July 25, 2024

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Advice for Choosing an Online J.D. Program | Law Admissions Lowdown

Advice for Choosing an Online J.D. Program | Law Admissions Lowdown

A small but growing number of law schools now offer law students the ability to earn a J.D. partly or fully online, which has undoubtedly made legal education more accessible for a range of students.

The American Bar Association, the professional organization that sets legal education standards, first allowed one-third of a law school’s required credits to be taught online in 2018. Three years later, the organization opened the doors to fully online J.D. programs as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated trends toward online education.

The ABA maintains a list of schools with partly or fully online J.D. programs. These programs differ in their rules, requirements and the student populations they serve.

Low-Residency, Hybrid and Online Programs

The Pros and Cons of Online Law Programs

Many law students may balk at the idea of paying full tuition for online law school classes. Some worry that law schools see online education as a cash cow, allowing them to accept more students at lower cost. Law schools insist that online law programs present flexible options rather than a replacement for in-person programs, but that may change in time.

On the other hand, some law students are drawn to the convenience of joining class from home. Older law students may particularly appreciate the flexibility of online classes. Online options may also appeal to students with disabilities as well as those who live far from a law school. 

As the list of partly and fully online J.D. programs grows, applicants interested in pursuing an online law program should consider the following advice.

Know That Reputation Still Matters

Since the value of an online law degree in job markets is still untested, participants may want to stick with more well-known and well-regarded programs with strong alumni networks.

For example, there are benefits of attending law school in a state where you plan to practice that may not accrue to distance learners unable to participate in on-campus opportunities. 

Note Focus Areas

Be sure to choose a program that fits your career interests.

Consider Non-J.D. Options

Applicants who already have a J.D. or a foreign equivalent might instead consider an LL.M., which is a master’s degree in law. Many schools offer fully online one-year LL.M. programs focused on legal specialties like tax or international law.

Another option to consider is an online master’s degree in legal studies, which usually takes one year as well. This program does not fulfill the legal education requirements to sit for the bar exam, although a few states offer other paths to legal practice.

Prioritize Hands-On Experience

Perhaps the aspect of legal education that graduates most value is the practical experience gained from working in small groups, legal clinics and volunteer activities on campus.

Without real-life interaction, it can be hard for online students to get this taste of life as an attorney. Before applying to an online program, make sure that it will offer experiential learning opportunities in some capacity.

Even if the benefits of in-person classes cannot be fully replicated online, the expansion of degree options may help serve law school applicants with different needs and interests. But applicants should consider such programs carefully to ensure they are worth the investment of time and money.