When you’re deciding on a law school, there are various formats to consider, including hybrid programs, online learning, and traditional in-person classes held during the day or evening.
For working professionals, attending law school while maintaining a full-time job is possible, but the type of program you choose makes a difference. In this article, we’ll explore hybrid programs, which are relatively new and offer a combination of online and in-person learning.
The Benefits of Hybrid Programs
1. Some States now Offer ABA-Accredited Hybrid Programs
The American Bar Association (ABA) currently does not accredit fully-online JD programs. However, there are now several law schools that provide hybrid learning programs with ABA accreditation, enabling students to take the bar exam and become licensed in states other than California.
Examples of schools offering these programs include Syracuse University College of Law (New York), Mitchell Hamline College of Law (Minnesota), University of New Hampshire, University of Dayton (Ohio), and Southwestern Law School (which is currently not offering a hybrid program). To determine if the bar in your state allows a hybrid degree for the exam, it’s important to contact them. Note that some states impose limitations, such as New York.
2. Hybrid Programs Offer More Convenient Scheduling
Hybrid and online programs were developed to accommodate the typical 9-to-5 work schedule. By avoiding the daily commute between work and school, these programs save commuting time and eliminate the need to rush to evening classes or leave work early.
Hybrid programs usually include on-campus intensives on weekends or for one to two weeks. The predetermined schedule allows students to request vacation time well in advance. Generally, students would not be expected to attend a week-long residency more than three times a year.
The duration of a hybrid program is typically the same as a traditional four-year evening program. This means less class time during the week, providing better balance between school, work, and personal life compared to full-time three-year programs.
3. Location Is Less Restrictive in Hybrid Programs
Not everyone lives near a law school, especially in rural areas where commuting to class may not be feasible. Online law schools solve this problem, but hybrid programs still require some travel. However, the travel is infrequent, and you can likely avoid rush hour. Moreover, you don’t have to relocate. Attending a traditional school often necessitates moving across the country, whereas a hybrid program allows you to complete most of your work on your computer.
4. Course Content Is Comparable to Traditional Programs in ABA-Approved Programs
The core curriculum in accredited law schools is fairly standard. Courses typically cover subjects like Torts, Contracts, Constitutional Law, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, Property, Professional Responsibility, and Legal Research and Writing. Online programs also offer these courses because they are either on the bar exam or necessary for the practice of law. Hybrid and online programs may also provide classes like Federal Income Taxation, Trusts and Estates, Criminal Procedure, and other subjects crucial for a well-rounded legal education.
Courses in hybrid programs are taught by practicing attorneys or legal scholars. The quality of faculty may vary depending on the school and course, but it is not determined by whether the program is online or on-campus. Online and hybrid programs can have excellent teachers as well.
5. Reduced Use of the Socratic Method in Hybrid Programs
While there are different methods of teaching the online component, students in a well-designed online or hybrid program spend less time in traditional classrooms. These programs use a thoughtful curriculum design that incorporates alternate ways of learning content and skills, such as projects and simulations.
Students in good online and hybrid programs worry less about being called on unexpectedly. Although some professors may still employ the Socratic method through teleconferencing, students in online and hybrid programs generally have a more balanced learning experience that includes a variety of teaching methods.
6. Hybrid Programs Encourage Innovation
In many ways, traditional law schools still adhere to teaching methods from centuries ago. Professors often focus on classroom recitations and give a single exam at the end of the term, similar to the practices of Professor Christopher Columbus Langdell at Harvard Law School in the late 1800s. Additionally, many schools prioritize hiring scholars as faculty, sometimes at the expense of teaching quality. In contrast, online and hybrid programs employ careful curriculum design that combines modern learning activities and assessments with the established content of law school, resulting in an innovative format that invigorates legal education and the learning process.
The Drawbacks of Hybrid Programs
1. Hybrid Programs Can Be Costly
The cost of obtaining a J.D. degree can vary significantly. Usually, attending a fully online school is more affordable than a hybrid program or a traditional brick-and-mortar school. Traditional schools necessitate paying for buildings and often have expensive full-time faculty focused on research rather than teaching. Students may also incur relocation and commuting costs depending on the location of the school’s buildings. On the other hand, schools like St. Francis that are exclusively online reflect this in their cost. Hybrid programs can be more expensive as students pay for on-location experiences that occur less frequently, and they also need to cover associated lodging, food, and travel costs in addition to tuition.
One advantage of hybrid, online, or evening programs is that professionals can pursue them while working and may be eligible for tuition assistance from their employers. Additionally, by maintaining a job while attending school, they might qualify for tax deductions and credits that effectively reduce tuition costs according to the IRS.
2. Short-Term Emergencies Can Delay Graduation in Hybrid Programs
Emergencies can occur, such as a child falling ill or last-minute business trips that result in missed class time for traditional schools or entire residencies for hybrid programs. Live classes in these settings are not recorded, and the missed opportunity may not come around again for another year. As a result, students might have to wait a year to participate in that residency, ultimately extending their graduation timeline by at least one semester. Additionally, the costs associated with missed tuition, lodging, and travel may not be refundable. In an online program, missed time can be made up more easily.
3. Less Interaction with Faculty and Students in Hybrid Programs
Some students learn better in live classroom settings, making fully online programs unsuitable for them. Traditional schools and hybrid programs can better accommodate these learners if they can make the scheduling work. However, it’s important to note that certain hybrid programs offer limited or no contact with faculty or fellow students, either through video calls or in-person interactions between residencies.
4. Fewer Course Options in Hybrid Programs
Hybrid programs are relatively new and may not yet attract enough students to justify offering the wide range of courses available in online and traditional law schools.
Is a Hybrid Program the Right Choice for You?
Whether you decide on a hybrid, online, traditional, or evening program, it’s crucial to ensure that the program you choose allows you to take the bar exam in the state where you wish to practice. Additionally, consider whether the program’s schedule fits your needs.
It’s essential to choose a school with a strong bar passage rate. You want a rigorous program that will prepare you to practice law after you obtain your degree. Investing in a law school education is a smart move, but make sure you select the right program to achieve your desired outcomes. At St. Francis School of Law, our cumulative pass rates on the First-Year Law Students Exam and the California General Bar Exam demonstrate that our students receive the rigorous education they need. You can check the cumulative rates on our Pass Rates page here.