Starting next fall, students in the weekend law-degree program at Mitchell Hamline School of Law will be able to spend a lot more weekends at home.
For the first time, a third of their course work will be offered online, the school announced this week. That means that students will have to be on the St. Paul campus only seven weekends a semester instead of the usual 13.
The law school, which has pioneered the use of online legal training, said it decided to redesign the part-time weekend program in hopes of expanding its reach beyond the Minnesota borders.
By moving part of the training online, the school said in a news release, it could appeal to people living and working in “Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, or anywhere that has direct flights to the Twin Cities.”
Mark Gordon, president and dean of the law school, said the change was inspired by the success of its hybrid program, which debuted in January 2015. That program, the first in the country to win approval from the American Bar Association, allows law students to take half their coursework online and the rest in one or two concentrated weeks on campus per semester.
The hybrid program has proved so popular — some 400 students applied for 96 openings this year — that school officials decided to expand the online options to some of its more traditional students.
The weekend option, for working adults who want to study part-time, originally started at Hamline Law School, which merged with William Mitchell College of Law last year.
This year, there are only 24 first-year students in the weekend program, which costs about $29,000 a year and takes four years to complete. But Gordon expects enrollment to rise with the new design.
“The thinking was there are a lot of people for whom coming literally every weekend doesn’t work,” he said. That includes potential students throughout the region, who may have to drive three to four hours to get to campus.
“There are also people all around the country who would really like to be able to get a high-quality law degree and for whom flying seven times a semester might actually work,” he said. “So it is really an effort to expand access.”
Could this lead, ultimately, to an all-online law school?
Gordon is doubtful. For one thing, the American Bar Association, which accredits law schools, doesn’t permit it — at least for now.
“There are lots of benefits to online, but there are also lots of benefits to [being] in class,” he said. “We really see a real benefit to having that mix.”
At the same time, he says, “I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody that legal education is changing pretty dramatically. We think that Mitchell Hamline is very much at the forefront of that change. ... We think we’re getting the best of both worlds for our students.”