Before I began working at California Southern University, I was somewhat skeptical about the efficacy of distance-learning law programs. After all, I had completed my own JD program at a traditional brick-and-mortar law school and I simply could not fathom how it could be possible for students to obtain a quality legal education through an online or correspondence method.
However, now that I have had the honor and pleasure of working with CalSouthern’s JD learners for several years, it is very apparent to me that the existence of distance-learning law schools and JD programs is vitally important to a population of adult students who simply would not otherwise have the opportunity to realize their dream of earning a Juris Doctor and practicing law in California.
The vast majority of our law students are adults with full-time occupations. Many of them are also raising children, caring for elderly relatives—or both. I think of the single father who worked diligently for four years to earn his JD degree and admission ticket to the California bar examination. The option of attending an on-the-ground school, even a part-time evening program, was foreclosed to him due to his work responsibilities as a lead paralegal in the legal department of a Fortune 500 company, not to mention the fact that he was raising a young child on his own.
While some people may have the impression that distance learning is an easier path to obtaining a degree, nothing could be further from the truth, particularly in the realm of online legal education. Not everyone has what it takes to be successful in an online JD program. Learning the law is unlike any other discipline in the world of academia. It takes a great deal of motivation, self-discipline, hard work, sacrifice and intellect to get through the rigorous JD curriculum. Developing legal analytical skills is an art that can only be mastered through time and practice.
Adding to the challenge of distance-learning education, students attending distance-learning law schools must comply with the State Bar of California’s requirements regarding timing and minimum study hours, which means they must adhere to a strict study schedule that leaves very little time for leisure activities, especially in law school’s notorious first year.
But these are sacrifices that these adult students are willing to make because they understand the ultimate payoff: the opportunity to become a licensed attorney in California.
Is it possible for students to obtain a quality legal education through an online format? Our students at CalSouthern use many of the same casebooks found at some of the most prestigious brick-and-mortar law schools across the nation. All of the subjects tested on the California bar exam are required courses at CalSouthern, which means that our law students will have been exposed to every bar exam subject prior to leaving law school.
Is it possible for students to obtain a quality legal education through an online format? I suspect that the single father, who graduated cum laude from CalSouthern earlier this year and successfully passed the February 2013 California bar examination on his first attempt, would answer a resounding “Yes!”