Law school deans say online course work is here to stay

Dorothy S. Bass


  • The Association of American Law Schools surveyed 400-plus current and former law deans about the job, future of legal education
  • It found dean ranks becoming more diverse, but most deans still graduated from top schools

(Reuters) – Online teaching is not going to go away with the pandemic, according to a new survey of law school deans.

The Association of American Law Schools surveyed more than 400 current and former law deans about their careers and how the pandemic changed legal education in a study released Tuesday. Respondents cited online learning, remote work arrangements for faculty and staff, and greater opportunities to engage with the wider legal community as innovations that are likely to last.

Online teaching environments are more flexible and accessible to students, the deans said, offering new ways to teach, hold office hours and for students to meet. Remote learning can also eliminate the need to cancel classes for weather or other challenges and can enable students who are ill or dealing with family emergencies to attend.

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But the study notes that fully remote teaching comes with drawbacks, and a hybrid of online and in-person instruction looks likely to be the norm moving forward. A 2021 survey found that law students who took classes entirely or mostly online rated the quality of their education below students who took in person classes. A Harvard law student unsuccessfully sued over the pandemic switch to remote classes, calling remote learning “subpar in every aspect.”

The deans study, aimed at demystifying the job for aspiring law school leaders and encouraging a broader set of candidates, also tracked movement toward a more diverse cohort of law deans. Women now comprise 41% of law deans, up from 18% in 2005. And 31% are people of color, an increase from 13% in 2005.

Law deans tend to be graduates of a relatively small subset of top law schools. More than half of deans — 52% — got their law degrees from one of the 29 most selective schools in the country. And 55% have at least one parent with an advanced degree, while 25% are first-generation college students. The survey found 81% of deans came from within the legal academy.

More than half the surveyed deans — 53% — reported having “challenging” relationships with their full-time faculty. By contrast, 39% said they have challenging relationships with students, while 23% said their relationship with their university chancellor or president is challenging.

When asked to name the top attributes for a successful law dean, respondents pointed to emotional intelligence, good judgment and being a stabilizing force during difficult times.

Read more:

‘Most stressful time of my career’: Law deans reflect on pandemic

For most law students, remote classes didn’t make the grade – report

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