First-of-its-kind online law school draws big applicant pool

LAW
  • The acceptance rate for St. Mary’s online-only JD this fall was 9%
  • The five-year pilot program won ABA approval last year

(Reuters) – A group of 27 aspiring lawyers beat long odds to land spots this fall in the first fully online Juris Doctor program to be accredited by the American Bar Association.

St. Mary’s University School of Law, which also offers a traditional JD program on its San Antonio campus, had 791 applicants for its first all-remote cohort. The online program offered admission to 71 applicants, a 9% acceptance rate that falls close to top-ranked Yale Law School.

“It surprised us,” St. Mary’s Law Dean Patricia Roberts said of the program’s large applicant pool. “It showed us that there is an interest and a need for this.”

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The ABA in May 2021 granted St. Mary’s permission to offer its fully online part-time JD as a five-year pilot program. That approval came after law schools were quickly forced to switch to remote classes by the COVID-19 pandemic, giving them more experience with distance education.

St. Mary’s joins a small number of online JD programs that have been around for more than a decade, but its program is the first to win the ABA’s seal of approval, which enables graduates to sit for the bar exam in any state.

About a dozen law schools also offer hybrid JD programs in which part-time students complete the bulk of their coursework online but come to campus several times a year for in-person instruction. Another three schools have pending applications with the ABA to launch hybrid JDs

Fully remote St. Mary’s students do all their credit-bearing coursework online, though they convened on campus for a three-day orientation in August. Half of the online classes are delivered in real time, while the other half are asynchronous, meaning students can attend them on their own schedule.

The students spend three nights a week in class and are expected to complete their JDs in four years instead of three for the traditional in-person program. Tuition is $27,354 a year for the online program, compared to $41,138 for the shorter full-time program.

The remote students skew older than St. Mary’s in-person JD cohort of 252, with a median age of 33 compared to 25, Roberts said. Many have established careers and families to support that make a traditional JD program out of reach, she said. For others, relocating to attend law school is impossible.

Seventeen students are from Texas, and the online class includes a state lawmaker, two engineers, two Ph.Ds and several people currently working at law firms, Roberts said.

Read more:

First ABA-approved online JD program to debut next fall

Online class options gaining popularity among law students, ABA says

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Reporting by Karen Sloan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Karen Sloan

Thomson Reuters

Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at [email protected]

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