Suffolk Law Launches Innovative Hybrid Online JD Program

First year on campus, then as much remote learning as a student chooses

By Michael Fisch

The Law School has launched a pioneering new Hybrid Online JD Program (HJD), the first in the country to offer full- and part-time students a traditional in-person first-year classroom experience followed by the option of taking all remaining classes online.

We spoke to Professor Gabe Teninbaum JD’05, who will oversee day-to-day operations of the program in his role as the Law School’s assistant dean for innovation, strategic initiatives, and distance education. Teninbaum brings a deep background to the position. In 2017, the ABA Journal called him “perhaps the most tech-savvy law professor in the country,” and since 2015 he has led the Law School’s Legal Innovation & Technology Concentration.

Suffolk is taking a new approach with this program: first year on campus, followed by as much remote learning as a student wants in the following years. Why structure the program this way?
By enrolling in the same first-year courses as everyone else, HJD students will develop close connections with classmates and faculty. They’ll get to experience those hallmarks of 1L year, from getting cold-called in Contracts class to participating in oral arguments in Legal Practice Skills. But then, as upper-level students, they’ll have flexibility to live and work where they want during the remainder of law school.

Many students have good reasons for needing to live outside of the Boston area, whether being closer to family or a job, or living in a less expensive region. These are legitimate reasons that might otherwise prevent a person from attending law school. We’re going to make it easier for these people to succeed by requiring them to be on campus for only one year.

In 1906, [Suffolk Law founder] Gleason Archer started teaching small law classes in his home for working-class people and immigrants who worked during the day and attended law school at night. Archer found a way to help people overcome obstacles by offering them the opportunity to attend law school at a flexible time. We’re now leveraging technology to offer students the opportunity to attend most of law school at a flexible location. We’re basically updating Archer’s original vision for the 21st century.

Once students go remote, will they be able to do moot courts, the Law Review, and other activities?
Absolutely. HJD students are full members of the community. They’ll have access to all of it: extracurricular activities and support services, including student groups, law journals, bar prep classes, academic support, alumni networking programs, and career services. Also, they’re welcome to be physically on campus any time they want, just like any other student. They’ll have the additional option to take their classes, access services, and engage in extracurriculars remotely.

Was the hybrid approach brought on by the pandemic?
No. Many years before the pandemic, we started to see a trend toward online work and collaboration in the legal field. There’s no doubt that COVID-19 is accelerating that trend, but we were ahead of this curve and have been planning this program for some time.

These days, if you aren’t comfortable in a remote environment, you’ll be at a disadvantage in the workplace. Our HJD students will be at ease engaging in significant work remotely and using the technologies needed to do it. This will give them an advantage in a changing marketplace.

How big is the program expected to be? And what kind of student are you looking for?
We’ll have small cohorts of no more than 25 new HJD students per year, and those students will have certain qualities they share. They’ll be the innovators, the first-adopters. In this unprecedented time, that’s a good person to be.

Suffolk University Boston Law School 
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