At the same time that the legal services sector is experiencing widespread disruption, new technologies are disrupting the higher education sector and transforming the way law is being taught by law schools. This includes not only the way the law is taught to aspiring lawyers enrolled in the Bachelor of Laws or the Juris Doctor, but also the way legal practitioners broaden their education and deepen their expertise by engaging in postgraduate legal education.
Traditionally, law graduates had a limited range of options available to them when it came to enrolling in a Master of Laws (LLM). They could take some time off work and complete their LLM full-time, usually over a year, and often at a law school located interstate or overseas and chosen on the basis of reputation and access to the leading legal scholars. They could undertake their LLM part-time while working full-time, completing one or two subjects a semester across three or four years, usually at a law school not too far from home and chosen on the basis of convenience or familiarity. And some law schools offered their LLM in distance mode, posting written materials and cassette recordings to those brave practitioners determined to work through each subject on their own.
Today, the legal education landscape has been transformed by new teaching technologies and learning tools, and new forms of program delivery have been made possible by the Internet and high-speed computing. In addition to a plethora of online video tutorials, short courses and MOOCs (massive open online courses) available free of charge, legal practitioners can now complete a Master of Laws or other postgraduate qualification in law partly or even entirely online.
Online learning, and its predecessor distance learning, were for a long time seen as the ‘poor cousin’ of face-to-face learning. Students studying law online had enhanced flexibility and the convenience of studying from home, but they missed out on opportunities to interact with their peers and with their instructors in a meaningful way. And there was a perception that the academic rigour of these online courses was somehow less than their on-campus counterparts.
All that has now changed, thanks to educational innovations unlocked by technology. Students studying law online still benefit from the flexibility and convenience traditionally associated with this mode of delivery. But the resources and support they now receive ensure their learning experience is at least as engaging and as challenging as on-campus instruction, and in some cases online courses are superior to more traditional programs. And LLM students are no longer limited to engaging with scholars and students in a single geographical location, but can now be part of a truly global cohort.
Bond University, for example, has made it possible for students enrolling in the Bond LLM to complete a specialisation in International Commercial Law and Dispute Resolution entirely online. Bond has partnered with the Swiss International Law School to make available online subjects designed and delivered by leading legal scholars located in Australia, the UK, the
US, Canada, Switzerland and Germany. Because the subjects are delivered entirely online, students can undertake them anywhere in the world. And because Bond University offers three full trimesters per year – something now being adopted by other universities – it is possible for an LLM student enrolled part-time to complete the qualification in less than 1.5 years.
The new Bond program has been launched with four ‘double sized’ online subjects: International Corporate Law, International Sales and Transport Law, International Commercial Dispute Resolution, and Fundamentals of Intellectual Property Law. The subjects do not emphasise the law of any single jurisdiction but instead take a comparative approach, contrasting the laws of a variety of common law and civil law countries, and adopting a truly international approach to the subject matter. The subject designers are all leading scholars within their areas of expertise, and the fact that they are based in a variety of countries ensures the program is informed by a variety of perspectives. Students are provided with engaging video presentations by the subject designers and other leading scholars, online text resources, interactive online exercises, online tests and reflective tasks. Cohorts are limited to no more than 20 students, ensuring they receive the personal attention that is not possible in larger online programs. They interact with their instructors and peers via online classes, wikis and discussion boards. And they work individually and collaboratively on a variety of projects via online platforms.
Today, lawyers in Australia enrolled in the Bond LLM might watch a video presentation by a French legal scholar, discuss the presentation via email with a fellow student in South Africa, collaborate with another student located in Germany on an assessment project comparing Australian and EU law, and consult with their instructor based in London, all without leaving their home office.
There has never been a more exciting time to return to law school.