Looking Back at the Evening Program and Ahead to the Weekend Program

Since its opening in 1951, Seton Hall Law has always provided a path for those who cannot pursue their legal education full time. Until this year, that alternative was the evening division, where “night warriors” could explore the nuances of Palsgraf, Pennoyer, and Pierson v. Post while holding down full-time jobs and juggling daily commitments. Starting this year, that alternative is the Law School’s innovative weekend division, which provides the kind of scheduling flexibility that today’s working professionals require if they are to pursue a J.D. And in a legal version of “build it and they will come,” the Weekend Program is already a great success in the market – the inaugural class this August welcomed 46 students, who bring a new energy and a wide diversity of talent and experience to the Law School.

A look back on the Evening Program

Professor Jon Romberg has taught students in the evening program for the better part of twenty years. While hundreds of students have learned from him, Romberg stresses how much he learned from his students: “They brought abundant real-world experiences into the classroom and were particularly enjoyable to teach because they were able to enrich the classroom discussions with real-life experiences from work and family, bringing related expertise to the cases that we discussed.”

Arriving at Seton Hall Law after a full day’s work four nights a week, evening students quickly developed a deep sense of friendship, support, and comradery. “I was always impressed with the seriousness and good humor in which they approached the extremely difficult task of melding their first-year of law school with their other responsibilities,” says Romberg.

Nearly 50 years ago when Professor John Wefing joined the Law School, the evening class was almost as large as the day division. Many were men who served in the Vietnam War. “They served their country, suffered war injuries, and went on to legal educations,” says Wefing. “And then there were groundbreaking women, who sought to break into what was largely a male legal world through Seton Hall Law.”

Professor Wefing notes that “scores of early graduates feel profound gratitude to Seton Hall Law for providing them an entry to the legal profession that wasn’t otherwise available.”

The knowledge and skills they learned at Seton Hall Law enabled evening alums to make their mark across the legal profession, in New Jersey and far beyond, but also as leaders in business and industry. One example is Steve McManus ’90, who is capping a 30-plus career at State Farm Insurance by serving as its Senior Vice President and General Counsel. He owes his start on that career path to the J.D. degree he earned at Seton Hall at night. And then there’s John Sprouls ’84, currently the Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer at Universal Parks & Resorts, who credits his education for much of his career successes, whether in HR, securities law, compliance, or government relations.

Romberg distinctly recalls years when more than 100 first-year law students in the evening program would fill classroom 273. More recently, however, tectonic shifts in the economy and the demands of working professionals’ “day jobs” have led to a nationwide drop in enrollment in evening programs.

Consistent with its historic commitment to offering legal education to all segments of the community, Seton Hall Law set out to reimagine what law school would be like if offered on the weekend. As it turns out, the resulting program will look both very familiar and very different to those who have studied at the Law School in the past.

Introducing the Weekend Program

“For many of our weekend students, attending in-person classes several nights a week was simply impossible,” explains Professor John Jacobi. A perennially popular Torts teacher, Jacobi will be one of the “founding professors” of the weekend division. “Our students can continue to accrue experience in real-world employment, while earning the J.D. that will allow them to either grow in their current workplace or shift professions entirely.”

Ann Iparraguirre already holds an impressive array of degrees with an Ed.D., M.S., and B.A. She doesn’t want to change careers, but rather plans to use her law degree to enhance her work with the New York City Department of Education. “My experience in education will enrich my law studies and my newfound knowledge of law will enhance my work in education,” she says.

A mother of four with her youngest currently in college, Iparraguirre finally saw her longtime vision of attending law school become a reality when she discovered Seton Hall Law’s Weekend Program. “How exciting to study law with others who are also so committed to find solutions to the practical and ethical questions facing society today,” Iparraguirre shares.

