Inside Law Admissions: The Hybrid JD


Thursday, May 28, 2020

UNH Law Hybrid JD

This is the launch of a new series for The Legal Impact podcast, titled "Inside Law Admissions," where we discuss important topics in legal education, learn about different legal programs, and meet members of the UNH Franklin Pierce Community.

In fall of 2019 UNH Franklin Pierce launched the Hybrid Juris Doctor program with a focus on intellectual property, technology, and information law. Hear from Dean Megan Carpenter, Associate Dean Leah Plunkett, and Hybrid JD Program Coordinator Dan Cwynar on the creation, launch, and success of this ground breaking program.

Learn more and apply to the Hybrid JD program at https://law.unh.edu/hybridjd 

Produced and Hosted by A. J. Kierstead

Read the Transcript

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

This is a new series for the Legal Impact Podcast titled Inside Law Admissions, where we discuss important topics in legal education, learn about different legal programs, and meet members of the UNH Franklin Pierce community. We hope you enjoy this first edition of the series where we dive into the launching of the UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law's Hybrid JD Program.

            In the fall of 2019, UNH Franklin Pierce launched the first Hybrid Juris Doctor Program, with a focus in intellectual property, technology and information law. This episode of Inside Law Admissions will discuss the creation of this groundbreaking program and the success we are seeing in its first class.

            UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law, Dean Megan Carpenter, discusses why the school decided to pursue creating this new program.

Dean Megan Carpenter:

Legal education for a long time has been one size fits all. And a lot of students across the country and around the world want to come to UNH Franklin Pierce because they're interested in IP. We've launched the careers of many top IP professionals around the globe, but a lot of working professionals who are interested in getting a law degree are not in a position to quit their job and move their home and take their families here, especially when they already have existing careers in the IP and tech space.

            We were on a mission to make a legal education in intellectual property available to everybody wherever they're located. And in the Program, we decided to reverse the law school student relationship. Rather than students having to uproot their lives, we wanted to just smash through brick and mortar to bring our world renowned IP faculty to students wherever they are.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

With this new delivery method of the Juris Doctor Program, Dean Carpenter touches on the unique group of students that now have access to a legal education.

Dean Megan Carpenter:

Our program is geared toward working professionals in the IP and tech space. The first class is comprised of patent examiners, marketing people, designers, patent supervisors, IP managers at law firms, licensing specialists. We also have some entrepreneurs and doctors. We look at students as whole people, that students' working experience is something that they bring into the classroom. So the students are learning not just from the faculty, but they're learning from each other. And we love to incorporate the students' own professional experiences into the subjects that they're studying.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Changing the existing JD Program to work online involved a large team to make happen. Associate Dean for Administration, Leah Plunkett, was integral to the launching of the program and breaks down what sort of changes needed to happen to the curriculum to make a JD education happen mostly online.

Associate Dean Leah Plunkett:

We had to change the format of how we deliver our core classroom content. So we have residential immersion periods that happen once or twice a term. Otherwise, our Hybrid JD students are online, and they are online either through remote asynchronous sessions, so like Netflix, except you can't binge watch it, you have to do it on a schedule, or remote synchronous, so a type of video conferencing setup where students will join instructors and their colleagues in real time.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

But why intellectual property focus? Dean Carpenter describes the changing nature of the field and how it is important to train more lawyers in this specialty.

Dean Megan Carpenter:

IP is the primary driver of our modern economy. 40 years ago, intellectual property comprised 20% of business assets. Today, that estimate is more like 80%. employment forecasts and positions related to IP are projected by the U.S. Department of Commerce to increase at least as fast or significantly faster than average job growth. IP and tech is the primary driver of over one quarter of all industries nationwide, and IP intensive industries are over 38% of U.S. GDP. As the legal framework surrounding human creativity, intellectual property is something that's relevant across industries and it really provides the foundation for innovation and invention.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

And Associate Dean, Leah Plunkett.

Associate Dean Leah Plunkett:

Intellectual property is perfectly suited to a hybrid format because you are working with folks who are working IP professionals, who are extraordinarily comfortable with using a range of different digital tools. And so we felt very comfortable saying that this is a cohort and this is a set of topics that lend themselves to digital delivery.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

As with any American Bar Association-accredited Juris Doctor program, the ABA had to approve this new way to deliver a JD. Associate Dean Plunkett lays out what the process entailed and what sort of resistance they faced.

Associate Dean Leah Plunkett:

We did not experience resistance. We experienced enthusiasm and great creative thinking, and we also experienced a kind of rigor that we want and expect from stakeholders whose job it is to make sure that any degree offered by UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law or any ABA-accredited law school in the country is rigorous and going to get students the results that they deserve.

            When you look at a normal higher ed timeline, we were able to move at warp speed. We had wonderful support from the university and the ABA in a rigorous process that required us to put together a request for internal university approval to launch a brand new degree program, and also to submit it to the American Bar Association.

            With the ABA, we submitted a very, very detailed... I think it was roughly 700 pages when you included the agenda that went with the application. That went in in fall of 2018. We had a site visitor come to campus later on in fall of 2018 to do fact finding. And the Dean and I and the president of our technology partner went and appeared before the council on the Section for Legal Education of the ABA in February of 2019 to have a hearing on the record about their questions on the program. And then we received approval to launch the program in March of 2019.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Dean Carpenter and what a relief it was when they got word about the approval.

Dean Megan Carpenter:

Getting approval from the ABA was gratifying. It was recognition, first of all, of all the hard work that our whole school had put into this, our faculty, our staff, everyone working together toward a common goal. Practically speaking, it meant that we could move forward with the program that we had been working around the clock to develop.

