Flipped Out, Plugged In, and Wired Up: Fostering Success for Students with ADHD in the New Digital Law School

AuthorDyane L. O'Leary
PositionAssistant Professor of Legal Writing, Suffolk University Law School, Boston, Massachusetts. I would like to thank Suffolk University Law School for its support of this Article. Thank you to my colleagues Kathleen Elliot Vinson and Stephen McJohn for their feedback, as well as research assistants Christopher Lubrano and Crystal Mercado for their...
TO: Incoming Law Student, Class of 2020
FROM: Future Professor
SUBJECT: Welcome!
ATTACHMENT: digitallawschool.doc
Welcome to the law school of the future (well, truth be told, it’s
already here). You’ve most likely had experience with online learning, but
law school is a different animal with new challenges. Get ready, because
your le gal education is arriving via a wireless connection and electronic
discussion board. Being one of many law students with Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder, you may find it difficult to effectively juggle the
many pieces to this new learning puzzle. (Check your course Blackboard
site. Take the online quiz. Watch lecture videos. Listen to a podcast. Post
your discussion board entry.) You may find that learning the law is easy
compared to keeping track of where, when, and how to find it. Rest
assured, we haven’t forgotten about you, and we can help. At least we’ll
Two things are certain in the not-so-certain state of law schools today.
The first is that students receive more legal education online than ever
before.1 The second is that the number of law students with a diagnosis of
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)2 has increased. This
Copyright © 2016, Dyane L. O’Leary
* Assistant Professor of Legal Writing, Suffolk University Law School, Boston,
Massachusetts. I would like to thank Suffolk University Law Sc hool for its support of this
Article. Thank you to my colleagues Kathleen Elliot Vinson and Stephen McJohn for their
feedback, as well as research assistants Christopher Lubrano and Crystal Mercado for the ir
assistance. I am grateful for the law students who volunteered their time and personal
experiences for the valuable research component of this Article.
1 See, e.g., Concord Law School in Brief, KAPLAN U., http://
www.concordlawschool.edu/choose-a-law-school.aspx [https://perma.cc/KD5N-MEMS].
2 Kate Ashford, What’s the Difference Between ADD and ADHD?, PARENTS,
Article examines the important intersectionindeed, the potential clash
between the two, and offers the first qualitative research study of law
students with ADHD in online learning environments.
The “virtual” law school train may not have arrived yet, but it has
departed the statio n full steam ahead. An exclusively online law degree,
albeit from unaccredited institutions, has been available for years,3 and
with increasing pace and support from the American Bar Association
(ABA), the principal accreditation body for United States law schools,
accredited law schools are experimenting with different variations of
online programs.4 This Article examines the widening trend to incorporate
more web-based platforms and online learning5 tools into the curriculum at
accredited law schools, moving slow ly but surely towards an environment
where a significant percentage of a student’s legal education is delivered
online. Gone are the days when a course management system such as
TWEN or a “flipped” video lecture supplemented the brick-and-mortar
[https://perma.cc/734K-L3FZ]. In some instances, there may be a distinction between a
diagnosis of ADHD and the now outdated term ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), but the
difference is not significant to the analysis in this Article and the two will be referred to as
3 See, e.g., Andrew S. Rosen, Concord University School of Law’s On-Line Law Degree
Program, 15 ST. JOHNS J. LEGAL COMMENT. 311, 313 (2001) (describing one of the more
familiar u naccredited JD programs in California, now known as Concord Law School of
Kaplan University).
