California Bar Journal
CBJ - December 2008 #01.
Studying the law - anywhere
California Bar Journal December 2008 Studying the law - anywhereBy Kristina Horton FlahertyStaff WriterAt 5:15 a.m., with low-flying helicopters buzzing overhead, third-year law student John Penn diligently shows up for class - a live class on his computer in his room on an Army compound in Kabul, Afghanistan.
He listens to his Concord Law School professor's lecture, types in responses to questions and watches his fellow classmates' written comments roll down his computer screen. Then he heads off to his 12-hour shift overseeing the engineering and construction of military facilities, roads, schools and hospitals.
Penn, 44, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, has lost sleep, studied on holidays and carted textbooks from his Delaware home to posts in Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan. And for Penn, it has all been worth it. "Even if I was to fail out right now and never go any further," he said, "this has been a wonderful endeavor."
Penn, an army engineer by day and law student in off hours, is part of a growing number of people pursuing degrees from online-only law schools. Concord Law School, the nation's first wholly online law school, has expanded from 33 students to some 1,500 in 10 years. Northwestern California University School of Law, a longtime Sacra-mento-based correspondence school, switched to an online program in 2002 and saw its enrollment more than quadruple to 650.
As technology and the Internet become more central to everyday life, so-called "distance education" is becoming more commonplace at traditional colleges and universities nationwide. In 2006, more than a third of all higher education institutions had fully online programs, a Sloan Consortium study found. And in 2007, some 3.9 million undergraduate and graduate students - more than one in five - were taking at least one online course.
Online law students are typically older - 42 on average at Concord - than those enrolled at traditional brick-and-mortar law schools, deans say. Many are pilots, doctors, corporate managers, police officers and even legislators seeking to enhance their careers or start new ones. At Concord Law School, 40 percent of incoming students already have graduate degrees.
For many of them, traditional law school is out of the question. They can't quit their jobs. They travel on business. They live too far from the nearest law school. They're caring for young children or elderly parents. Or they simply can't afford - or justify - a legal education that can cost more than $100,000.
"There are many, many jobs out there that do not justify the cost it takes to get a J.D. degree," said Barry Currier...