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Alumni Almanac

NYU Law Interactive

New Initiative Offers Interactive, Online CLE

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Socrates could not have envisioned teaching students online, but NYU School of Law has begun to make the idea a reality. This year, the Law School launched NYU Law Interactive as part of an effort to explore how to use the Internet and other technology in teaching law. NYU Law Interactive’s initial program offers alumni and other attorneys the opportunity to take online interactive courses for CLE credit.

NYU Law Interactive currently offers three online courses, which were prepared by leading members of the Law School faculty. Vice Dean Stephen Gillers (’68) and Associate Deans Barry Adler and Brookes Billman (LL.M. ’75) each authored a course: Introduction to Conflicts of Interest; Issues in Bankruptcy Reorganization; and Introduction to Qualified Retirement Plans, respectively. The conflicts of interest and reorganization courses each take about an hour-and-a-half to two hours to complete, while the course on qualified retirement plans (which offers more CLE credits) takes about three hours to complete.

Attorneys who complete each course are eligible for two or three CLE credits (depending on the course) in jurisdictions that allow CLE credits to be earned online. The ability to fulfill CLE requirements online is very appealing to many alumni. Jacqueline Tepper ’90 noted, “For those of us who don’t live or work in New York anymore but are maintaining our status as members of the New York bar, it’s particularly helpful to have this resource online.”

The genesis for the project arose from an exploration of the potential of online education begun during John Sexton’s time as dean and has continued with the enthusiastic support of Dean Richard Revesz. Three online “mini-courses” were developed as a pilot to determine whether there was a role for online learning at the Law School. The three faculty authors, along with a steering committee that included Billman, members of the administration, and two members of the Law School’s board of trustees, Paul Francis ’80 and R. May Lee ’90, worked with the leading instructional design firm Cognitive Arts to develop courses that would be both engaging and academically challenging.

NYU Law Interactive’s rigorous academic content, original format, and interactive design sets it apart from other online legal education and CLE courses, which primarily consist of video stream lectures. NYU Law Interactive sought to make its courses practical, convenient, flexible, and easy to use. Tepper, who completed Introduction to Conflicts of Interest, noted, “The course is as interactive as you want it to be…and is different from CLE seminars where you are lectured to for hours on end. The online course is more interesting, and I’d like to see more offerings.”

The most distinguishing characteristics of the online courses are their interactive nature and their “learning by doing” approach. For Introduction to Qualified Retirement Plans participants play the role of a law firm associate providing advice to a client on a retirement plan by reviewing the client’s draft plan proposal and answering questions about that plan. The legal principles are taught in the context of these assignments, with tutorial feedback provided throughout the course.

For this program, participants are expected to review provisions of a draft retirement plan, identify key legal principles involved in employee benefits law, and evaluate their impact on the client’s business objectives. Participants answer questions posed by both the partner and client, and submit a memo evaluating the draft plan and offering recommendations to the client. In each course, the faculty author provides an introduction to the course by a downloaded audio recording.

Each course presents scenarios in which the participant receives background information about the case and the client and then is asked to answer a series of questions. The questions are arranged in a multiple-choice format, and participants are sometimes prompted to select the reasoning behind each answer choice. For every incorrect answer chosen, the program provides detailed feedback as to why an answer is wrong and presents other issues that the participant should consider. Additional links to questions and answers related to a given inquiry are often provided. The program also provides participants quick access to a plethora of resources like relevant statutes, key cases, and analysis from the faculty authors.

Online participants have been surprised by how comprehensive each course is and the high-level content provided. “The text-based interaction emulates the Socratic method nicely,” said Mary Silver ’92 (above), director of part-time programs and professional skills training at NYU School of Law.

NYU Law Interactive’s three initial courses were designed to be suitable for the CLE market. The Law School has now begun to explore whether it could utilize online education as part of LL.M. and other graduate programs at the Law School. Online learning has proven to be especially appealing to working professionals in many fields, especially those barred by distance from attending traditional classes or who prefer to learn in a self-paced environment. As Gillers remarked, “Interactive media is an ideal way for busy lawyers to keep up with changes in the law and satisfy CLE requirements. The technology allows for guided complexity where even sophisticated concepts can be treated with respect.” It is not expected that online courses will be offered for credit in the J.D. program, although online “learning modules” might be used at some point to supplement classroom work.