Law schools will never be the same thanks to a Minnesota law school which went up against the American Bar Association and won.
The William Mitchell College of Law applied to the ABA for permission to design a hybrid online program to students. In an unprecedented move, the ABA approved it.
Even though online law schools have existed since the 1990s, their reach was very limited and the ABA refused to recognize them. Many now believe groundbreaking changes are coming in the way lawyers are being educated across the board. In January, 85 students from 31 states and two countries began taking classes in the first-of-its-kind hybrid program, according to the William Mitchell College of Law.
"Every class is half online and half in person," said law professor Greg Duhl, the hybrid J.D. program's director.
"We were thinking of new ways to expand access to legal education. We saw technology becoming increasingly important to the practice of law," he said. "With the decline of lawyers and law students, we were looking for new avenues to attract students."
You could say the ABA, which declined to comment to CNBC, is playing catch-up—as top business schools such as Yale University and the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina gain traction with their full-time online MBA programs. Those schools generally attract older candidates with secure, well-paying jobs.
Like many online MBA programs, tuition for the William Mitchell College of Law's online version costs the same as the traditional program. In this case, the price tag is still a whopping $27,770 a year. Still, there is one striking benefit for many who choose the hybrid option.
"Students don't have to quit their jobs or uproot their families. That is where the savings come from." said Duhl. "We have doctors, police officers, nurses, social workers and professors—people who have very good jobs but they want to go to law school."