What is a Hybrid Law Degree and Why Study One?
A hybrid law degree combines online learning with more traditional teaching methods, creating an affordable and accessible option for new students and professionals looking to take their careers to the next level. The amount of time spent on campus varies from course to course, but every hybrid law degree includes a large portion of online learning, including pre-recorded lectures, student forums, live chats, video, and other digital learning resources. Coursework still needs to be completed by set deadlines, but students have full flexibility in regards to when and how they learn. As such, hybrid law degrees are a popular choice for working people looking to broaden their skill set or kickstart a new career. For others, it’s a perfect way to balance their studies with other important responsibilities, like raising a young family.
Online learning is not only a popular choice for students; universities have also realized the benefits of offering hybrid courses and are now providing more online learning options than ever before. It is much much more cost-effective for universities and also encourages more students to enroll in their institutes. And although the wide variety of options is a real advantage for prospective students, there are a few things to be mindful of when looking for a course. Accreditation is vital, especially if you are planning to start a new legal career or move into another area of jurisprudence. Most employers are happy to accept online degrees, but they will want to know where you studied and what legal body accredited your course. Secondly, there can be large disparities between the amount of campus learning and online study. Some courses have a 50-50 split, while others are focused on one or the other. So whatever course you are looking for, make sure you do plenty of research before enrolling.
So with all that in mind, here's what you need to know about choosing a hybrid law degree.
How to pick the right course
A hybrid law degree offers an alternative to the more rigid structure of a campus-based course. In fact, flexibility is one of the main reasons why most students opt for online study. However, you still need to find a course that matches your career or personal goals. And this might be tougher than it sounds. There’s an overwhelming amount of educational providers offering distance learning, which means a big difference between the quality of teaching methods, support, online resources, and professional accreditations. Again, research is vital, but it is advisable to focus on larger schools or providers with established reputations and strong links to statutory bodies and institutions. Not only will you receive a better standard of education, but you will also significantly enhance your long term career prospects. And if you are looking to enter a specific legal field, such as environmental law or corporate law, then find a program that focuses on your career aims. This will give you all of the knowledge you need to begin your career, but it also sends a strong signal to potential employers.
Digital learning is still establishing itself in some places
Hybrid law degrees are a relatively new option. As such, many are still in the process of fully establishing themselves as a credible alternative to campus degrees. For example, New York state law allows online students from other institutions to take the bar exam, but there are specific criteria. The online syllabus must adhere to the American Bar Association's strict standards, and only 15 of the 90 course credits can be accredited online. The tight restrictions were criticized by online providers, who believe New York state is lagging behind recent changes within the educational marketplace. Craig Boise, dean of Syracuse’s College of Law, said, “For New York to be in the Stone Ages with something like this, to me is not a good thing for the state. I think that New York should be leading as the practice of law evolves.”
Boise and his team are currently petitioning the New York State Bar Committee to lift restrictions, and the matter is set to go before judges shortly. Although it's hard to say what the final decision will be, there is plenty of support from within the committee. Co-chair Patricia Salkin said, “We’re at the beginning of the wave here, and so the question is how do you get a comfort level with everybody.”
The situation in New York is unique, but it raises an important point that hybrid law students need to consider, wherever they are looking to study. Online degrees are becoming increasingly popular, but they are still very much establishing themselves as a credible degree in some places.
Find a course that matches your learning style
We all learn in different ways. Our individual learning styles are influenced by cognitive, emotional and environmental factors, as well as our prior experience. For example, when learning how to build a clock, some students learn by following verbal instructions, while others have to physically manipulate the clock themselves. Alternatively, when it comes to getting your head around complicated legal matters, you might be quite happy to sit in a library or in front of a computer screen and read through a dense piece of text. Others will prefer lectures and seminars where they can ask questions, put ideas into specific contexts, and come to an understanding through a dialogue with other students. Many degree programs integrate different learning styles to ensure equality of opportunity. However, if you are someone who prefers a more practical learning style, you may struggle with a hybrid-degree that is heavily weighted towards online, independent learning. This shouldn't necessarily put you off, but you may need to make an extra effort to get involved with the more interactive methods of distant learning, such as chatrooms, interactive lectures, and student forums.
Studying online is less expensive
A year's study at Harvard Law School is likely to cost an average of $90,000. That's made up of just under $60,000 in tuition fees and the average cost of student life, which includes accommodation, food, textbooks, and other course materials. Less prestigious schools can still offer a first-class education, but even then you're looking at around $40,000 per year. In the UK, a four-year course will also cost over £40,000, and that's without accounting for everyday living expenses.
It's unsurprising that many students are deterred off by these huge figures. However, if you are still determined to get a law degree, hybrid courses can offer huge savings on course fees, sometimes up to as much as 50%. And given that a lot of the work is home-based, you can make extra savings on travel, relocation costs, and expensive textbooks. Finding a quality, well accredited hybrid degree still won't be cheap, but it will typically cost less than a four-year undergraduate course or two-year postgraduate degree from a brick-and-mortar university.
Studying online is for everybody
Accessibility is one of the biggest obstacles to higher education, especially for would-be mature students or working professionals. Mature students are likely to have other responsibilities that prevent from enrolling on a traditional program, while legal professionals looking to expand their career options are often reluctant to take a large hiatus and return to student life. And for people living in more provincial areas, traveling to and from campus simply isn't feasible. Hybrid law degrees are a way of overcoming many of these educational barriers, allowing more and more people to fulfill their personal and professional ambitions.
Hybrid law degrees courses tend to attract a more diverse student body, which means most students on them get a chance to interact with people from all walks of life. This allows you to meet and work with a wide range of people who can offer interesting insights which will then enrich your own educational experience. It is also a great way to build up a network of connections that may benefit your future career in the legal profession.
So while there are many things to consider before starting a hybrid law degree, they are an excellent way to kickstart or enhance a career in the world of law. For many people, the degrees are a practical and financially viable way of balancing studies with other commitments such as work or family.
After graduating with a degree in English literature and creative writing, Ashley worked as a bartender, insurance broker, and teacher. He became a full-time freelance writer in 2016. He lives and writes in Manchester, England.