April 10, 2024

An Approach to Monitoring and Assessing Online/Hybrid J.D. Programs

Research and Data
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The expansion of distance learning among American Bar Association (ABA)-approved J.D. programs has the potential to increase access to a legal education, especially for students who have traditionally faced barriers to J.D. attainment because of employment, family duties, geographical location, and other circumstances. Compared to attending class in person, distance learning provides greater flexibility and increased convenience and may also result in cost savings since students do not have to relocate or forgo earnings to enroll full-time.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, only a few law schools offered ABA-approved hybrid J.D. programs, but the pandemic temporarily forced all law schools online and, subsequently, seems to have spurred the creation of additional hybrid and fully online J.D. programs.1 Despite the increasing number of law schools with distance education programs, there has been limited research on the successes and challenges these schools encountered as they initiated and grew their hybrid and online programs. We know little about which aspects of these law programs, including their specific pedagogies, are most beneficial to improving student engagement and learning outcomes and how the impact of these programs varies depending on student characteristics.

This guide serves as a primer to law schools and other parties interested in evaluating hybrid J.D. programs.2 Its instructions and recommendations are based on a recent formative evaluation we conducted of an ABA-approved, hybrid J.D. program. Within each evaluation step outlined below, we recommend activities, strategies, and issues to consider for both formative and summative3 assessments.

1 For a list of ABA-approved law schools with approved distance education J.D. programs, see https://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/distance_education/approved-distance-ed-jd-programs/.

2 This guide was prepared for AccessLex Institute by evaluators at RTI International.

3 Formative evaluations take place while a program is in early stages and still underway, and summative evaluations typically occur after a program ends.