St. Mary’s University to Launch American Bar Association’s First-Ever Online Law Degree Accredited
St. Mary’s University in San Antonio is the first university in the country to offer an online law degree accredited by the American Bar Association.
The new program will be launched in fall 2022.
âThe idea of ââthis program is to prevent students from having to move to San Antonio (to get a law degree),â said Patricia Roberts, dean of St. Mary’s School of Law.
St. Mary’s is the only law school in South Texas, so it attracts a lot of students from the Rio Grande Valley. But moving 200 miles north of San Antonio for three years to earn a Juris Doctorate isn’t something everyone can afford to do.
Roberts said St. Mary’s estimates that accommodation and transportation add $ 20,000 to a student’s annual expenses in addition to tuition and fees.
âWhen I got to St. Mary’s, there were a number of alumni that I would meet from South Texas in the Valley,â said Roberts. âI was often encouraged by the fact that we could do more. “
The St. Mary’s online law degree will begin with an initial cohort of 25 students in the fall of 2022. The program will be part-time and will last approximately four years.
Roberts said the law school was able to show the bar that an entirely online program was possible by demonstrating their success online last year during the pandemic. Existing online programs are not accredited by the ABA.
âThere are about 10 or 12 hybrid (accredited) programs across the country in law schools with a significant online component. But there wasn’t one yet that didn’t require credit and educational activities on campus, âRoberts said. âWe originally thought we could make a hybrid. Butâ¦ I felt very strongly that if we were to do this, and one of our reasons was to reduce the cost for people to attend, then we should do it in a way that doesn’t require a lot of time here at San Antonio on campus. “
She said the ABA observed St. Mary’s online classes and interviewed students and faculty before approving a five-year pilot program in May.
Roberts said St. Mary’s held trial competitions for law schools across the country last year and that she is experienced in organizing bogus virtual courts and study groups.
“About the one thing that we don’t think will work as well online as it does in person is a clinical experience, where a professor will supervise students engaged in the practice of law or representing clients,” said Roberts.
Instead, she said students will have the option of finding internships with lawyers closer to home or participating in pro bono virtual work that St. Mary’s facilitates, such as a housing hotline.
Kathryn Cantu of Edinburgh, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley completed her freshman year at St. Mary’s School of Law online last year.
âEven though it was very difficult, it taught me to be disciplined. And it also made me realize how much I wanted to be in law school, âCantu said.
She said she was able to develop a connection with her classmates and teachers through Zoom’s office hours, virtual study groups, and the occasional meeting with classmates who lived in the same town. .
âI think it’s really exciting that St. Mary’s School of Law is the first in the country to offer this type of program,â Cantu said. “It’s going to open a lot of doors for a lot of people who always wanted to go to law school, but couldn’t because they couldn’t make the sacrifice of moving to another city or continuing to work for law school. provide for their family.