Before we investigate online law degrees, some background on the ABA…The American Bar Association (ABA) is a professional organization to which the US Department of Education has conferred agency status for setting standards for accrediting law schools that confer a juris doctorate (JD) degree (via Title 34, Chapter IV, section 602 of the Code of Federal Regulations).
The ABA sets the standards for accreditation approval and standards of systematic review of ABA accredited law schools. Those schools that are ABA Accredited are the gold standard of law schools. Therefore, if you graduate from an ABA Accredited law school you will have satisfied the “Educational Standard” for any State in the Union. Thus, you will be permitted to sit for any State’s bar exam (so long as you meet the additional criteria).
The ABA is not the only law school accrediting agency. Following the Federal model, most States have their own agencies that have the responsibility of supervising the law schools in their own States. The default rule is that all ABA accredited law schools are accredited by the State agencies. However, there are circumstances where a non ABA accredited law school can be accredited by a specific State’s accrediting agency.
Thus, a graduate from such a law school can sit for that State’s bar exam if the State’s agency deems the school accredited irrespective of whether or not the ABA accredited that particular school.
Currently the ABA does not permit ABA approved law schools to teach more than 12 credits online. (Thus, online degrees are not honored by the ABA.) Their justification is that the education of a lawyer requires close and intimate work with other law students and law school professors.
Herein lies the problem… if you attend an ABA accredited law school you are “golden” and assuming you satisfy all other requirements you will be permitted to take any State bar exam. If you plan on attending and obtaining a degree from a non ABA accredited law school (such as online law degrees) you need to:
1) Know what jurisdiction where you desire to practice law.
2) Confirm in writing with that State’s bar admission council that if you graduate from _____ law school you will be permitted to sot for their bar exam.
The ABA seems to take the position that in-class discussions are key to learning the law. Law school classes typically rely on the case law teaching method where cases are assigned to be read by the law students and then while in class those cases are discussed, and thus the law students learn from reading the cases and discussing same in class. The case law teaching method is then combined with the Socratic method, where law school professors question (some say interrogate) the law students with questions.
The ABA seems to take the position that online law schools can require their students to read the cases, but that there is something significant lost by not being able to have the students participate in open discussion (and interrogation) in a class room setting.
Having experienced the entire process of law school (not online law school) I would agree there is something to the ABA’s position as to online law degrees, however, as any REAL lawyer can tell you, you will learn more in 6-12 months of practicing law than all three years of law school. Thus, someone who has an online law degree could probably learn same simply by the act of practicing law.
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