Chapter 1: How online learning will transform legal education
Full access

Legal Education in the United States is under significant threat, a threat that has been building and growing for at least a decade. The Great Recession of 2008 created new and significant pressures on law firms, which previously had absorbed many law school graduates but no longer could at the same rates. Further, the post-2008 digital and financial transformations exposed something that had been fairly obvious to many inside legal education for a long time: that mid-twentieth-century legal education, which was still predominantly what was offered at law schools prior to 2008, was not going to be sufficient to prepare our graduates for the legal practice of the twenty-first century. Today, there is little doubt that the world in which our students will practise – over the course of their forty-odd years as lawyers serving clients – will be substantially and in some areas dramatically different from the legal profession many current law faculty members prepared for and entered as they started their own legal careers. Accordingly, legal education needs to change to adapt to those market forces or risk irrelevance. But the cost factor is a substantial limiting force to innovation in legal education – usually it costs more to provide a more individualized level of instruction. Just as in any field, some curricular content involves foundational information and principles, but the most important part of learning a new discipline is in application of those principles with feedback from an expert. This chapter suggests that placing more of the foundational first-year courses online is likely to be the best solution to the cost dilemma. Further, it suggests that such a shift is likely to make legal education more effective and even more valuable for our graduates. Among the most beneficial reasons for opening up the first year to a larger online cohort is that opportunities to study law will be made available to populations of students who have traditionally been excluded from law study. Thus, not only will this sort of shift in the design of legal education teach our students more efficiently, not only will it prepare students for the practice of law better than it has in the past, but it could also open up a profession that has long been criticized for being exclusionary and make it more diverse, to the great benefit of the profession as well as the society it serves.