Advertisements for an online law school appear very frequently these days. Perhaps you have received emails or seen advertisements about how you can become a lawyer via an “online school”? Does the sales pitch sound too good to be true? Law School education at a fraction of the cost and all you have to do is sit in front of a computer?
Unfortunately, the realities of law school online and online law degrees require a lot more investigation than you might think.
To legally practice law in a State in the United States requires formal admission to that State’s bar. Therefore, the resulting problem is that each State in the United States has its own rules for licensing lawyers to practice in their respective States, which means there are fifty (50) separate sets of rules and regulations regarding lawyer licensing.
These rules vary from State to State but generally speaking the licensing process for all States require satisfaction of three elements: 1) Education Standards approved by that State; 2) Academic Testing (or bar exam); 3) Character and Fitness Standards (no major crimes, convictions, etc.). An online law school is weak regarding the first element; Education Standards.
Put yourself in the position of a State in the United States: Do you want to have highly trained lawyers representing your citizens and working for your government? Do you think that having properly trained lawyers would have a positive or negative effect on your State’s economy?
Logically a state desires to ensure that the lawyers that practice in their State have the education to handle the complex legal issues and problems that a lawyer will come across in the practice of law. Lawyers are involved in every aspect of daily life… Having inept and poorly trained lawyers is not beneficial for the efficiency of running the State and overall can be very bad business and have disastrous consequences for a State’s economy.
Therefore, States require that you (as a prospective lawyer) receive a certain amount of legal education (or school hours) before you are allowed to sit for that particular State bar exam. But again, the standards vary from State to State.
With the advent of technology, the ability to educate and learn via the internet has created the possibility of obtaining a law degree online.
If you attend and graduate from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) for all intents and purposes you automatically satisfy the education requirement for licensing in every State in the United States.
However, currently the ABA does not permit ABA approved law schools to teach more than 12 credits online, so no online law schools are accredited by the ABA. The ABA’s justification is that the education of a lawyer requires close and intimate work with other law students and law school professors.
Understand that most states will not allow applicants for their bar exam if they have online law degrees. What that means is that if you graduate with a law degree online you may have a law degree, but you will not be permitted to practice law or obtain employment as a lawyer in most States.
There are however exceptions… There are a handful of States that will allow you to sit for their bar with a diploma from a non-ABA approved law school. However, often you will have the burden of proof to justify the adequacy or special circumstances of your case so that you may sit for that State’s bar exam. But again, this varies State by State.
Other States allow you to petition the State’s bar for permission to sit for the bar exam. This essentially puts the burden of proof on you the graduate to prove special circumstances that justify you being allowed to sit for the bar exam.
This is not an advisable position to be in after paying for and attending law school. Wouldn’t you rather spend some time investigating this before going forward? If you are considering the online school route we advise you to thoroughly investigate which States will honor a diploma from your prospective law school, and get it in writing!
In receiving your legal education via online schooling, you must conduct a proper investigation. Before you commit to an online law school first either; A) conduct your own research with your State’s bar (simply do an internet search for “____ state bar admission council” and write them a letter or email) or B) ask the enrollment officer at your law school the following:
If the answer to all of the above is “NO” then that law school is educational only in purpose and you will NOT be allowed to practice law anywhere in the United States.
I have heard several professors comment on the issue of online law school, and the overall opinion is not positive. The focus of the complaints being that online schools do not provide the student with the in class discussion, analysis, and experience of “being on your feet”, which professors argue is extremely important to prepare a candidate for the practice of law.
I personally take no position on this matter except to say that experience is the mother of all teachers, and after a year or two practicing the online law school lawyer will probably develop any such necessary skills.
However, the important question should be how do employers view an online law school graduate?
Most practicing lawyers that contribute to this website do not practice law in States that permit online law school graduates to sit for their State bar exam. So we cannot comment as to our personal experiences with hiring a lawyer who graduated from an online law school. However, the rumor is that lawyers who have graduated from an online school are generally not as competent as lawyers who attended an ABA school, and further employers more often than not choose an ABA graduate vs. an online law school graduate for employment.
Perhaps someday such a stigma may end; however at this point in time employers do not seem to favor candidates with online law degrees.
i) Each State in the United States has its own Education Standards requirement for licensing.
ii) ABA graduates automatically satisfy the Education Requirement for all States in the United States.
iii) No online law degrees are accredited by the ABA, so in short if you did attend an online law school, you could easily find yourself with a degree that does not allow you to become a lawyer because most State bars will not allow you to sit for their bar exam.
iv) Employers generally hire an ABA graduate over a graduate from online law school.
v) There are other options however, as most law schools have a part time program or night program that you can attend while maintaining your day job. Don’t give up if you really want to become a lawyer!
vi) You can go to an online law school, but you better make sure your State allows graduates to sit for their bar exam before attending the school, and get that response from the State bar in writing!
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