Online Program is Helping Military Members and Spouses Get Law Degrees

U.S. Army Cpl. Samantha Williams, a paralegal, Aracely Lopez and Evelyn Saxton, both lawyers, and U.S. Army Capt. Katie Reynolds, the site coordinator, pose at the North Carolina National Guard Headquarters Judge Advocate courtroom at NCNG headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina, May, 3, 2019. The team of legal experts through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program prepared and filed more than 550 state and federal tax returns from January to April this year for service members, retirees and their
U.S. Army Cpl. Samantha Williams, a paralegal, Aracely Lopez and Evelyn Saxton, both lawyers, and U.S. Army Capt. Katie Reynolds, the site coordinator, pose at the North Carolina National Guard Headquarters Judge Advocate courtroom at NCNG headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina, May, 3, 2019. The team of legal experts through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program prepared and filed more than 550 state and federal tax returns from January to April this year for service members, retirees and their families. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Robert Jordan, North Carolina National Guard)

From Okinawa to Germany and bases in the U.S., military spouses and active-duty troops are attending a law school in upstate New York, thanks to the first online program accredited by the American Bar Association.

"You just click on the link," Michaela Gonzalez, wife of an Army Specialist in Vilseck, Germany, said of how she attends class at Syracuse University's College of Law.

Gonzalez and Veronica Edmonds, who is on Okinawa with her Army sergeant husband, said the time differences in Okinawa and Germany can sometimes be a problem when it comes to attending classes. But, she said, it's worth the effort to pursuing dreams of a law degree despite frequent moves as military spouses.

"Oh my gosh, this is perfect," Edmonds said of when she first heard of a program approved by the ABA that accommodated the military lifestyle.

The inaugural JDinteractive (JDi) online class for 32 students seeking a juris doctor degree began in February at the Syracuse College of Law, supported by the university's Institute of Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).

About half of the class is from the military or military-affiliated, including senior officers and noncommissioned officers and military spouses, according to IVMF.

In a statement at the start of the class, Craig M. Boise, dean of the law school, said that "by allowing students to engage in real-time online classes from anywhere," the JDinteractive program will make "high-quality legal education accessible to students who cannot reasonably attend a fully residential program."

The program is not free to members of the military, spouses and veterans, but Kristin Shea, director of the Office of Financial Aid at the College of Law, said in an emailed statement that "Students can apply GI Bill benefits toward program tuition and course fees."

In addition, "students admitted to the program are considered for available tuition scholarship opportunities, and financing is available through educational loans," Shea said.

The JDi program bills itself as the first online course of study for a law degree accredited by the ABA. Veronica Edmonds and Michaela Gonzalez said that was a main factor in their applying.

"This helps me a lot," Gonzalez said.

When she arrived in Germany with her husband, "we hadn't figured out our lifestyle," she said, but the online law school program "was a good fit."

Edmonds, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said she was in a similar situation when she reached Okinawa.

"I still wanted to go to law school," she said. And the online program lets her do it while continuing her job as an assistant floor manager at a restaurant.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct attributions to Veronica Edmonds and Michaela Gonzalez.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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