic considerations. For such persons, an online law school may be a solution because, first, students at online law schools can “attend” classes by internet web conferencing from their homes, workplaces or elsewhere; thus, online law schools make law school a realistic alternative for persons with job and/or family commitments that preclude attending classes during normal working hours on a daily basis at a residential law school. Secondly, tuition and other expenses at online law schools are radically lower than at residential law schools, thus making it possible for students with limited financial means to attend law school. Thirdly, attending an online law school does not require a student to change his or her residence, as is usually the case with a traditional “fixed facility” law school.

Much has been written about online law schools, e.g., the Wikipedia article which contains a general discussion of online education at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correspondence_law_school   It appears, however, that there are no articles which address, specifically and concretely, the factors a prospective student interested in an online legal education should take into account in deciding which online law school he or she should attend. The instant article seeks to “fill this void.”

The “Factors” that the author, an experienced lawyer and law professor, believes should be taken into account are discussed below, point by point, at the following-indicated headings:

I.                   Whether the School Truly is an “Online” Law School

II.                Whether the School is Producing Students Eligible to Take the “Baby Bar”

III.             Whether the School Has the Technology Necessary to Utilize the Socratic Method

IV.             Whether the School is Producing Students Able to Pass the Baby Bar
 

I.                  Whether the School Truly is an “Online” Law School

On its website the California State Bar lists those schools that are “distance-learning,” i.e. “online” in a separate category from those schools designated as “correspondence” schools. There is no mystery as to the significance of this different categorization. In short, the State Bar’s website unqualifiedly states that a “correspondence” school is one that “conducts instruction primarily by correspondence” while, in sharp contrast, the State Bar’s website defines a “distance-learning” or “online” school  as  one that “conducts instruction and provides interactive classes principally by technological means.” (Emphasis added.)

 

Astounding as it may seem, several law schools hold themselves out in their advertising and on their websites as being “distance-learning” and/or “online” despite being categorized by the California State Bar as “correspondence” schools. The simple truth, in this regard, is that there are only five law schools categorized on the California State Bar website as  “online” or “distance-learning,” namely: Abraham Lincoln University School of Law; American Heritage University School of Law; California Midland School of Law (formerly Aristotle University Institute of Law); California School of Law and Concord Law School. All other non-residential law schools that are registered with the California Bar are categorized by the Bar as being “correspondence.”

 

The law schools that claim to be either distance-learning or online schools when the State Bar has determined they are correspondence schools are as follows: Taft Law School, Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy, MD Kirk School of Law, Southern California University for Professional Studies, West Coast School of Law and Northwestern California University School of Law. Despite being designated as schools that "conduct instruction primarily by correspondence" by the California State Bar, these schools are listed on the Google search engine sites as being “online law schools.” Further, and even more telling, on their websites most of these schools make unqualified claims to the effect that they provide an “online” education.

 

 The conclusion to be drawn from the above-stated facts is so obvious that it probably need not be stated. If a potential law student wants the advantages of attending a school that, to use the State Bar’s terminology, “provides interactive classes by technological means,” as opposed to one that, again using the State Bar terms, “conducts instruction primarily by correspondence,” that student should eliminate all schools from his or her consideration except the five above-named schools that are categorized by the California State Bar as being “distance-learning.” This is because, of course, there is a tremendous difference in the value of the educational experience between participating in live, “real-time” interactive classes, as opposed to the mere receipt and self-study of written materials, which by definition is the basic pedagogy at the “correspondence” law schools.

 

II.          Whether the School is Producing Students

                     Eligible to Take the “Baby Bar”

 

Under California State Bar rules, upon successful completion of their first year at an online law school, all students wishing to ultimately become admitted to the bar must sit for and pass the First Year Law Students Exam, popularly known as the “baby bar.” It follows that an important factor for a prospective online law school student to consider in determining which online school to choose is whether the law school has been successful in getting its students to successfully complete the first academic year, thereby making them eligible to sit for the “baby bar.”

