Graduating Online Can Provide Marks of Distinction

Vol. 16 No. 6

By

R Scott Akin graduated from Concord Law School in 2011 and is a member of the State Bar of California.

Graduates from Internet-based law school programs, like new lawyers everywhere, need to apply their legal analysis lessons to the job market and distinguish themselves from their competitors.

Practical Considerations

First, go back to the beginning: Why an Internet-based law program?

Most students graduating from such programs are non-traditional students, often older with concurrent responsibilities of ongoing careers, families, or both. Perhaps jobs abroad or requiring frequent travel simply preclude traditional study at fixed-facility law schools.

For such non-traditional students, emphasizing their dual career orientation may be a key tactic when seeking their first job in the law, according to Richard L. Hermann, author of From Lemons to Lemonade in the New Legal Job Market, Lawyer Ave. Press (2012). “The fact that they’ve had a significant career, that’s a critical point for them to play up,” Hermann says.

Students agreed. “I had a substantial background in real estate so that’s where I focused my job search as well,” said Charles P. Katz of Routh Crabtree Olsen, P.S. in Seattle, a firm that specializes in the representation of financial institutions. Katz, a 2005 graduate of Los Angeles-based Concord Law School, is licensed in both California and Washington and now litigates mortgage issues, making excellent use of his past career experience.

Power to Persevere

On a motivational level, completing a JD program concurrent with equally, or even more, demanding real-world career responsibilities illustrates ambition, discipline, commitment to personal development, and even possibly the passion that so many employers say they look for in prospective associates. “It shows motive, initiative, perseverance,” said Conan Higgins, a 2010 graduate of Concord Law School who now works as in-house counsel for California-based TSI Legal Enterprises, P.C., which specializes in international business.

The level of self-discipline and perseverance necessary for success in an online program—evidenced by passing the bar—may be one distinguishing characteristic that goes beyond that of full-time students at brick-and-mortar institutions who have yet to take on those other responsibilities.

Reality Check

Juggling law school and a career may also develop time management skills and the ability to work on multiple projects while remaining professionally focused on each.

Hermann acknowledged that maintaining a career while attending law school may be more impressive to the business world than to law firms, depending on the individual law recruiter.

Katz said he agreed that top-tier firms were likely out of reach for online graduates because those firms recruit almost exclusively from ABA-approved law schools. Additionally, Katz, noted the ongoing phenomenon of “job discrimination against older people.”

Still, the self-discipline needed to complete an online program might be a good match for the drive and initiative needed in a successful law practice, whether solo or in a firm. “[Second career law students have] been in the working world and understand the marketplace,” Hermann said.

Heads Already in the Cloud

An ability to work online and remotely is another distinguishing skill/asset for graduates of online programs. “Telecommuting is growing rapidly because it’s a money saver,” Hermann said, noting that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office employs attorneys living in 37 states who work remotely full-time.

This may be one of the most effective selling points as law practices increasingly migrate to web-based practice management, client management, and communications applications through cloud computing. “We’re learning those things that make us more marketable, like time management, working remotely in asynchronous environments, and having to do all our research by computer,” said Higgins, who said he is now studying online for an LLM in international business law from the University of Liverpool.

Katz said technology was so pervasive at his office that it is “nearly paperless” and that his experience working online during law school “was a perfect fit” for the technology-savvy firm.

Graduates can emphasize that online programs, out of necessity, specialize in training students in electronic legal research because brick-and-mortar libraries are often out of reach for students who live in rural areas, who live and work abroad, or who are on the road for business so much that finding and spending significant time in a fixed law library is out of the question. Obviously, Lexis and Westlaw are the primary electronic research databases, but Concord Law School also offers course work that covers less expensive databases such as HeinOnline, Versus Law, and Find Law, as well as free online research and learning resources from brick-and-mortar law school libraries like Cornell and George Washington. Associates familiar with these free or less expensive online research resources may fit into a law firm looking to cut back on expensive top-tier subscriptions.

It’s about Education

Graduates should capitalize on the academic advantages their particular program offered.

Concord Law School lectures are often presented by nationally recognized legal scholars. For example, Concord Law School recently featured a Civil Procedure series of lectures, presented by the lawyer who literally wrote the book: Arthur R. Miller of New York University School of Law. Miller is recognized as the leading scholar on civil practice and is a principal author of the multi-volume Federal Practice and Procedure and the textbook standard Civil Procedure: Cases and Materials.

“I think it’s important that so many of Concord’s professors are also professors at ABA-approved brick-and-mortar schools,” said Hermann, who teaches an online course in legal career management at Concord Law School.

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