For years, pioneering homeschool families were wary of the long arm of the law and its effect on how they educated their children at home.
Times have changed.
Not only is the law often a friend of those who homeschool, but there is a way parents and advanced home-educated students can earn a Juris Doctorate degree at home. Last year, the Oak Brook College of Law (OBCL) was founded in Fresno, CA. Already, the school has over 100 students.
A Different Purpose
OBCL is far different than the traditional law school. OBCL's catalog notes that many modern law schools convey a "legal attitude" to the students, teaching analytical skills without emphasizing the "duty" of being a lawyer. OBCL, on the other hand, claims that all lawyers have a duty to God and seeks to teach law in a way that trains the student in proper moral duties while also giving the proper academic basis for the discipline of law.
"Oak Brook College is established on the premise that legal education in America is in need of significant reform. The number of speeches and articles criticizing modem legal education continues to mount, but little has been done to act upon these criticisms," writes Roger Magnuson, Dean of OBCL, in the school's prospectus. "Oak Brook College introduces innovative methods of education which provide a fresh alternative to the paradigm followed year after year by conventional law schools."
A group of powerful individuals both in the legal community and in homeschool circles looked at the rules for legal education in California and saw a perfect opportunity to start a law school that would have top-notch instructors and give students a proper perspective of Biblical law and of early legal philosophers such as William Blackstone. They also wanted a school that would allow students to study law by correspondence.
With this unique purpose, OBCL has a base from which to make incredible changes in American legal education. Students conduct all their text reading, legal research assignments, audio tape lectures, and brief writing at home and have four exams to take their first year. To supplement the independent study, each class meets at a central location for an orientation week to receive instruction from OBCL's law professors. Many of the students send their finished assignments to the school via email, and a World Wide Web site has been developed. If students have questions, they are encouraged to call their professors and network with other students.
Readers may find a few familiar names on OBCL's faculty and board. Michael Farris, president of Home School Legal Defense, is on the Board of Trustees. Bill Gothard, president of IBLP, is OBCL's Chancellor. Constitutional law professor Jordan Lorence is a specialist in the area of First Amendment litigation, having worked for Home School Legal Defense Association and American Center for Law and Justice in the past.
Nearly all of the faculty and staff are connected somehow to the homeschool movement, deciding to pool their legal knowledge to train other concerned citizens with hopes that many homeschool students would be interested in the school.
Credentials held by many on the faculty are nothing to yawn at. OBCL's dean, Roger Magnuson, is currently a senior partner in Dorsey & Whitney, the largest law firm in Minnesota, and he has authored numerous books. Magnuson was an honors graduate of Stanford University, Harvard Law School, and Oxford University, serving as an editor of the Harvard Law Review while in law school. Also included on the faculty are criminal law professor Eric Rucker, a county prosecuting attorney in Kansas; torts professor Robert Caprera, a trial lawyer in Massachusetts; and contracts professor Robert Barth, a former professor and assistant dean of Regent University College of Law and Government.
An Open Door for Young People and Adults
To enter most law schools, students must have completed a bachelor's degree and must have passed a law school entrance exam. Students also are usually required to be in residence at or near the law school they attend. The state of California, however, permits a number of correspondence schools to operate, most of them being small and somewhat mediocre institutions. "We are putting quality into this good idea that California has to allow non-traditional legal education," Dean's assistant Kent Schmidt told OBCL students at an orientation conference.
An undergraduate degree is not required by OBCL for enrollment. California only requires that correspondence law students have 30 hours of college credit before beginning law school. Nearly half of OBCL students have obtained this credit requirement by taking College Level Examination (CLEP) tests. Many others have already earned undergraduate degrees.
There is no such thing as a typical student at OBCL. Some are as young as 18. Others are busy professionals, including two state legislators and a handful of paralegals. A number of homeschool fathers and mothers are also students.
OBCL's cost is very reasonable compared to other law schools. The American Bar Association reports that the cost of tuition at ABA-accredited law schools ranges from $3,726-$18,995 per term. Tuition for OBCL is currently $2,500 per year. Students have a few other fees including $300 for books, $300 for a first year law school exam, and transportation to student conferences. Overall, OBCL provides training for a very low cost.
Those who think OBCL sounds like a ripe opportunity for the non-traditional student, take heed. The curriculum used is similar to that of any other law school. The school mandates 18 hours of study per week, but most students find that more is required. Aside from just the hourly requirement, the students are required to master the material in order to make the grade. They will find themselves reading nearly a hundred pages a week and writing numerous case briefs and other legal writing assignments. They have to have the determination to memorize key elements of the law and to become like a computer database that spots legal issues and easily finds solutions to them.
"Unless you are willing to go against the flow, to explore new ideas and methods of learning, and to pour your best efforts into your studies and your work, you may want to look elsewhere. But if you view the practice of law as a calling - not simply a career - and if you wish to learn practical skills along with learning from texts, then Oak Brook College might be right for you," Dean Magnuson says.
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