The pandemic experience has taught us that law schools can be highly successful in using remote instruction to add flexibility to evening and part-time law programs, providing working students from a range of backgrounds with enhanced educational access and other benefits, while maintaining high educational standards and quality. However, as pandemic conditions abate, emergency waivers suspending restrictions on distance education for New York’s law schools will expire when the school year ends, threatening to end much of the flexibility and innovation realized over the past two years. The New York Court of Appeals must act now to ease New York’s restrictive rules on distance learning tied to bar eligibility to ensure the rules keep pace with a changing world.

The requirements for eligibility for bar admission regulate the legal education of aspiring New York lawyers. For remote or “distance” learning, the court’s rules have until recently tracked the American Bar Association’s law school accreditation requirements. Distance learning was capped at 15 credits out of the required minimum of 83 credits. In 2020, the ABA revised its accreditation standards to permit greater use of distance learning while still requiring the core of legal education to be provided in person: Up to one-third of the credits required for a J.D. degree may now be offered through distance education, provided there is regular and substantive interaction between faculty and students. In January 2022, the ABA Council on Legal Education endorsed further amendments to permit up to 10 of these distance education credits to be earned in a student’s first year. These revisions will go before the ABA House of Delegates in August. New York’s rules, however, have remained unchanged, creating a substantial gap between ABA accreditation standards and the requirements of the New York bar—the ABA permits almost twice as much distance learning as the Court of Appeals.

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