 

The author of this article has reviewed the relevant California State Bar records to determine the number of students at the five schools designated by the Bar as “distance-learning” that  have sat for the baby bar. That review, done of the State Bar’s statistical reports that were circulated on 11/02/09, 1/6/09, 10/14/08, 1/4/08, 10/31/07 and 3/1/07, shows that two of the five “online” schools are not successfully getting students to the baby bar exam stage. 

 

The said two schools are American Heritage University School of Law and California Midland School of Law (formerly Aristotle University Institute of Law). In short, according to the State Bar’s above-listed statistical reports, each of these two schools have had only one student take the baby bar since October 2006, and in both cases the one student failed. This leaves three law schools as legitimate online educational institutions, namely Abraham Lincoln University School of Law, California School of Law and Concord Law School.

 

It goes without saying, that if the prospective student wishes to become a practicing lawyer, it would make no sense to attend a law school whose record shows that virtually none of its entering students make it to the baby bar stage, which is only the first step in the bar admission process. Indeed, the only tangible result of attending such a school almost inevitably would be the expenditure by the student of much time and money, with no meaningful beneficial results.

 

III.        Whether the School Has the Technology

                       Necessary to Utilize the Socratic Method  

Almost without exception, all of the prestigious law schools in the United States teach by the Socratic question and answer method. It, indeed, is the understanding of the author of this article that the professors at virtually all  law schools in the United States that are accredited by either The American Bar Association or the California State Bar teach by the Socratic Method.

 For an article on how the Socratic Method is not only utilized at all accredited law schools, or at least at virtually all such schools, but even is spreading to business schools, medical schools and beyond, go to Harvard Magazine  This Author is informed, indeed, that the only serious criticisms of the use of the Socratic Method in the legal education field come from persons who are trying to justify its non-use at either correspondence schools or at online law schools that lack the technology to provide their students with a contemporaneous “real-time” live two-way question and answer format that is essential to the functional use of the Socratic Method.

Under the Socratic Method system of legal instruction, before each class students are assigned cases and statutes to read and brief.  This pre-class preparation is followed by in-class presentations by the students. As a crucial part of this process, students are questioned by the professors, sometimes rigorously with follow-up questions, regarding the facts, rule of law and/or the court’s reasoning as to the assignment made before class.

America's Legal Bookstore, a publishing house, has published and is distributing a book entitled “The Online Law Schools Book.”  The book, written by Dominick Latella, is a descriptive compilation of all law schools in California that either are on-line law schools or at least claim to be. Mr. Latella wrote as follows regarding the use of the Socratic Method at online law schools:

          California School of Law is THE ONLY SCHOOL TO OFFER LIVE SOCRATIC METHOD TEACHING ONLINE. Students are equipped with VoIP software, and headsets, and meet live twice per week in a real virtual class.  Teachers use the Socratic Method asking students questions in the same manner that teachers at Harvard, Yale, and any traditional school ask their students.  Classes are on Tuesday and Thursday nights, at 6:00 pm PDT.  So, basically anyone can attend.

This is the closest thing to a real law school. You will learn how to prepare for class, interact live in class, and have a true Law School experience!  As the years go on, there are Moot  Courts and trial practice, Live, again assuring the most real life Law School  Experience of any of the on-line law schools.  You better be prepared for class!
 
The California School of Law is Real Law School!!!  If you have two nights per week for the next four years, it will give you the most Real Law School experience possible.  Students also can meet online for study groups.   It is amazing.  A thumbs up!!!
                                                                        

In short, the virtual classroom online system used by California School of Law provides students with the benefits of the Socratic Method. As the school’s website and the above-quote from Latella’s compendium review of online law schools make clear, the pedagogical program at the California School of Law is not self-study, text messaging or a chat room; it is not watching a “canned” DVD or video download; nor is it a lecture with an opportunity to text message questions. In California School of Law’s virtual classrooms, rather, students and faculty discuss and argue rules of law orally, live and in “real time,” just as if they were physically present with each other and the professor. California School of Law

As the above-quoted paragraph from Latella’s “Online Law School Book” further makes clear, the California School of Law is the only online law school that uses the Socratic Method in its teaching program. The Author’s investigation reveals that the two other online law schools provide their students with a very different teaching pedagogy. The Author’s investigation shows that at Concord Law School, although the students utilize the VOiP software program to hear the professors’ lectures on their computers, the technology utilized at Concord does not permit the professors to call on students, in order to have the students make case presentations, in order to enable the professors to ask probing questions designed to sharpen the student’s understanding of the legal issue in the matter being discussed or in order to give the students a “taste” of what a courtroom will be like. Indeed, all that the students at Concord can do is text message questions to the professor but, again, the professor cannot direct questions or otherwise meaningfully engage the students.

