What you need to know about the new Hybrid J.D. program

In the Fall of 2018 The Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law (COL) will launch a first-of-its-kind hybrid J.D. degree in the state of California.

The impetus for the program:

“COL sought to design a J.D. program that responded to the critiques of legal education,” said Jackie Gardina, COL’s Dean, Chief Academic Officer, and lead architect for the hybrid J.D. “By employing advances in educational research and pedagogy, we seek to provide a solid foundation in the basic skills needed to enter the practice of law as well as succeed on the bar exam.”

Program development:

COL’s hybrid J.D. is the outcome of intensive inquiry and development that began more than a year ago when Dean Gardina hosted a “Hack the J.D.” weekend at COL’s Santa Barbara campus. Participants included seasoned legal educators, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, instructional designers, practicing attorneys, students, and graduates. The desired outcome was to go beyond simply converting the school’s current J.D. curriculum to an online format. Instead, participants challenged themselves to reconceive the law school experience from the ground up.

COL’s hybrid J.D. was subject to exhaustive regulatory review to prepare it for launch. The program was first approved by the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California, COL’s state accreditor, in October 2017 before earning final approval by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WSCUC), the school’s regional accreditor, in February 2018. As a result, the Colleges of Law will be the first accredited law school in California to offer a hybrid J.D. The project was made possible thanks to seed funding and support by TCS Education System, nonprofit system of colleges advancing student success and community impact of which COL is an affiliate.

 National thought leader involvement & program perspectives:

Joan Howarth, Dean Emerita and Professor of Law at Michigan State University College of Law, was among the “Hack the J.D.” participants. “Legal education is ripe for improvement, but too often there’s talk without action,” she said. “Hack-the-J.D. was inspiring because national experts, some I knew and others I had wanted to know, worked with the equally impressive Colleges of Law faculty and students to design a law school curriculum that puts future clients first. It’s very exciting to see those ideas now being put into action.”

Oliver Goodenough traveled cross country from the Vermont Law School (VLS) to attend. “The Hack-the-J.D. process at the Colleges of Law was intense and productive process for re-imagining what legal education should look like,” he said. “The group mashed up their experience and their aspirations in classic hackathon fashion to create new a new vision for the J.D. program.” Goodenough is the Co-Director of the Center for Legal Innovation and Professor of Law at VLS.

Deborah Moritz, Emeritus Faculty at the University of Wisconsin Law School and current Affiliate Faculty at COL, also participated. “The Hack-the-J.D. process was an unexpectedly exciting and innovative opportunity to reimagine law school, to create the best possible law school experience for the students, and to prepare students for the actual practice of law. We considered law school from the perspective of the student, the faculty, and legal employers.”

Margaret Hagan, Director of the Legal Design Lab and a lecturer at Stanford Institute of Design, wrote about her experience on Open Law Lab, a legal design blog.

Program details:

This “next-gen” legal education program will be delivered 70 percent online and 30 percent on-campus while featuring the latest pedagogical innovations. Among them is a “flipped classroom” model where students attend a monthly weekend residency to synthesize what they learned online through in-depth discussions, active problem solving, and collaborative simulations. The pioneering program’s format has the added benefit of allowing instructors to incorporate core practice skills directly into the classroom—one weekend per semester will be dedicated “lawyering skills” workshops to expose students to the competencies identified as necessary for new attorneys.

After weeks of sifting through presentations, whiteboards, and post-it notes left behind from the exercise, Gardina and her academic team created the program’s working framework. It opens with a “Foundational Semester” designed to introduce students to the fundamentals of law school. The 15-week term features a three-day opening “boot camp” while emphasizing the mechanics of the legal system, legal writing and analysis, and legal research. From there, student engage in bar-tested coursework, i.e., Torts, Contracts, Criminal Law, and onward through an 84-unit curriculum that can be completed in either 32 months or 40 months.

Overall, the program offers an integrated curriculum where students experience how legal writing and legal research, along with other practical skills, connect directly to their other courses. A key feature to this end is the inclusion of four lawyering skill tracks: Practical Skills, Litigation, Transactional and Professional Development and Leadership.

“These tracks also allow the curriculum to adapt to the changing legal services market,” said Gardina. “While certain skills, such as writing and research, remain constant and will be embedded in every semester, other skills, such as those related to emerging technologies, are constantly evolving. Both the lawyering tracks and capstone course allow the curriculum to evolve with these changes, creating needed flexibility within the curriculum.”

The hybrid J.D. ends with a required capstone course: a culminating project or experience that requires students to demonstrate that they have mastered the basic knowledge, skills and values necessary for a first-year associate.

Beyond the enhancements developed through the Hack-the-J.D. process, perhaps the program’s greatest innovation is its cost to the student. The Colleges of Law as founded to be an affordable option for aspiring legal professionals, a pledge that will continue with the launch this program version—the total tuition of a COL J.D. is less than half that of a typical law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA).

“Legal education and the legal profession continue to grapple with the high cost of law school and staggering student debt,” said Gardina. “In 2016, four of the top 10 schools with graduates with the highest average indebtedness were in California. COL serves as an example of how law schools can create a quality legal education that is affordable and accessible.”

Additional information:

The Colleges of Law is currently accepting applications for the inaugural class of the Hybrid J.D. to start in Fall 2018. For more information, visit www.collegesoflaw.edu/hybrid-juris-doctor/ or call 805-765-9719.

Read more from Dean Gardina on the program’s design.