Should You Get an Online Law Degree?

You can watch movies, do your shopping, and increasingly even get a decent education online. As our lives have become increasingly internet-based it should be no surprise that a legal education can be acquired online. The future is now, and there are a number of online law schools that can help you learn about the law from the comfort of your home. But is an online law degree the right choice for you? The following article provides an overview of the advantages and drawbacks of studying the law online.

An Online Degree has Some Advantages

Online legal study has some significant benefits. Online degrees are typically much cheaper than traditional law school attendance. Tuition for an entire law degree program frequently amounts to less than the cost of a single semester at a traditional law school. Online studies also provide a much more flexible schedule, making it easier to work while they study.

But Lots of Drawbacks

The drawbacks of an online law degree are still significant. Chief among them is the lack of accredited online law degrees. The best law schools are accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) and most states require the completion of an accredited law degree program in order to sit for the bar. Mitchell Hamline School of Law has the first, and only, accredited hybrid on-campus/online law degree program in the nation. This program still involves classroom attendance, though students can complete up to half of the program online and the on-campus portion of the program can be completed in an intensive fashion over the course of several weeks. Despite this innovation the ABA appears unwilling, at present, to extend accreditation to 100 percent online law degree programs.

There are a small number of states that permit an applicant to sit for the bar without having attended an accredited law school. These states still typically require that the law school register a state regulatory authority in order to qualify their students to sit for the bar. States that may register schools that are not ABA accredited include:

  • Arizona;
  • California;
  • Connecticut;
  • Georgia;
  • Massachusetts;
  • West Virginia; and
  • Tennessee.

In these states completing an online law degree 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.

Perception in the Legal Community

Online law schools are still looked upon somewhat skeptically by employers. The prestige of your law school typically fades fairly quickly, as employers look to your practical experience and track record more than the school you attended when making hiring decisions. However, the first couple of jobs out of law school, applicants are frequently judged on the reputation of their school. This could be a problem for graduates of online schools.

One reason for this circumspection involves the lack of classroom participation and on-the-fly examination that makes up a large part of the law school experience. The experience of presenting a proposition and having it assaulted by your fellow students and professor is stressful, unpleasant, and absolutely useful in preparing a student for their future legal career. This won't mean that you will be unemployable if you finish an online law degree, but you may find yourself needing to respond to these concerns when you are applying for work.

More Food for Thought

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.