The weekend’s pedagogy is a combination of the traditional and the cutting-edge. “Blended” coursework will marry the familiar in-person Socratic experience on alternating weekend classes with online learning during the intervening two weeks. “Students have to be really committed, as they will be on campus two, relatively long days eight times per semester,” Jacobi said. The Weekend Program usually takes eight semesters but students can accelerate graduation by intersession and summer semester classes.

Jacobi notes that the scheduling is “a huge advantage for students who are coming from further away or who simply can’t count on consistently getting to the Law School after work in time for class.”

One of these students is Mark Svensson, a Rockland County resident with experience in the federal government and the founder of a nonprofit organization advocating for education and health related services for children and youth. Svensson says, “The Weekend Program aids my pursuit of furthering the public good and pursuing a legal degree while simultaneously enabling me to maintain employment to support my young family.”

“The goal of the Weekend Program is to provide the best of both worlds,” explains Professor Carl Coleman. “The same quality education full-time students experience will be provided to students in the Weekend Program through a hybrid format using modern technology.”

Seton Hall Law’s transition into a weekend hybrid model has been relatively seamless because of its experience with mid-career professionals in the wholly online MSJ graduate degrees for non-lawyers. Professor Coleman, who heads the Law School’s online LLM and MSJ programs, helped shape the virtual component weekend students will encounter. Not the “talking heads” of some online learning, Seton Hall Law’s Weekend Program will maximize student participation through interactive materials and discussion boards.

Professor Edward A. Hartnett, who is teaching Civil Procedure in the Weekend Program, was the first professor to roll out his introductory exercises and homework assignments to the new students. Hartnett started with all of the students in the class introducing themselves to each other – online. He created exercises that students complete before coming to class, and expects that they will therefore be better prepared for in-class discussion. “Before each class, every student has to answer questions that, in a traditional classroom, only the ’lucky’ one called on by the professor has to answer.” His family history makes him particularly excited to teach the inaugural weekend class. “More than sixty years ago, my father was in the first evening class to graduate from Seton Hall Law School. Now, I get to help launch the first weekend class!”

Similarities of the Old and New

Seton Hall Law prizes its outstanding teaching faculty, prides itself on student access to their faculty, and inculcates a sense of community and loyalty in every class. Dean Kathleen M. Boozang is invested in ensuring every student has these opportunities. Students enrolled in the Weekend Program will have access to the same distinguished faculty who teach in the full-time program. And they will also have available the student services, co-curricular activities, and student organizations that create the Seton Hall Law community and deliver the practice skills that make the Seton Hall Law graduate practice ready. Weekend students can anticipate enjoying the same high levels of success in bar passage rates and job placement that Seton Hall grads have always experienced.

That said, weekend studying will pose some of the same challenges that evening students successfully surmounted. Coleman stressed that “these students must be extremely disciplined and use their time productively as they juggle their many commitments to maintain a steady schedule.” History testifies that the time management skills instilled in students’ professional lives stand them in good stead as they navigate law school.

Romberg adds that students enrolled in the Weekend Program will experience a taste of what their futures may look like in practicing law. “Weekend students live a life much more similar to that of a lawyer than that of the typical full-time student. They will have to fit in their studying – whether in class or online – with what is already a very busy life. These are students who are definitively devoted to their law school education.”

As the first in his family to receive a college degree, Gerard Green says he is fortunate to be part of the Weekend Program. “In my youth, my aspirations of becoming a lawyer always felt like a pipe dream; now I can set the standard for family members who will follow me.”

From its beginning, Seton Hall Law’s Evening Program provided an avenue for ambitious applicants to earn their degrees. The Weekend JD Program will have a very different look and feel, but it continues the Law School’s tradition of offering high-quality legal education in an accessible format. Dean Boozang observes that the part-time program enables Seton Hall Law to graduate second-career students who immediately bring the industry experience, poise, and professionalism to the practice of law that traditional full-time law graduates may take years to develop. Seton Hall Law is proud to serve these future lawyers in an innovative format.

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