The author’s investigation indicates that the teaching format at Abraham Lincoln School of  Law  is similar to that at Concord. Each Saturday, lectures are given that the students can attend or listen to online and they can text message inquiries to the professors.  Like at Concord, however, at Abraham Lincoln there is no technological ability for the professors to call on the students, thus making impossible the use of a teaching method that would even remotely resemble the traditional Socratic Method of teaching law utilized at virtually all prestigious law schools.

It is to be emphasized that even if an argument were made to the effect that, despite its near-universal use, the Socratic Method is not the only feasible and effective way of teaching law, such an argument would ignore the unassailable self-evident truth that providing a “give and take,” live, contemporaneous educational session during which the students are directly questioned is vastly superior to a teaching program which fails to provide such components.

It also is to be emphasized that at the California School of Law, because students get to know each other in the live, contemporaneous virtual classrooms, online student study groups are formed that enable students to share ideas, research results and test strategies, as well as develop valuable networking relationships, perhaps for a lifetime, as they do at traditional residential law schools.

IV.         Whether the School is Producing Students 
                        Able to Pass the Baby Bar

 

Students at correspondence and online law schools must take the First-Year Law Students' Examination,] nicknamed the “Baby Bar." Students who do not pass the Baby Bar will not have their credits past the first year of law school recognized by the California Bar examiners and, thus, will not be permitted to sit for the Bar Exam.

 

Sections “I” and “II” above of this article show that of the five law schools that are categorized by the California State Bar as being “online” schools, three are getting their students to the baby bar exam stage. As already noted, these three law schools are Abraham Lincoln, Concord and the California School of Law.

Past and recent baby bar pass rates, including those for correspondence and online law schools, are provided by the California State Bar. According to the State Bar website, the pass rates for students at the three online law schools that are getting students to the baby bar stage for the June 2009 baby bar are as follows:  Abraham Lincoln 16.8%; California School of Law 60%; Concord Law School 25.1%.

Dean William Hunt of the California School of Law reports that the State Bar's immediately above-indicated statistics do not reflect a student who transferred to the school, who took the School's baby bar prep course and then took and passed the baby bar exam. Dean Hunt also reports that one of the School’s two students who failed did not take the School's recommended baby bar preparation course. This additional data means that the students from the California School of Law who followed the school's advice and procedures as to how to prepare for and take the June 2010 baby bar, 80% were successful. See California School of Law

The significance of comparing the 80% figure for the California School of Law with Abraham Lincoln’s 16.8% and Concord’s 25.1% need not be belabored. The figures speak for themselves, recognizing that the baby bar is an unavoidable hurdle if a potential student wishes to have a reasonable chance of becoming a lawyer.        

Conclusion

The import of the above-stated facts and analyses need not be discussed in detail. In short, if a prospective student wants a quality legal education, but for personal or financial reasons cannot attend a residential law school, the student should go to the online school that: (a)  truly is an online school; (b) that has a record of producing students who take the baby bar: (c) that has a record of producing students who have a reasonable passage rate on the baby bar; and (d) that, perhaps most importantly, utilizes the long-accepted Socratic Method of teaching law. 

The website address for the California School of Law is www.californiaschooloflaw.com

 

                                                                                               Al Thomas

 

Further Reading:

 

Narrative Description of

Abraham Lincoln School of Law……….http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln_University

 

Narrative Description of California  

School of Law…………………………..http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Correspondence_law_school

 

Narrative Description of

Concord Law School……………………..http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concord_Law_School