You can watch movies, shop, and work online. And as our lives have become increasingly internet-based, it should be no surprise that you also can acquire legal education online. Many people acquire a bachelor's degree, master's degree, and other certifications online.
But is an online law degree the right choice for you? The following article reviews the advantages and drawbacks of studying the law online.
An Online Law Degree Has Some Advantages
Online education provides some significant benefits. First and foremost, completing a law degree online is a lower-cost option to earn your juris doctorate. Tuition for an entire law degree program frequently amounts to less than the cost of a single semester at a traditional law school.
Online learning also provides a much more flexible schedule, making it an attractive option for those who wish to continue working while pursuing their JD part-time.
But Lots of Drawbacks
The drawbacks of an online law degree are still significant. Chief among them is that many online law degree programs are not accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Most states require the completion of an accredited law degree program to sit for the bar.
In 2015, Mitchell Hamline School of Law started the first ABA-accredited hybrid on-campus/online law degree program in the nation. This program still involves in-person classroom attendance, though students can complete up to half of the program via online courses. The on-campus portion of the program takes place during two week-long intensives per semester.
Since then, full-time and part-time hybrid programs at other law schools have achieved accreditation, including:
- Loyola University Chicago School of Law
- Seton Hall University School of Law
- Southwestern Law School
- Syracuse University College of Law
- Touro University
- University of Dayton School of Law
- University of Denver Sturm College of Law
- University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law
However, despite this innovation, the ABA seems hesitant to grant accreditation to programs that utilize online classes alone. The organization recently approved a fully online program through St. Mary's University in Texas, but enrollment is very limited and the accreditation is only for a five-year pilot program. Therefore, anyone seeking an education from an accredited online program should be prepared to travel to their school's campus.
A small number of states permit an applicant to sit for the bar without attending an ABA-approved law school. These states still typically require that the law school register with a state regulatory authority to qualify their students to sit for the bar.
States that allow students from unaccredited schools to take the bar exam include:
- West Virginia
Completing an online law degree in these states would be significantly less complicated than in other jurisdictions. California, for example, permits graduates from registered but unaccredited law schools to sit for the bar.
Potential Impact on Career Path
Online law programs are still looked upon somewhat skeptically by employers. The importance of law school rankings typically fades pretty quickly as employers look more to your practical experience and track record when making hiring decisions. However, it does play a role in the first couple of jobs out of law school. This could be a problem for graduates of online schools.
One reason for this circumspection involves the lack of face-to-face classroom participation and “cold-calling" that makes up a large part of the traditional law school experience. The experience of presenting a proposition and having it assaulted by your fellow students and professor is stressful and unpleasant but useful in preparing a student for their future legal career. This doesn't mean you will be unemployable if you finish an online law degree, but you may need to respond to these concerns when you are applying for work.
Is an Online Degree Worth It?
Whether to pursue a law degree online is just the first in a long series of decisions on your journey to becoming a lawyer. Be sure to visit FindLaw's Law Students resources for discussions of the law school admissions process, study tips, career advice, and much more.