The 2021 Guide to Online JD Programs
From government regulations to estate planning, contract disputes to criminal justice, those who have a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree have a hold on several levers of our society. An online law degree prepares you to enter the wide-ranging legal field, while online studies allow for a flexible schedule. Learn more about what it takes to get an online J.D. degree, what your coursework might include and career prospects for J.D. holders below.
Can You Become a Lawyer Online?
The answer to that question is yes. A growing number of law schools are expanding their curriculum to include online J.D. degree programs which prepare students to take the bar exam and obtain their license to practice as a lawyer in the U.S. These programs typically take four or more years to complete.
Why Obtain Your J.D. Online?
Earning your law degree online offers several advantages. The convenience and flexibility of distance learning may enable you to get a law degree while you work full time or part time.
What Is an ABA-Approved Online J.D. Degree?
An online J.D. from a law school approved by American Bar Association (ABA) lets you take the bar exam in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. By June 2018, the ABA had not accredited any law school that offered a J.D. degree entirely online. But in recent years, the ABA has been providing accreditation to programs that combine online learning with on-campus instructions.
Is an Online Juris Doctor Right For You?
You want to be a lawyer, but you don’t want – or are unable – to pursue the traditional three-year, full-time, in-class route to graduating from law school. If so, you may have a good case for obtaining a J.D. online. The benefits of earning an online J.D. include being able to juggle class schedules with your family life or professional demands. Also, online learning makes physical distance less of a barrier. That opens up a bigger pool of law schools for you.
Online Hybrid J.D. Programs
Law schools are increasingly expanding their programs to blend live online classes and on-campus learning. As more and more hybrid programs are introduced, faculty with experience in online instruction are noticing its benefits. In an Inside Higher Ed article published last year, University of Dayton professor and dean of the online J.D. program, Victoria VanZandt, said her digital course enables her “students to feel a sense of community”.
Part Time Law School Options
An alternative to online J.D. programs is to study law part time. Becoming a part-time J.D. degree student allows for further scheduling flexibility. Some schools offer evening and part-time weekend classes for working students. This route may take over four years to complete unless you apply to accelerated J.D. programs.
Online Master of Legal Studies vs Online J.D.
A Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.) is a graduate degree that’s akin to an MBA for business students. Dean of Monterey College of Law, Mitchell Winick, breaks down the differences between common law degrees in his 2014 article published on the school’s website. The key difference is that while an M.LS. program teaches students legal skills, it does not qualify students to sit for the bar exam and become a licensed lawyer as the J.D. does.
Online J.D. Degree Admissions Requirements
So, what does it take to get accepted into an online J.D. program? The law school prerequisites can vary greatly among online J.D. programs. Some online J.D. programs have the same admissions requirements for J.D. applicants as they do for residential law students. That generally means you need to have a bachelor’s degree and to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
Some schools may allow you to apply for admission with just a two-year associate degree. Generally, online J.D. programs require an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. Most also require letters of recommendation, as well as a personal statement.
It is important to note that some online J.D. programs may waive the LSAT requirement if you’ve taken the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). But If you have taken both tests, some schools will consider your scores for each test.
Online J.D. Curriculum
You can generally expect to take the same courses through online or online-hybrid J.D. programs as you would if you were studying on campus. A typical curriculum might cover the following topics:
- Torts doctrine
- Civil procedure
- Criminal law
- Constitutional law
- Intellectual property law
- Trial practice
- Family law
- Legal analysis and professional skills
Some J.D. programs that blend online and in-person courses use the traditional Socratic teaching method, which allows for debates and arguments through active classroom dialogue through webinars.
Most online J.D. programs also offer externships to gain hands-on legal knowledge. Some blended J.D. programs require that you spend several weeks on campus each year to supplement your online learning. You would be responsible for your travel and lodging costs.
Lawyer Job Outlook and Projected Growth
Law is one of the country’s best-paid professions. The median salary for lawyers in 2018 was $120,910, more than three times the annual wage of $38,640 for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The BLS projects that employment for all legal occupations will grow by 7% from 2018 to 2028. That compares to a 5% increase for the overall labor market. Lawyers are expected to stay in demand as businesses, governments, and individuals seek legal guidance.
Explore All ABA-Accredited Online Law Schools
Earning a J.D. degree from an ABA-accredited program is a right step in the direction to becoming a licensed lawyer. To date, the ABA has granted variance for only a handful of hybrid J.D. programs to expand their online courses. But the ABA has not approved any law school that offers its curriculum completely online. Below is a list of schools with ABA-accredited J.D. programs:
- Michelle Hamline School of Law (first hybrid online J.D. program approved by the ABA, in 2015)
- Southwestern Law School (approved by ABA in 2017)
- Syracuse University (approved by ABA in 2018)
- University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law (approved by ABA in 2019; and focuses on intellectual property technology, and information law)