ABA-Accredited Hybrid Program

ABA approves variance allowing William Mitchell to offer ‘hybrid’ on-campus/online J.D. program

Starting in 2015, William Mitchell College of Law will offer the first hybrid on-campus/online J.D. degree granted by an ABA-accredited law school.

The first-of-its-kind program will feature two interrelated elements: Intensive, in-person, experiential learning and online coursework that integrates foundational doctrine and skills.

The hybrid option will be offered along with Mitchell’s 113-year-old part-time program and its 40-year-old full-time program.

Students who enroll in the new hybrid program will be on campus for at least one week each semester participating in 56 intensive hours of realistic simulations and other coursework. Students will prepare for their on-campus work through an e-learning curriculum designed by William Mitchell faculty to integrate legal doctrine with practical legal skills. In addition, students will have the opportunity to complete externships in their communities under the supervision of practicing attorneys. This innovative hybrid of on-campus and online learning will provide new access to those seeking a rigorous, experiential J.D. degree from an ABA-accredited law school.

Earlier this month, William Mitchell received a variance from the American Bar Association allowing it to combine its nationally recognized skills-training curriculum with expanded use of digital technology.

Without the variance, the ABA only allows law schools to make one-third of each course available through distance learning, including live and pre-recorded online lectures, web-based student-to-student assessment, moderated online discussion forums, and live chat. The variance approved by the ABA for the William Mitchell hybrid program allows the law school to present about 50 percent of its curriculum via e-learning technology.

The variance is the first of its kind and comes on the heels of a draft recommendation by the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education that law schools be permitted to experiment and innovate.

William Mitchell’s program is designed to extend the law school’s current success with digital technology. For the past few years, faculty members have been researching, implementing, and evaluating online teaching techniques. The outcomes have been positive for students and professors, according to William Mitchell President and Dean Eric Janus.

“Our research demonstrates that when implemented thoughtfully, courses blending face-to-face and online instruction offer students the best of both worlds,” Janus said. “By harnessing e-learning technologies, professors expand their repertoire of pedagogical tools, allowing greater creativity and flexibility in achieving desired learning. Adding to traditional law school teaching methods, our courses will include online interactions and content delivery that engage today’s students, provide additional teaching and learning accountability, and prepare students to use technology that they will encounter in practice.”

William Mitchell is now in the process of finalizing the program’s details, including schedule and curricular offerings. The new program, Janus said, will add a third option for students, in addition to its current full- and part-time programs, and is inspired by its 113-year-old mission of providing accessible, practical legal education through an outcomes-based curriculum rooted in the real-world needs of lawyers, the legal profession, and the community.