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January 10, 2014


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John Thompson

Whether it provides a good or lousy experience for students, it will still cost as much as an in-person part-time JD at William Mitchell, according to Elie Mystal's article on this a month ago:

I suspect that the ABA would not have been nearly as forthcoming with their approval if this online offering represented a real effort by William Mitchell to reduce prices for students with any of the overhead saved.

Scott Bauries

Thanks for posting this. William Mitchell's Dean gave a compelling case for this experiment at AALS, and I will also be interested (as my school's Curriculum Committee Chair) to see how the experiment comes out.

It's odd that William Mitchell's own press release would contain this mistake, but the quoted section is mistaken to the extent it claims that no individual law course may contain more than one-third distance-learning content, and that William Mitchell needed a variance from that ("Without the variance, the ABA only allows law schools to make one-third of each course available through distance learning . . ."). This is not the case. ABA Standard 306 states that any legal education program may allow for students to take courses through distance learning, but that no student may take more than 4 credits of distance learning courses in any one semester, or more than 12 credits during the course of an entire JD program. This means that, even without a variance, any law school may offer up to 12 credits in its curriculum that consist entirely of distance learning courses. William Mitchell's variance allows it to offer more than half of its program in this way, so it is a variance from these credit limitations, not the "one-third" limitation.

As to the "one-third" limitation in the quote, that is separate from the overall credit limitations, though related. The "one-third" limitation determines whether any specific course is considered a "distance learning" course or a "regular classroom" course for the purpose of the overall credit limitations. Non-distance-learning courses may include a distance learning component without being considered a "distance learning" course (all of mine do, and have for years), as long as the distance learning component is not more than one-third of the course. Any course that exceeds that one-third is considered a "distance learning" course officially, rather than a "regular classroom" course, and will count toward the 12-credit limit on distance learning courses stated in ABA Standard 306.

Here's the interpretation in which the "one-third" limitation appears:

Interpretation 306-3

Courses in which two-thirds or more of the course instruction consists of regular classroom instruction
shall not be treated as “distance education” for purposes of Standards 306(d) and (e) even though they also
include substantial on-line interaction or other common components of “distance education” courses so
long as such instruction complies with the provisions of subsections (1) and (2) of Standard 306(c).

Former Law Review Editor

I don't know how law faculty can look at themselves in the mirror anymore. Way to "innovate" in legal education William Mitchell and thanks for the "oversight" ABA.

State bars take note - the ABA is asleep at the switch and should be removed from accreditation authority. You, state bars, should take back the reigns of licensure from the experiment in law dean regulatory capture that is the ABA.

Scott Bauries

I have had the benefit of an email conversation with a very helpful William Mitchell faculty member, and I am mistaken about the precise content of William Mitchell's variance. Rather than waiving the 12-credit limitation, the variance the school received allows the school to teach any individual course with more than one-third of its content delivered through distance learning without having to count that course as a "distance learning" course. So, under the rules I outline above, the school will still not have more than 12 credits of courses that the ABA considers "distance learning" courses, but it will have many courses that contain more than 1/3 distance learning content delivery.

The main thing that I was trying to correct is the mistaken statement that the ABA does not permit any course to have more than 1/3 distance learning delivery, when in fact, up to 12 credits of the curriculum can be fully taught through distance learning delivery. I regret my error, and I hope I didn't confuse anyone.


This is the real story. Everyone thinks law schools will close and faculty will be fired because enrollment is declining. That's wrong. A few faculty have lost their jobs because of enrollment declines. Maybe a few more will next year or the year after. The real issue is this: Faculty will be fired because on-line education will eliminate the need for them. This industry is like newspapers in 1992. The internet is about to put the majority of professional employees in that sector on the street. Law schools have avoided one problem. No one is paying attention to the real problem about to eliminate jobs big time. Want to really shrink costs of legal education? Put students in front of lectures on the internet.


The decrease in applications for the December 2013 LSAT is smaller than for the last couple of administrations. Is this a sign that we're reaching the bottom of the drop in applications?


John and FLRE,

Why would William Mitchell law professors have more trouble looking themselves in the mirror than any other law professor (which is another discussion)? How is that relevant to this program?

Distance education is not cheaper than non-distance education. Keep in mind that we are not discussing MOOC's. What William Mitchell is trying to do is true distance education. It generally requires smaller sections and more time per student to conduct. (And the software/service packages are not inconsequential costs either.)

In fact, adding this program may create some additional costs at its start-up (though I do not have any inside information about what WM does or does not already have in terms of software or equipment). It is not as if William Mitchell can save money by not constructing a building with classrooms; they sunk that cost long ago.

PS - FLRE, I wouldn't mind hearing more about state bars taking a more active role. There are some amazing inefficiencies and just plain crap introduced by having three actors (ABA, law schools, and state bars). Unfortunately, state bars would never want the job - too much work.

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