The ongoing crisis at Charlotte School of Law (CSL) has put hundreds of students in a difficult position. Almost daily, there are conflicting reports that CSL will close, remain open, or engage in a “teach-out” with another law school (perhaps Charlotte’s sister school, Florida Coastal, based in Jacksonville, Florida). There have even been calls for UNC-Charlotte to reconsider opening a law school, plans for which were previously shuttered due to construction costs. About one-third of the class at CSL has reportedly transferred out, which has undoubtedly caused significant disruption to their lives given that the state’s other six law schools are, door-to-door, between 85 and 165 miles from Charlotte.Few people realize that there is another option. In September, the North Carolina State Bar changed its rules for bar admission, so that an attorney licensed in another state may sit for the North Carolina bar exam immediately, regardless of whether they graduated from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA).Enter online law schools. While a fully online law school is not currently eligible for accreditation by the ABA (which caps distance learning at about one-third of the curriculum), graduates of online law schools registered with the State Bar of California may sit for California’s bar exam. Since my own online institution, Concord Law School, graduated its first class in 2002, over 550 graduates have become California licensed attorneys.The bottom line: CSL students could complete their education at an online law school like Concord and take the North Carolina bar exam immediately after passing California’s exam all without having to commute, let alone move cities. This is especially beneficial for law school students who are working and in careers, raising their families while pursuing a legal education. They are hard pressed to pick up stakes and move to a community that is closer to a brick-and-mortar law school.This is important not just for current CSL students, but for access to affordable legal education and thus affordable legal services throughout the entire state.Consider the following. Two-thirds of North Carolina’s roughly 10 million residents live in one of its 94 of 100 counties that lacks a law school. And if CSL closes, all of the remaining law schools in North Carolina will be concentrated in the state’s north-central region.Where law schools are located matters, as lawyers also tend to stay in the metropolitan areas where they went to law school. The six counties with law schools have one-third of the state’s population but two-thirds of the state’s lawyers, and are among the state’s most affluent communities. Conversely, more remote counties, which North Carolina’s Department of Commerce has classified as “economically distressed,” have far fewer lawyers (on average by a factor of 6 to 1). Residents in these counties are hard pressed to either find attorneys or be able to afford them.An online law school enables all residents, regardless of their zip code, to get a legal education without leaving their communities. They will be more likely to remain in and serve those communities after graduation. And, because online law school tends to be far more affordable program tuition for Concord’s J.D. program is under $47,750, as compared to an average resident tuition of $112,552 for the state’s ABA schools they can graduate with less debt and afford to charge more reasonable rates.North Carolinians deserve to know about all their options, particularly those that benefit law students and simultaneously address barriers to access to justice.Martin Pritikin is the dean of Concord Law School at Kaplan University.
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