For those who want to go to law school in California, the innovative Hybrid J.D. program addresses many longstanding critiques of legal education while making a law degree more accessible and affordable.
Critics have focused on two primary areas:
- The failure to prepare students for the practice of law
- The rising costs of a legal education
Our Hybrid J.D program responds to both of these by using modern education techniques, integrating practical skills into the curriculum, and maintaining a commitment to affordable legal education.
Read on to discover four ways this program can begin to change how students go to law school in California.
Critique #1: Legal education has outdated teaching methods
Since the late 19th century, law schools have relied primarily on the case method of instruction combined with Socratic questioning. Under this approach, students learn how to extract and synthesize the law from cases and then apply the law to a new set of facts. Professors test their synthesis of the material through question and answer sessions in class.
The Hybrid J.D. Solution: Use blended delivery and “flipped classroom” model
The Hybrid J.D. program moves beyond this approach by employing modern teaching methods that research shows yield positive results.
The program blends online and on-site engagement. Students take the same courses as those in our traditional J.D. program, but with 70 percent of the coursework in the “virtual” classroom and 30 percent in a “bricks and mortar” classroom.
This style of delivery is consistent with trends in higher education generally, but perhaps more important research shows that this approach yields better student outcomes.
Researchers have also found that student outcomes further improve when programs incorporate active learning into the classroom component. The Hybrid J.D. program takes advantage of this by adopting a “flipped classroom” approach.
During the weekend residencies, students synthesize the material they’ve learned online through in-depth discussions, active problem solving, and collaborative simulations. This model has the added benefit of allowing instructors to incorporate core practice skills directly into the classroom.
Critique #2: Many law school graduates lack practical skills
It wasn’t until the late 20th century that law schools began to focus on the skills necessary to practice law. Schools recognized the shortcomings inherent in the case method, namely that it didn’t teach how law is actually practiced. To address this gap, schools introduced courses focused on legal research and legal writing, clinics, and other practice opportunities.
Despite these innovations, nearly 90 percent of new law school graduates surveyed say law schools must “undergo significant changes to better prepare future attorneys for the changing employment landscape and the legal profession.” Likewise, 95 percent of hiring partners and associates believe recently graduated law students lack key practical skills at the time of hiring.
These findings are consistent with the American Bar Foundation’s “After the J.D.” study, in which 50 percent of lawyers after seven years of practice reported that law school did not adequately prepare them for practice.
The Hybrid J.D. Solution: Develop skills-based curriculum
The Hybrid J.D. program weaves legal research and legal writing into every semester. The program provides an integrated curriculum where students experience how legal writing and legal research, along with other practical skills, connect directly to their other courses.
To create opportunities for more practical skills development, the program incorporates four lawyering skill tracks:
- Practical Skills
- Professional Development and Leadership
One weekend per semester is dedicated to exposing students to the skills identified as necessary for new attorneys.
Practicing attorneys develop courses so that they reflect the realities of practice. After being introduced to basic concepts, students have the opportunity to practice the skills presented. Students are required to take one course in each track so they are exposed to a variety of skills and then they can choose to concentrate on a particular track.
Finally, the program ends with a required capstone course, which requires students to demonstrate they have mastered the basic knowledge, skills, and values necessary for a first-year associate.
For example, if a student chooses to concentrate in the Lawyering Skills Litigation track, she will spend a semester doing a series of exercises focused on litigation, ending in a mini-trial; and practicing attorneys will assess whether the students have demonstrated the competence expected of a new attorney.
Critique #3: Law school should train students to use technology
How legal services are delivered is rapidly transforming and technology is at the center of that transformation. But few law schools offer courses exploring technology’s impact on the practice of law.
The Hybrid J.D. Solution: Infuse technological competency into the curriculum
Although new attorneys must navigate everything from document assembly and drafting to E-Discovery and courtroom technology (not to mention the ethics of legal technology), few law schools have courses dedicated to these issues and none require students to graduate with core competencies related to them.
We fill this gap by infusing the curriculum with the technology of practice.
By identifying core technology competencies that every new attorney should have, we can introduce students to the legal technology that is central to today’s practice.
Critique #4: The price of legal education is out of control
Legal education and the legal profession continue to grapple with the high cost of law school and staggering student debt. In 2016, four of the top 10 schools with the highest average indebtedness for graduates were in California.
The Hybrid J.D. Solution: Make law school affordable
Students at the Colleges of Law currently pay less than $70,000 for their entire J.D. degree. In some cases, that is far less than it costs to attend one year at other law schools and it is nearly half of the average student debt of many California law schools.
Not only does a new attorney’s debt burden have a significant personal cost, it is also detrimental to the public’s ability to access quality legal services. New attorneys with significant debt are less likely to provide services in a number of key areas, such as:
- Public interest jobs
- Affordable legal services to poor and middle-class families
- Pro bono work
- Representation in underserved areas, such as rural communities
With lower costs and lower student debt, our graduates have more options available to them. They can also help close the yawning access-to-justice gap in California.
While no student can leave law school truly “practice ready”, our Hybrid J.D. program seeks to provide students a solid foundation on which to build their practice and to be an asset to the legal community and the clients they serve.
Through the integrated writing assignments, the infusion of practice technology, the lawyering skills track units, and the capstone course, students will be exposed to the skills necessary to make them immediately valuable to an employer.