UNH law school launches its first online law degree program

  • The Concord law school is now called the UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 8/15/2019 4:39:45 PM

Forty-five students have enrolled in what the UNH law school says is the nation’s first online-residential hybrid law program with a focus on intellectual property.

The program for a JD, or law degree, began Wednesday with orientation and a five-day session of classes on the Concord campus. After that, the students – working professionals aged between 25 to 71, of whom 43 are from outside New Hampshire – will head home to complete most of the 3½-year program online.

“We are revolutionizing legal education,” is how Megan Carpenter, dean of what is now officially called the UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law, put it.

If so, it’s a revolution driven by need – the needs of students seeking cheaper, more flexible ways to get an education and the needs of law schools facing falling enrollment in traditional residential programs. The number of students entering the nation’s law schools peaked in 2010 at 52,000 and fell by one-quarter to about 38,000 in 2017. The UNH school isn’t exempt: Its enrollment has declined by about one-half within the past decade, although the numbers appear to be picking up again.

Information about the new program apparently struck a nerve. The school says more than one-third of the students are from outside New England, including six from Texas and three from California, while nine of them already have a Ph.D. and three have a medical degree. At least five have job descriptions containing “patent” or “intellectual property.”

Before it could be launched, the program required approval from the American Bar Association, whose standards say that law degrees can offer at most one-third of total credit hours through distance learning, with the rest on campus. The Concord law school appears to be only the fourth school to get an exemption from that requirement.

The school says this “Hybrid JD” will offer parity with the residential JD program “in regard to devoted full-time faculty resources, student services, curriculum, academic support, and admissions standards.”

The school says the degree is also unusual in the country, perhaps unique, in its focus on intellectual property, which includes topics like patents, trade secrets, databases and privacy. From its earliest days, founded in 1973 as the Franklin Pierce Law Center, IP has been a big part of the school’s emphasis. It already offers a certificate in the field, but this is the first full degree.

“Earning a JD focused on IP allows students to do a deep dive into a subject that’s relevant in almost a third of all industries nationwide,” Carpenter said in describing the new program.

The school changed its name to UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law this spring, combining its two previous incarnations. The Franklin Pierce Law Center moved to its current location on White Street in 1976 and in 2010 merged with the University of New Hampshire, which didn’t have a law school. It was renamed the UNH School of Law at the time, until Franklin Pierce was returned to the name this year.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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