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Semi-Online Law School: 5 Reasons to Avoid This Good Experiment

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By William Peacock, Esq. on October 02, 2014 9:13 AM

So, somebody sent me this earlier this week. I'm not sure how we missed this last year -- I try to never miss an opportunity to mock a "fix law school" or "reinvent law school" proposal -- but somehow, some way, it got lost in the stack.

Anyway, if you're interested in a four-year hybrid online-offline law school that costs the same as traditional law school, you have only a couple of months left to apply to the William Mitchell Hybrid Program. And while online legal education, as a means of delivering cost-effective degrees that can be obtained from anywhere (rural folks, twenty-somethings living with parents, military, etc.) is a good concept, there are a few reasons why this particular program may not be your best bet. Here are five you may want to consider:

1. It's Not Cheap.

This is something I've never understood: How in the hell do online schools cost as much as (or more than) in-person schools? You can pack a ton of students into online classes, you may even be able to get away with prerecorded lectures (maybe with a T.A. doing Q&A with students alongside the video) and yet ... full price?

And it's not just WillMitch: A few years ago, I looked into getting an online MBA while working and nearly had a stroke.

But at WillMitch, tuition starts at $27,770 for the 2014-15 academic year. At four years, that's $111,080, not counting scholarship discounts (87 percent get a discount, per WM) or annual tuition increases (which pretty much happen everywhere, WM included). Compare:

  • Full Time: $115,860 ($38,620 x 3 years, assuming no increase or discount)
  • Part Time: $111,960 ($27,990 x 4 years, assuming no increase or discount)
  • Online Time: $111,080 ($27,770  x 4 years, assuming no increase or discount)

For $220 saved over four years, I'd rather have human beings teaching me.

2. It's Not Fully Online.

Let's say you're psyched about being part of the future! YEAH online!

Except, this is a hybrid program, which means each semester you'll spend a "hell week" in person, where you get half of your credits, then the rest of the semester online, where you get the rest of 'em. And in-person finals, we assume.

You'll get some flexibility, sure, but the hell weeks are worth mentioning.

3. It's the First of Its Kind.

Pioneering sounds fun, until something doesn't work. The ABA granted an exemption to allow this one program to proceed, basically as an experiment in online learning for the rest of the law schools to learn from.

William Mitchell is leading the way into the future! And doing so through an experimental program that will cost students $111,000.

4. In General, Online Classes Are Miserable.

This is anecdotal, so take it for what it's worth, but I've taken online classes, thinking they'd be easier. They were. They were also boring, not engaging in the slightest, and a complete waste of time. Many of my family members and siblings have taken online classes, with nary a positive review from any of them, other than "it was easy to get it over with."

5. You'll Still Face Uncertain Employment Prospects.

Here's the last one, and perhaps the most important one: Can you find a job after going to an online law school? Sure, you'll probably get the exact same diploma as other William Mitchell grads, and their employment numbers weren't particularly miserable for their most recent class, but what'll you say in an interview if it comes up: I was really prepared for the stress and rigor of practice by learning in my pajamas?

You might think I'm being unfair, and I probably am. But see, that's the problem with anything new and revolutionary -- we curmudgeons will say nay until we're forced to. And most employers are curmudgeons.

What are your thoughts on William Mitchell's "hybrid" on-campus/online J.D. program? Let us know via Twitter (@FindLawLP) or Facebook (FindLaw for Legal Professionals).

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