If you’re interested in federal, state and local laws and want to help individuals navigate the court system, an online law degree can help you get started without putting your life on hold.
But don’t enroll just yet! Most states require students attend an on-campus, ABA accredited program in order to sit for the bar exam and become licensed, so it is very important that you understand the requirements and limitations before committing to an online program.
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Let’s take a closer look at the ins and outs of online law degrees to determine whether they’re a good option for you and your future!
Can I Practice Law With an Online Law Degree?
That’s a tricky question. In order to practice law, you have to pass a state bar exam, and the requirements you must meet in order to take that exam vary by state.
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According to the 2019 American Bar Association (ABA) Admission guidelines, only seven states—California, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont— currently allow students who have completed online programs to sit for the bar exam, but most have additional strict limitations.
There are a couple of loopholes to get around these rules.
- If you pass the bar exam in one of those seven states, you may then be eligible to take the bar exam in a different state.
- Some states have reciprocity agreements stating, for example, that if you were licensed and practicing for a set number of years in one state, you may practice in their state.
These options are not guaranteed, of course. They may only work in certain states, and may have other requirements or limitations. Check the most recent ABA guidelines and do your research ahead of time to make sure the program you choose will allow you to take the bar exam and practice law in your state.
Are there any ABA Accredited Online Law Degrees?
The short answer is: not yet. While online learning is a popular option around the world, the ABA has been slow to get on board. To date, the ABA has not been willing to accredit any fully online law programs.
On the bright side, the ABA did recently accredit some hybrid programs. A hybrid program allows students to complete the bulk of their education online, and then finish the degree with some concentrated on-campus residencies over the course of a few days, or via in-person night classes. These options allow students to maintain their jobs and other obligations while finishing their online law degrees.
Though you will not find fully online law degree programs that are ABA accredited, you can find plenty of reputable programs that are accredited by other organizations. Look for programs that are regionally accredited to be sure that you will receive a legitimate education, resulting in a respected degree.
What Else Can I Do With an Online Law Degree?
If you are unable to become licensed in your state, or no longer want to be a practicing attorney, your online law degree can help you find employment in related fields.
For example, you may be able to pursue a career as a paralegal, legal assistant, mediator, court reporter, or find work in politics or criminal justice.
What are the Best Online Law Schools?
Because the trend of online learning is growing rapidly, more and more schools are now offering online law programs.
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As you consider online law school programs, be sure to research whether the program you choose will allow you to sit for the bar exam and eventually practice law in your state.
How Do I Choose the Right Online Law School for Me?
Choosing an online law degree program that is right for you takes careful consideration of many different factors.
ABA accreditation is important in the legal field, but only traditional brick and mortar schools are accredited. The ABA does not currently accredit any fully online programs, but does accredit some hybrid programs.
Before you decide to earn your law degree online, make sure you understand the limitations of an online degree in your state.
Students taking online law courses should receive the same student support as traditional, on-campus students. For example, you should have access to:
- Extensive law libraries, textbooks and other reference materials
- Academic advising to ensure your courses match your career goals
- Online tutoring
- Opportunities to enrich your law degree program with workshops, seminars, and live lectures
- Courses to prepare you for the bar exam
Cost of Law School
It’s expensive to study law, online or in person! Be sure that you can afford the program you choose, and take full advantage of financial aid opportunities.
What Is the Quickest Way to Get a Law Degree?
Traditionally, it takes about seven years to earn a law degree – four years for the undergraduate degree (B.A. or B.S.) and another three for the law degree (J.D.).
You can speed up the process by considering the following:
- Online education – By completing your undergraduate education online and/or choosing an accelerated J.D. program, you may be able to shave a year off the process.
- Consider a “3+3” program – Some schools offer a combination program, where students spend three years earning their B.A./B.S. and the next three earning their J.D.
If you plan wisely and work hard, it may be possible to earn your law degree in less than the typical seven years from start to finish.
What are the Most Affordable Online Law Degrees?
The cost of online law degrees varies quite a bit! Many rankings and lists highlight the following programs as particularly affordable:
- California Southern University
- Hodges University
- Liberty University
- Loyola University
- Pepperdine University
- Seton Hall University
Ultimately, though, the final cost will depend on how much financial aid you receive. Many schools offer generous grants and scholarships. Also, be sure to fill out the FAFSA and check sites such as Fastweb and Scholarships.com for additional scholarship opportunities.
How Much Do Lawyers Make Right Out of Law School?
It’s no secret that lawyers make great money, but how soon can you expect to see that? According to data from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), law graduates report a wide variety of salaries depending on where they find employment.
For lawyers in the private sector, the overall median first-year salary as of January 1, 2019 was $155,000, up $20,000 (14.8%) since 2017. Salaries in the public sector are also on the rise, but are much more modestly overall since 2004.
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NALP data for 2018 shows the median entry-level salary for those in civil legal services at $48,000; public defenders at $58,300; local prosecuting attorneys at $56,200; and those with public interest organizations at $50,300.
All areas are showing excellent growth, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 5% growth in legal occupations from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.
Can I Take the Bar Exam Without Going to Law School?
The ADA’s 2020 Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements state that applicants “should be required to have completed all requirements for graduation with a J.D. or LL.B. degree from a law school approved by the American Bar Association before being eligible to take a bar examination, and to have graduated therefrom before being eligible for admission to practice. Neither private study, correspondence study, law office training, age, nor experience should be substituted for law school education.”
In some states (California, Vermont, Virginia and Washington) it may be possible to sit for the bar exam without having your law degree, but instead having several years of apprenticeship experience.
Is Online Law School Difficult?
Yes! Law school is difficult, whether you do it online or in person! While you won’t typically have homework or quizzes, most online law courses require a tremendous amount of reading. Expect to spend at least 1.5 to 3 hours per night reading, and even more before big exams.
While traditional programs typically have just one large, comprehensive exam at the end of a course, graded according to a curve determined by everyone in the class, online classes sometimes have several large exams spread out over the semester to ensure students remain on track.
Law school is a rigorous, fast-paced and highly competitive environment. All of the students are hard working and bright, and it will be tough to keep up. Skimming text and cramming for exams will not suffice; you will need to put in serious work to succeed!
What Requirements are there to Attend Online Law School?
The exact requirements to gain admission to an online law school program vary by school. Typically, you will need the following:
- An undergraduate degree (B.A. or B.S.) in any field
- To pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
- Letters of recommendation
- Personal statement
Check with the program or programs you’re interested in to see what their specific requirements are.