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Law Students and MOOCs

In the face of contracted legal hiring, many have criticized law schools for failing to properly train students for modern legal careers. These perceived deficiencies in legal education were the subject of a notable 2011 New York Times article, which highlighted the difficulties many students—even those from the top institutions in the country—have had adapting to practice at corporate law firms.[1]

Some law schools have responded by reforming upper-class curriculum. NYU, for instance, recently revamped its third-year curriculum with a focus on offering students opportunities to pursue specialized concentrations, including programs dedicated to developing students’ business and financial literacy.[2]

But another quickly-emerging trend in legal education indicates that students interested in transactional careers don’t have to wait for curriculum reform if they want to cut their teeth before starting at a firm.

At http://www.lawmeets.com, Drexel University Professor Karl Okamoto offers a solution considerably more proximate and infinitely less pricey. On October 23, Professer Okamoto debuted a two-week massive open online course (MOOC) entitled “The Basics of Acquisition Agreements.”[3] The course was open to the public, and offered free of charge.[4]

Okamato’s course included a mix of lectures, interactive learning exercises, and panel discussions, and was headed by professors from premier law schools throughout the country.[5] Students were given hypothetical client inquiries about drafting business acquisition agreements and instructed to upload video responses.[6] The responses were then evaluated by a group of experts from law firms and corporate legal departments around the world, who provided written feedback via online discussion boards and streaming video.[7]

LawMeets, which pitches itself as an online legal education program dedicated to training young lawyers via the apprenticeship system, is just one of many such open courses offered by institutions throughout the world to any student with a working internet connection.[8] At http://www.coursera.org inter,ested students can take classes covering a broad array of mathematical subjects.[9] http://www.edX.com a non,profit startup from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, opened its first official classes this fall to an audience of 370,000 students.[10] As the costs of higher education soar, MOOCs are going viral.

Upcoming LawMeets programs bode particularly well for students interested in private equity and venture capital law. The website plans to offer a MOOC called “Advising the Startup.”[11] In addition, LawMeets sponsors a program called “Transactional LawMeet,” an annual “moot court” experience for students interested in honing transactional skills.[12] The next National Transactional LawMeet will occur in February 2013, and will be hosted regionally by schools throughout the country.[13] The program will include interactive educational competitions designed to give students a hands-on experience in developing and honing transactional lawyering skills.[14]

Critics of the MOOCs system point to various issues raised by the courses’ unusually large enrollment—often teachers cannot offer direct feedback to students, and there exists a propensity for students in such large classes to cheat.[15] In addition, while droves of students tend to register for MOOCs, a large percentage of enrolled students often do not complete the courses for which they register.[16]

Still, these trends should come as welcome news to law students, who, often impatient with the Socratic tradition of hiding the ball, now find the ball in their court when it comes to attaining the applicable skills necessary to hit the ground running in a transactional practice. For such students willing to make the commitment, MOOCs are an efficient, low-cost alternative to university courses.

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[1] See David Segal, What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering N.Y. TIMES, November 19, 2011, at A1. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/20/business/after-law-school-associates-learn-to-be-lawyers.html?pagewanted=all.

[2] THE NEW YORK UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL, NYU ANNOUCES AmBITIOUS NEW STUDY-ABROAD PROGRAM AS PART OF CURRICULAR ENHANCEMENTS (2012). Available at http://www.law.nyu.edu/news/NYU_LAW_ANNOUNCES_STUDY-ABROAD_PROGRAM_CURRICULAR_ENHANCEMENTS_THIRD_YEAR

[3] See LAWMEETS, http://www.lawmeets.com (last visited Nov. 10, 2012).

[4] Id.

[5] THE DREXEL UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL, LAW PROFESSOR CREATES FIRST MASSIVE OPEN ONLINE COURSE TO TEACH BUSINESS ACQUISITON SKILLS. Available at http://www.drexel.edu/now/news-media/releases/archive/2012/September/Law-MOOC/.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] LAWMEETS, http://www.lawmeets.com/about (last visited Nov. 10, 2012).

[9] See Laura Pappano, The Year of the MOOC, N.Y. TIMES, November 4, 2012, at ED26. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/massive-open-online-courses-are-multiplying-at-a-rapid-pace.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0.

[10] Id.

[11] See LAWMEETS, http://www.lawmeets.com (last visited Nov. 10, 2012). (Toward the bottom of the page they note an upcoming program with date TBA called “Advising the Startup”).

[12]LAWMEETS, http://transactionalmeet.lawmeets.com/ (last visited Nov. 10, 2012).

[13] Id. Michigan Law is sending a team, including 2 MJPVL members, to the regional Transactional LawMeets competition.

[14] Id.

[15] See Laura Pappano, The Year of the MOOC, N.Y. TIMES, November 4, 2012, at ED26. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/massive-open-online-courses-are-multiplying-at-a-rapid-pace.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0 (“What’s Frustrating in a MOOC is the instructor is not as available because there are tens of thousands of others in the class,” Dr. Schroeder says…”We found groups of 20 people in a course submitting identical homework,” says David Patterson, a professor at the University of California Berkeley.)

[16]Id. (“The ones I have study groups with people, those are the ones I finish,” Ms. Spillman says.)

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Andrew Mauro

Vol. 3 Associate Editor

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