Kaplan launches online law school

By Scott Martin
Staff Writer, CNET News.com

Joining the swelling rank of educators embracing the Net, test preparation firm Kaplan will launch a law school online this fall.

Kaplan's Concord University School of Law will offer a four-year doctorate degree and is currently taking applicants for the school, which begins October 6. The program prepares students to take the bar exam in California, and then apply to practice law in federal courts.

"We're the first online university to offer a [law] doctorate," Dean Jack Goetz said.

The university will select students based on the traditional criteria: grade point average, Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score, and a letter of recommendation. Tuition is $4,200 per year.

But Concord University is unrecognized by both the American Bar Association and the state bar in California, because the organizations say it fails to meet certain criteria.

But Goetz contends that won't be a barrier for the school, which he said can draw upon the resources of its parent the Washington Post Company and its experience in computer-aided learning. "You can make a good argument that online it can be done better," he said.

"It has a bearing until we get accepted into the [legal] community," Goetz conceded. "Hopefully over time the barriers will be lifted."

Online schools are increasingly trying to appeal to students who are pressed for time but want to earn advanced degrees. In July, Stanford University announced it would offer a master's degree in engineering over the Net that it said would cost "considerably more" than its standard tuition.

Also in July, the California Virtual University bolstered its offerings to a total of 1,600 classes available through its online catalog. CVU's catalog pulls together the Web-based distance learning courses offered by 95 public and private universities across the state.

Like Stanford's online school, Concord University will offer streaming audio and video of professor instruction that can be accessed through software such as RealNetworks' RealPlayer. But unlike Stanford, the school will have to prove itself.

The law school will post homework, administer essays and exams, offer office hours with professors, and provide bulletin boards and chat for its students among it online offerings. There will also be an online legal library available to the students that links to sources across the Web.