Getting a law degree is a dream for many students, inspiring long hours of study and preparation to become an attorney. However, getting a law degree is not easy if you are already working or do not have the means to attend law school full time. An online law degree could be the answer if you can find one that allows you to attend all classes online and if you are willing to go through several extra steps to become a full-fledged lawyer. Unfortunately online students are not permitted to take the bar exam in any state except California*, so you will either have to practice in that state or become licensed in other states at a later time.
Online law degrees are generally offered in two formats: a Juris Doctor degree or JD, which is the entry-level degree required to practice law; and an advanced degree such as a Master of Legal Letters or LLM. Advanced degrees are for attorneys who already have a JD but want to expand their knowledge and add another degree to their resumes.
Job Outlook for Lawyers*
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are currently 728,000 lawyers practicing in the United States. The BLS expects that number to increase to 801,600 by the year 2020, for a percent increase of 10 percent, slightly lower than the national average for all jobs. Most of the job growth for lawyers will be in the private sector and in jobs for public criminal defenders and prosecutors.
Getting In To Law School
Because growth is forecast to be relatively slow and fewer lawyers in demand to fill future jobs, law schools may become even more selective about whom they admit. As of now, almost anyone with decent grades can get into law school somewhere; however, the most selective schools demand a grade point average of 3.5 to 3.7 for admission.
The Internet Legal Research Group publishes an interesting table that shows the top 185 law schools in the country and the requirements for admission to each. It is clear from this data that a good grade point average and reasonable test scores on the LSAT or Law School Aptitude Test are necessary to get into law school.
Online law schools rarely have these types of stringent requirements. Because their requirements vary so greatly, no online schools are accredited by the American Bar Association. This is an unfortunate situation because the lack of accreditation bars the online law school graduate from taking the bar exam in forty-nine of the fifty states. This severely handicaps a budding lawyer as to the areas of practice possible and where he or she can live.
No Accreditation = No Bar Exam
Since there are no online schools accredited by the American Bar Association, most states will not allow graduates of these programs to take the bar exam. Only one state, California, allows students who have attended unaccredited online law schools to sit for the bar exam (provided the school is registered with the Committee of Bar Examiners, and also provided that students take and pass the First Year Law Students’ Examination).* However, once you have passed the bar and are working as an attorney with a California license you can often qualify to take other bar examinations.
This creates a situation that makes it very difficult for most students to use online learning to get their legal degrees. Most law students live in states other than California and intend to practice law in other places. However, in order to do this, these students must find a way to take the bar exam for that state. Some states allow students to sit for their bar exam after they have completed a certain number of years of practice as a California attorney.
Is It Worth It?
An online legal degree may be a choice worth considering for someone who wants to become a lawyer but cannot attend law school full time. The fact that the candidate will have only one choice of state in which to take the bar exam is also something to consider.
However, there may also be a middle ground between the extremes of full-time law school and a completely online degree. Many traditional law schools do offer part time programs, flexible scheduling and online classes. If you are interested in attending classes online through a traditional program, you should look at the web page of the school you are considering to see if they offer online or hybrid classes. Hybrid classes work well for law school students who are working, as most of the “in-class” time is scheduled on evenings or weekends, so this may be a good solution to your online law school dilemma.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm)
* Visit the State Bar of California website for more information about the requirements for taking the California Bar Exam. (http://admissions.calbar.ca.gov/Education/LegalEducation.aspx)