            I think on a bigger scale, it was the moment that our dream officially became a reality. As the leader, leading an organization through change and implementation of a vision, you're encouraging everybody to believe and to work toward this goal. And we hoped that the ABA would see the potential for transformation in legal education that we saw. This would be the first ABA-approved JD that is designed in a specialized area of the law.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

In order to support this new program, it was known from the start then a new staff role would need to be created to support this endeavor. Here's associate Dean Plunkett.

Associate Dean Leah Plunkett:

When we applied to the ABA for accreditation to do this program, we specifically wrote into the proposal that we would have a program coordinator who would serve as the ambassador for the Hybrid JD Program. And it's so important to us to have that ambassador to serve as a point of contact between the Hybrid JD students and the campus, but also a point of contact for faculty and staff on campus to ask questions. And of course, our Hybrid Program and our Hybrid students are fully integrated into our law school life.

            In order for our students who live across the country to know that there is one point of contact by email or phone, where they're not sure where to go, or if they just need somebody to talk to and process something, they have a person.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

UNH Franklin Pierce hired Daniel Cwynar as the Hybrid JD Program Coordinator. He describes what it was like moving into this new position.

Dan Cwynar:

We certainly have one of the most innovative deans in legal education right now, both in the creation, support and advertising of the program. It's clear that this was created out of necessity and out of a passion for furthering the field of IP. I think that much is readily apparent.

            What leadership did a really good job of before I stepped in was making sure that they tapped the experts that were already on campus for all of the different support systems we needed for this program to be successful, whether that be our top notch admissions team, our marketing team, the full time tenured faculty that we have. Everybody seemed to be moving in the same direction, but there wasn't anybody really steering the ship.

            So coming in, I recognized pretty quickly that I was going to as kind of a central hub or the middle of the spoked wheel. Within the first couple of weeks, a really common sentiment I'd hear from everybody else was, "Happy to actually have a point person to turn to."

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

In August of 2019, UNH Franklin Pierce welcomed the inaugural Hybrid JD class, kicked off by their first immersion session in Concord, New Hampshire. Dean Carpenter on what it was like meeting them.

Dean Megan Carpenter:

The students are pioneers, and they recognize this and we recognize this. And really, our students are helping to shape the program as we go along.

            During orientation, we were standing in the lobby watching them come in one by one, two by two, and one of us said to a group of them, "We've been waiting for you." And one of them responded, "We've been waiting for you longer than you've been waiting for us."

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

And here's Associate Dean Plunkett with her take on it.

Associate Dean Leah Plunkett:

I think that they bring that sense of "where have you been all my life" to this program. And that really has led to incredible bonding between them. And this identification of shared dreams and shared goals that they have with each other is really just inspiring and so delightful to be a part of as a faculty member.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

The unique situation for these students is that they don't get the face-to-face time with their classmates they ordinarily would going to class, in the hallways and the libraries and things like that. Dan Cwynar and how this inaugural class has continued to keep their sense of community when the program is not face-to-face.

Dan Cwynar:

Meeting with them in August, you could just see a lot of them hitting it off just because they were all here for the same goal, to study intellectual property law and to advance their careers. And then they took a couple of months where they went back home, they worked on the online portion of their semester, and when they came back in October, it was like bearing witness to a reunion. Even when only about half of them had gotten into the room, we were chatting over coffee and bagels, and you couldn't hear yourself think. It was just great to see that they clearly hadn't lost any of the connections over the last couple of months.

            And then as we advanced into the spring semester, we brought a lot of our interaction, a lot of our social time onto the web. And there was nothing lacking. You can have all the faculty and staff support in the world, but if you can't kind of bounce ideas and share sentiments with other folks that are quote unquote "in the trenches with you", it can be a little bit more difficult to normalize what you're feeling as you go through the rigors of law school and it can be a little easier to get discouraged. So I don't think that that's been the case.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

At UNH Franklin Pierce, we believe this program to be important to the future of legal education, not only for students in academia, but also for the legal industry as a whole. Here's Dan Cwynar.

Dan Cwynar:

we're going to be having a lot of interests, not just from perspective students, but perspective instructors. I think we're going to be teaching the cutting edge because IP is such an expanding field right now. I see us being able to widen our net essentially. One thing that's been evident to me is that students are hungry for this program, and I think that our best students of next year might just be finding out about the program right now.

            And then something that's definitely certain in my mind is that the IP sector is going to be getting some of the most intelligent and hardworking IP attorneys in history in a couple of years when we start graduating these folks. They just have such a wealth of experience that they bring to the table already as working professionals, that combined with the cutting edge JD, they're going to be able to contribute so much to the field of IP. I cannot wait to see some of these folks changing the legal landscape as we kind of go through the 2020 decade.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Dean Megan Carpenter with her take on it.

Dean Megan Carpenter:

This is the future of legal education. Years ago, law firm spent the first few years training and losing money on new associates. Changing financial realities in the legal services industry means that law firms now need to hire associates who are prepared to hit the ground running. So that means that students need to figure out how to get skills in law school. And we, as educators in legal education, we need to figure out how to get students the wisdom of their 40s without having to go through their 20s. And part of that, we accomplish through specialized experiential training that prepares students not just to think like lawyers, but to be lawyers.

            Allowing for specialization within law degrees is one way to do this. This program is the first of its kind, but it will not be the last of its kind. And incorporating technology to make a legal education accessible to those who are interested in earning it, is something that is our responsibility as leaders at law school.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Thanks for listening to Inside Law Admissions presented by UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law. Learn more about our Hybrid Juris Doctor Program with a focus in intellectual property technology and information law at law.unh.edu/hybridjd. Once again, that is law.unh.edu/hybridjd.

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            Opinions discussed are solely the opinion and the faculty or host and do not constitute legal advice or necessarily represent the official views of the University of New Hampshire