4 Some of the more recent announcements of innovative online programs at accredited
United States law schools include those at Mitchell Hamline, Syracuse, Loyola University
Chicago, and Vermont Law School. ABA Approves Variance Allowing William Mitchell to
Offer ‘Hybrid’ On-Campus/Online J.D. Program, STAN. GRADUATE SCH. EDUC.,
%E2%80%98hybrid%E2%80%99-campusonline-jd-program [https://perma.cc/7MNJ-
CY8B]; Syracuse Law to Develop a New Hybrid J.D. Program, SYRACUSE L.,
http://onlinelaw.syr.edu [https://perma.cc/2JG9-3GXM]; Introducing Loyola’s Weekend JD
Program, LOY. U. CHI. SCH. L., http://www.luc.edu/law/degrees/jurisdoctor-part-time
[https://perma.cc/9GLF-X25L]; Reduced Residency Juris Doctor (RRJD), VT. L. SCH.,
http://www.vermontlaw.edu/academics/degrees/reduced-residency-jd [https://perma.cc/
5 As further explained in Part II, I use the broad term “online learning” throughout this
Article to refer generally to the spectrum of educational methods by which content is
delivered via the Internet, not only courses that are 100% online. See I. Elaine Allen & Jeff
Seaman, Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States, ONLINE
LEARNING SURV. 7 (Feb. 2016) [hereinafter Allen & Seaman Online Report Card],
http://onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/onlinereportcard.pdf [https://perma.cc/7F9V-
RCJH]; Michael Corry & Angela Carlson-Bancroft, Transforming and Turning Around
Low-Performing Schools: The Role of Online Learning, 11 J. EDUCATORS ONLINE 1, 8
(2014), www.thejeo.com/Archives/volume11number2/corrycarlsonbancroft.pdf [https://
perma.cc/XYM9-VHWW] (discussing how “online learningis also referred to as “distance
learning,” “virtual learning,” “cyber learning,” and “e-learning.”).
classroom. Now, often times it is the in-person classroom instruction that
supplements the more substantial online delivery of content to a student
with a laptop, at a location and time of his or her choosing, with the law
professor miles away.
At the same time, the number of students with a diagnosis of ADHD
matriculating to law school has increased.6 Putting aside the often-heated
debate regarding why this has occurred, the growing numbers are
indisputable at the K-12, college/university, and law school levels.7 It is
now a virtual certainty that students with cognitive disabilities such as
ADHD will be a part of almost every law school course, whether in an
actual classroom or online.8 Indeed, at first blush, online options are likely
to appear especially appealing for students with disabilities who may seek
alternative learning environments and greater flexibility.9
Law faculty, administrators, and disability service professionals should
be concerned about these two pieces to today’s legal education puzzle for a
few reasons. First, the online course platforms that enjoy such endless
enthusiasm have the potential to wreak havoc for this growing subset of
our student body.10 Second, the skills online learning requires for success,
such as self-motivation and self-regulation, often times are the very skills
students with ADHD lack.11 Third, the results of the interviews discussed
in the research component of this Article reveal that students with ADH D
have real concerns: while online learning may offer some benefits, the
challenges and extra hoo ps through which students must jump to access,
organize, and absorb substantive content can be overwhelming.12 Finally,
while law schools work to provide mandated web-based accommodations
6 See infra Section III.B.
7 Alan Schwarz, Idea of New A ttention Disorder Spurs Research, and Debate, N .Y.
TIMES (Apr. 11, 2014 ), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/12/health/idea-of-new-attention-
disorder-spurs-research-and-debate.html?_r=0 [https://perma.cc/BX7F-8UQ5] (referring to
ADHD as the “diagnosis de jour” of recent years); see also Maggie Koerth-Baker, The Not-
So-Hidden Cause Behind the A.D.H.D. Epidemic, N.Y. TIMES (Oct. 15, 2013),
epidemic.html [https://perma.cc/3AB2-UL5G] (discussing likely sociological factors behind
the “explosion in rates of diagnosis” of ADHD).
8 See infra Section III.B.
9 See Kathryn E. Linder et al., Whose Job Is It? Key Ch allenges and Future Directions
for Online Accessibility in US Institutions of Higher Education, 30 OPEN LEARNING 21, 21
(2015) (noting that although online courses may be attractive to students with disabilities,
they may also end up being a barrier for these students if they are unable to access content
and receive individual accommodations).
10 See infra Parts IV, V.
11 See infra Part IV.
12 See infra Part V.

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