How To Become a Lawyer Online in the United States

Education has evolved over the centuries. While your great-grandparents might have tales of a one-room schoolhouse, you’re able to get advanced degrees from the comfort of your home. Some law schools have created flexible programs that allow you to attend online, either full or part time. If your dream is to become a lawyer, you have more options than ever.

Can You Go to Law School Online?

There are options for attending an accredited law school online. Although some of these Juris Doctor (JD) programs are mostly online, they are actually hybrid programs. You should prepare for a structured program that requires you to spend some time on campus. Unlike some online programs, you won’t have total flexibility about when you do your coursework since most online JD programs require you to participate in real-time classes and discussions in order to keep their American Bar Association (ABA) accreditation.

Historically, the ABA wouldn’t sanction a 100% online law program. However, the COVID-19 pandemic may have permanently shifted the ABA’s thinking on this matter. During 2020 and 2021, the ABA gave some law schools waivers to offer predominantly online JD programs. If graduates are successful and bar passage rates aren’t affected too drastically, the landscape of online legal programs may change in the future according to The National Jurist.

How Long Does It Take To Get a Law Degree Online?

Law school programs are traditionally three-year programs. However, most online hybrid programs may take a little longer. You can expect the program to take four years to complete if most of your coursework is through distance learning.

Spending four years to earn a JD might seem daunting. Perhaps it may not fit well into your current situation because of your family obligations, current profession or finances. If this is the case for you, you might consider an online Master of Legal Studies instead. This degree won’t allow you to become a lawyer, but it may prepare you for an alternative career in law or business, in which you interact with the law and practicing attorneys. Learn more about whether a Master of Legal Studies is worth it for you.

8 Steps To Becoming a Lawyer Online

How to become a lawyer varies slightly from state to state. If you’re interested in completing a JD and taking a bar exam, research the requirements in the state where you hope to practice using the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements 2020 from the National Conference of Bar Examiners [PDF, 10.6MB]. Different states have varied views on letting online students sit for the bar. (This may change if the ABA begins to more widely accredit online programs, however.)

If you want to attend a hybrid program, consider reviewing the state requirements where those schools are located. However, you may take a bar exam in a different state than where you went to school. Some students may graduate from a program in one state and return home to take the bar there.

Certain steps are the same across the board. However, following these steps won’t guarantee that you’ll become a lawyer. But understanding the path is beneficial in helping you decide if this is the right career for you.

  1. Take the LSAT

    A majority of law programs require an LSAT score for admission, though some accept a GRE score. You may be able to take the test online through the LSAT Flex, according to the Law School Admission Council.

    Many people consider the LSAT a challenging test, and because it costs $200, you don’t want to have to take it too many times. You may want to get yourself a good LSAT study guide or take a prep course. LSAT scores range from a lowest possible score of 120 to the highest possible score of 180. The higher your LSAT score, the better. You may consider looking at the median scores for matriculants at the programs you’re interested in to give yourself a general goal.

  2. Apply to Law Schools

    Once you have a good LSAT score, you may apply to your preferred law schools online. A number of schools currently have ABA waivers for online programs. Several other law schools have partially online programs that don’t need an ABA waiver.

    Be sure to research the school’s ABA accreditation for an online program. If you’re not sure if a school is accredited, consider reaching out to the school directly.

  3. Complete an ABA-Approved Program

    Completing your three- or four-year program is one of the most important steps to becoming a lawyer since you can’t practice without a degree.
    During this time, you might also want to look for volunteer and work experience in the legal field. Internships, fellowships and clerkships are available to law students and allow you to gain firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to work in law, according to the ABA. It may help you narrow down the kind of law you’d like to practice and which areas interest you most.

  4. Pass the Ethics Exam

    Every jurisdiction, except Wisconsin and Puerto Rico, requires you to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) before becoming a licensed attorney.External link:open_in_new This is a two-hour, 60-question multiple-choice examination that measures candidates’ comprehension of established standards related to the professional conduct of lawyers. Typically, the MPRE is taken before the bar exam. However, you may sit for the bar before passing the MPRE, but you’ll have to pass the MPRE before a state swears you in.

  5. Apply To Take the Bar Exam

    Becoming a lawyer requires applying for the bar exam and being approved. Bar admission rules vary by state. If you want to practice in a state that doesn’t traditionally let online students sit for the bar, you will have to make a formal appeal. While the bar is historically an in-person exam, changes may have been made in recent years. Just remember to check the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) website for updates

  6. Pass the Bar

    The bar exam is generally considered to be a lengthy, difficult test. According to recent ABA data, about 75% of candidates pass the bar the first time they take it. Take a look at our Bar Exam Study Guide to learn more about the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), the components of any bar exam and tips on how to study effectively. Many students enroll in a structured bar prep course following their last semester of law school.

  7. Be Sworn In

    The final, official hurdle to becoming a lawyer is an in-person swearing-in ceremony. The ceremony consists of another lawyer making a motion to admit you to the state’s bar that a judge will then grant. Most states have you take an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the profession.
    There may also be a fee associated with the ceremony. Each jurisdiction varies, so you’ll need to research yours for any additional details.

  8. Complete Continuing Education and Pay Your Dues

    Once you graduate from law school, pass the bar, are sworn in and—depending on your state—receive your attorney number or bar card, you can begin your career as a lawyer. But your work isn’t over just yet.

    Lawyers are required to complete mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) credits and pay annual fees. These requirements vary by state, so you’ll want to do your research. Plenty of MCLE opportunities are online.

Does an Online Law Program Prepare You To Practice Law?

Whether or not an ABA-accredited law school prepares you to practice law is a matter of some debate. Many graduates may feel they aren’t adequately prepared to run a law practice or succeed as associates at firms. There’s a lot you have to learn on your feet after you pass the bar exam and become licensed. Online law degree programs are no different.

It’s a good idea to look closely at each school’s curriculum. Online programs should cover fundamental legal concepts, the law and analytical skills just as thoroughly as in-person programs. Deciding between an online or an in-person program comes down to you and how well you handle learning on your own, outside of a classroom.

If you’re worried about whether or not an online program provides a practical education, don’t be afraid to reach out to schools with questions. Ask how they prepare their graduates to pass the bar exam or get an associate position.

Is an Online Law Degree Worth It?

Whether an online JD is worth it depends entirely on your goals and what you’re willing to spend on a legal education in terms of money, time and effort. Most online law degree programs aren’t completely online, so you’ll have to consider time on campus as part of your schedule. Research the requirements for becoming a lawyer as well as programs available for your state to find the best path for you.

Whether you attend law school in person or online, you will have the opportunity to learn about the law, gain critical-thinking skills and prepare for a legal career.

Last Updated February 2021