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The 'hybrid' law school experiment at Mitchell Hamline School of Law has proved to be a success for its first graduating class.
Launched three years ago, the hybrid program allows students to do half of their work online. Each semester includes 11 or 12 weeks of online coursework and one intensive "capstone" week on campus.
Approved by the American Bar Association, it was the first program of its kind. And for its first graduates, it was a "no-brainer."
Jessica Islas, one of the first online students, said it was perfect for her situation. As a full-time working mom, she needed the flexibility.
"When the hybrid program came along, it was kind of a no-brainer for me; it's the one program that fits in my life," she told U.S. News & World Report.
Mitchell Hamline created the program at a time when law schools across the country were struggling to attract students. As enrollments dropped dramatically, many schools lowered admission standards and others closed.
Meanwhile, law students and legal educators have followed the Mitchell Hamline experiment closely. Between 400 and 500 applicants have vied for 96 seats each year.
"Wave of the Future"
Last fall, an ABA panel recommended opening up opportunities for more online programs. Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles was approved to launch a similar hybrid program.
Mark Gordon, dean of Mitchell Hamline, said law students still need to participate in traditional classroom settings. But, he said, distance learning is "the wave of the future."
"The benefits are just too great for legal education to pass up," he said.