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New York Law School ventured into long-distance education this semester when it began presenting a 16-week, continuing education course to professionals in the field of mental health. In partnership with Compass Knowledge Holdings Inc., a private, for-profit e-learning and distance education provider in Florida, the law school is offering a certificate program in Mental Disability Law to 21 mental health professionals and two criminal defense attorneys. New York Law School’s new dean, Richard A. Matasar, brought the idea of continuing education to the law school last spring, after accepting his new position. When Matasar introduced the idea and the executives of Compass Knowledge to the law school faculty, the initiative met with varying reactions. According to Matasar, some faculty members were excited but others remained skeptical. Yet the dean said that this project has the potential of disseminating New York Law School’s reputation — or “branding” — far beyond New York’s borders, and also of earning the school anywhere between $500,000 to $2 million over the next two years, depending on several factors, including enrollment. “We want to be one of these skyrocket stocks that everyone is excited about and that sticks around for the next 200 years,” Matasar said. If the program is not successful, it will cost the law school time but not money, he said, since Compass Knowledge is funding the effort. “This is a way of differentiating what we’re doing from other law schools,” said Matasar. “If we don’t do something in this area, someone else will.” Matasar, previously dean of the University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law, is also preaching the gospel of distance learning to other law schools outside the state. Eventually, he said, he hopes there will be a coalition of 10 law schools working with Compass Knowledge to offer programs in which each school has an expertise. The schools will provide the information and Compass Knowledge will put it into the proper format, market the course and enroll the students. Compass Knowledge, which has been around since 1993, has created similar graduate programs at universities across the country, but never at a law school, said Stephen Wells, the firm’s investor relations officer. LECTURES ON VIDEOTAPE New York Law School Professor Michael Perlin donated his expertise and time for the Mental Disability Law course, lecturing for 16 hours to a video camera and providing his own written materials. The students watch one hour of video each week, read Perlin’s textbook and participate in a weekly question-and-answer session during an hour-long, live chat format on-line. According to Perlin, a 17-year veteran of the law school, most students are either psychologists or administrators of mental health facilities from across the United States. There is even a public defender on-line from Sipan, Guam, a U.S. territory. At the end of 16 weeks, the students will become conversant with this area of the law, he said. When Perlin is not standing live in front of J.D. hopefuls teaching mental disability law or other courses at the law school, he is on-line. Students in his long-distance program can post questions for each other or for him on message boards, and he answers them daily. “It enables me to reach out to people that wouldn’t normally be reachable and connect them together,” he said. According to Perlin, this course is useful for busy professionals unable to take a semester-long, in-classroom course to further their education. This is Scott Kamin’s situation. A criminal defense attorney with his own firm in Chicago, Kamin said that he is able to take this course only because he does not have to leave his office. So far, Kamin has seen one video and has participated in the first live chat room, during which the professor was not able to sign on for a while because of a technical error. Except for this glitch — and the fact that students all posted their questions at the same time — Kamin said he is happy with the class so far. “I need to know this information and this is a superior way of getting it,” he said. But knowledge does not come cheap. The course costs $3,000 per pupil and roughly $200 more for books. According to Matasar, one-third of New York Law School’s profits will be distributed among the faculty as bonuses, one-third will go to the law school for creating further experimental programs and one-third will go towards a donation for an education purpose, chosen by the professor who created the course. Next semester, New York Law School will offer a distance course on employment law geared towards human resource professionals and employment lawyers.

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