Five Keys to Online Law School Success

Sep 23, 2011 by Ellen Sampong, JD

Law StudentsThe online study of law is convenient, allowing busy adult professionals to study on their own schedules, without compromising their work and family lives.

It’s also affordable: at CalSouthern, you can earn your Juris Doctor (JD) for less than $300 per credit hour—a fraction of the cost of most traditional law schools.

What it most certainly is not, however, is easy. CalSouthern’s JD program is extremely rigorous. First of all, it’s the same material utilized in traditional law study; we use casebooks that you’ll find at some of the nation’s most prestigious brick-and-mortar law schools. Also, in some respects, the study of law online is even more difficult than at a traditional law school, where the class schedules are set and less-than-diligent students can—to an extent—be swept along by the momentum of the class.

Fortunately, at CalSouthern, law students benefit from a community of support. Faculty mentors, the deans, and the rest of the staff stand ready to provide all the guidance you need to be successful. To that end, I spoke with Dean Ellen Sampong of the CalSouthern School of Law, who provided a few critical keys to success in the online study of law.

Develop a Study Schedule—and Stick to It

Online law students tend to be more mature learners, with busy professional and personal lives. If you passively wait for time to become available so that you can study, you’ll often find that your life will get in the way and that free time simply won’t be there. Instead, schedule your study time in advance. Be specific: include the amount of time you’ll devote to study as well as a quiet location where you will be free from distractions.

Dean Sampong recommends studying regularly—daily, if possible—rather than trying to pack weekly study into two or three larger blocks of time. That way, if a work or family conflict causes you to miss a scheduled study period, it will be easier to make it up and keep from falling behind. In addition, by studying more regularly, you stay more plugged in to your coursework. It remains top-of-mind and there’s less review required to get back up to speed when you begin a session. You’ll be able to move on more quickly. Also, studying in shorter, more frequent increments will keep you fresher and more efficient—helping you get the most out of the hours you devote to your coursework.

Submit Your Assignments On Time

OK, this may sound obvious—or even trite—but submitting your work in a timely manner contributes to your success in multiple ways. First, when you turn in your assignments promptly, you’ll receive your faculty mentor’s feedback quickly and have the opportunity to incorporate his or her feedback into your next assignment. Your writing will improve. Your understanding of foundational concepts will be strengthened, which will allow you to better grasp more advanced material as the course progresses. Your instructor will also be able to move on, helping you build on your knowledge and analytical and writing skills. Turning your work in promptly is the first step toward building all of this positive momentum.

Being timely with your assignments also performs another valuable function: it helps strengthen the faculty-student relationship—and this relationship matters. By turning your assignments in promptly—and by incorporating the feedback you get from your instructors, asking them follow-up questions about their input, etc.—you are demonstrating that you are approaching the study of law in a serious, responsible, and professional manner, something your mentors will respect and respond to.

Of course, the faculty will diligently grade all assignments and provide expert feedback to all students. But when you turn your work in on time, incorporate the suggestions given, and engage your mentor with questions, you’ll quickly cultivate the sort of personal, one-on-one relationships with your instructor that distinguishes online education here at CalSouthern. The mentor will learn your strengths and weaknesses, interests, and preferred learning style, and be able to adapt to help you get the very most out of the course. Distance learning is anything but mechanical and impersonal; it’s far more relational than you might think. Cultivating this student-mentor relationship is a critical key to success in the online study of law, and it will yield great benefits throughout your law school experience.

Find—and Leverage—the Mode of Study that Works for You

Juris Doctor DegreeOne of the best aspects of online learning—at least how it’s offered at CalSouthern—is that students can choose from a wide variety of learning resources to complement any learning style.

In the School of Law, students have—in addition to their casebooks—the opportunity to view or listen to commercial lectures delivered by law professors with a special expertise in the given subject area. You can read hornbooks—treatises that provide comprehensive overviews of particular areas of the law—or other professionally prepared topic outlines. You can download sample essay or multiple-choice questions to test your knowledge. The faculty or deans will teach you to outline your courses or leverage other time-proven law study techniques.

You need to tap into all these resources. Why? Everyone learns differently. By working with all the learning and study resources you’ll have at your disposal, you’ll quickly discover which mode of study works best for you. Most students find that it’s by utilizing a certain combination of study tools in a particular order that they are able to learn most effectively and efficiently. Once you discover what works best for you, you’ll not only succeed in your coursework, you’ll also increase your chances of success in the First-Year Law Students’ Examination and, ultimately, the bar exam itself.

Take Preparation for the Baby Bar Seriously

The State Bar of California requires all students earning their law degree online to take the First-Year Law Students’ Examination, better known as the “Baby Bar.” It’s taken after the first year of law school, and covers criminal law, torts, and contracts.

It’s tempting to dismiss the Baby Bar as a headache that all online law students are forced to endure, and cram for the exam in the month before it’s administered. But if you take it seriously, begin preparation for it as soon as you start your JD program, and put in the appropriate work, you can turn this necessary evil into a valuable benefit that will pay great dividends throughout the rest of law school and beyond.

Start preparing as soon as you begin your first class. Study the sample Baby Bar essay questions and answers (those that correspond to the course you’re taking at the time) made available on the California Bar’s website. We’ll also provide you with sample MBE (multiple choice) questions and answers that correspond to your coursework.

Studying the essay and multiple choice questions will provide a number of benefits. It will reinforce what you’re learning in your classes. You’ll improve your analytical abilities, sharpen your aptitude for spotting relevant issues, and hone your legal writing skills. You’ll identify any weaknesses or gaps in your knowledge early on, and can strengthen these areas with your mentors’ help.

Participate in CalSouthern’s Baby Bar Workshop. The deans and mentors will not only review the substantive areas to be covered on the exam, they’ll work with you individually to improve your essay writing skills, offer test-taking strategies, and identify and address any problem areas. (It’s also strongly recommended that you supplement our Workshop with a proprietary Baby Bar preparation class.)

Unquestionably, preparing for the Baby Bar is a lot of work. But, if you take these tips to heart and apply yourself, you’ll not only pass the exam with flying colors, you’ll augment your coursework and become an even stronger student. And, when it comes time to begin studying for the official bar exam upon graduation, you’ll have a leg up on the students from traditional law schools who haven’t had this experience.

Leverage CalSouthern’s Community of Support

CalSouthern’s faculty, administration, and staff stand ready to offer you all the support you need to succeed. If you are struggling with a particular concept, ask your mentor for help. They’ll work with you until you grasp it. Or, contact the deans. They can help you with substantive questions, work with you on your writing or test-taking skills, point you toward additional resources you may be unaware of (the CalSouthern Law Library is replete with research tools, writing and citation guides, study aids—there’s even a “law school survival kit”), and share proven study techniques or time-management strategies.

You won’t find this level of personalized support at other institutions. It’s what distinguishes CalSouthern from the rest and it’s what we’re most proud of. We hope you’ll experience it for yourself.

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