Law Review Symposium Addresses Impacts of Online Education on Law Schools & the Legal Profession

On April 26, 2019, Syracuse University College of Law and Syracuse Law Review hosted a first-of-its-kind symposium on online education and its impact on law schools and the legal profession. “Online Learning and the Future of Legal Education” convened a diverse group of leading thinkers—including a number of current and former law school deans—to discuss best practices in online learning, to share and evaluate different learning models, and to explore the implications for the legal profession and access to justice more broadly.

Introduced by Associate Dean of Online Education Nina Kohn and Syracuse Law Review Editor-in-Chief 3L Shelby Mann, the symposium opened with presentations on best practices in online law teaching, moderated by College of Law E.I. White Chair and Distinguished Professor of Law Robin Paul Malloy. University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law Dean Michael Hunter Schwartz explained how law teaching excellence is not “modality dependent” and suggested that the most effective form of law teaching would likely include both residential and online components. Texas A&M Clinical Associate Professor Noelle Sweany then shared best practices for designing and developing engaging online courses.

Subsequent morning presentations focused on the impact of online education on the legal profession and those it serves. In the session moderated by College of Law Executive Director of Online Education Kathleen O’Connor, Touro Law Center Professor Jack Graves spoke about “hybrid models” for legal education, while Professor David Thomson, of the University of Denver Strum School of Law, looked toward the future of legal education. In his talk, Eric S. Janus, former President and Dean of William Mitchell College of Law, described how attitudes toward hybrid legal education are indeed shifting.

A lunchtime conversation between College of Law Dean Craig M. Boise and online legal education pioneer Barry Currier, Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education at the American Bar Association, saw Currier raise the issue of whether law schools are currently underutilizing online learning and ask, rhetorically, how long it would be before the ABA approves a fully online law degree program.

College of Law Associate Dean for Faculty Research Lauryn Gouldin moderated the afternoon session. Texas A&M’s Professor James McGrath and Dean Andrew Morriss explored how online legal education could help close the “justice gap” by training lawyers to practice where they are needed. Professor Victoria Sutton, of Texas Tech University School of Law, then compared two online learning models—asynchronous and hybrid e-learning—with the traditional classroom. Rounding out the presentations, Kellye Testy, President & CEO of the Legal School Admission Council, shared data on how the move toward online education aligns with other trends in legal education and law school enrollment.

“What I learned at the Symposium validates my belief that we have arrived at a critical and exciting inflection point in the delivery of legal education,” noted Dean Boise, thanking the participants. “Improvements in online pedagogy and delivery give us—indeed, force us—to rethink how we do legal education and what it means to ‘do it right’! I couldn’t have asked for a better group to examine the challenges and ample opportunities that lay ahead.”

It is no coincidence that the College of Law—which enrolled the first cohort into JDinteractive, its live, online law degree program, in January 2019—hosted this ground-breaking symposium.

“Online education—and its impact on legal education, the legal profession, and those it serves—is an issue that Syracuse scholars and educators care deeply about,” explains Associate Dean of Online Education and David M. Levy Professor of Law Nina Kohn. “Our faculty and staff have worked diligently and carefully to develop an online law degree program that we believe can expand access to legal education to talented students and be a model for other schools seeking to move into this space.”

To continue the Symposium’s inquiries and scholarship, “Online Learning and the Future of Legal Education” will result in a Syracuse Law Review issue devoted entirely to exploring questions raised about online education.

Symposium Papers

“The Hybrid Model for Legal Education: Better Teachers, Greater Access, and Better Future Lawyers”
Jack Graves, Professor of Law and Director of Digital Legal Education, Touro Law Center 

“The ‘Worst Idea Ever!’—Lessons from One Law School’s Pioneering Embrace of Online Learning Methods”
Eric S. Janus, former President and Dean, Mitchell Hamline School of Law (formerly William Mitchell College of Law)

“Online Legal Education and Access to Legal Education and the Legal System”
James McGrath, Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Academic Support, Bar Passage, and Compliance, Texas A&M School of Law
Andrew P. Morriss, Dean, School of Innovation and Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, Texas A&M University 

“Pernicious Legal Education Myths: Towards a Modality-Less Model for Excellence”
Michael Hunter Schwartz, Dean and Professor of Law, University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law

“A Comparative Study with the Traditional Classroom”
Victoria Sutton, Paul Whitfield Horn Professor and Associate Dean for Digital Learning and Graduate Education, Texas Tech University School of Law

“From Theory to Practice: Evidence-Based Strategies for Designing and Developing Engaging Online Courses”
Noelle Sweany, Clinical Associate Professor, Educational Psychology, Texas A & M University Department of Education and Human Development

“The Promise of Online Educational Platforms for Law and Legal Education”
Kellye Testy, President and CEO, Law School Admission Council and Professor of Law, University of Washington School of Law

“How Online Learning Will Transform Legal Education”
David Thomson, Professor of Practice and John C. Dwan Professor for Online Learning, University of Denver Strum School of Law