How Do I Earn a Law Degree Online?
Earning a law degree online is possible, but it is not an easy task. There is no online law school that is accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Only the state of California allows you to practice law after attending an online law school, and the procedures involved are not along the lines of a traditional law school experience. Outside of California, you may be able to practice law, but you will not be certified by the ABA, so career opportunities are limited. In very few cases, students from online law schools have been given the go ahead to take the bar exam, but only after taking their online school to court and showing they can adequately represent themselves in court. This can be a very costly and tedious process, so if your goal is to attend law school and start practicing after taking the bar, online law school is not for you.
If you are a resident of California or willing to relocate, you can enroll in an online law school. After one year of studying, you are eligible to take the state’s First Year Law Students Examination (FYLSE). This is also known as the Baby Bar. After passing this test, law students in California are allowed to continue their law studies and eventually sit for the California bar exam. Passing the California bar allows you to work as a practicing lawyer in California, though many practices are weary of students with an online law degree.
Some states allow you to sit for the bar after practicing law in California for a period of time (usually five years). This is something to consider if you are willing to take the bar exam again and if you don’t see yourself staying in California for permanent residence.
Three Things to Consider Before Earning an Online Law Degree
- Those seeking an online law degree should think about what they want out of a career. While in most cases an online law degree does not allow one to practice law as defined by the ABA, it can be a tool for increasing your earning potential. Many people who go to law school do not end up taking the bar or practicing law, so it is not uncommon for someone in a top level position to have a background in law.
- Be sure you have the time to devote to an online law degree before enrolling. Remember that it takes as much time and effort as traditional law school and you may also have a family and full-time job on your hands. An online law degree involves all of the fundamentals of the normal law school experience, only you’re responsible for learning the material on your own with little interaction with other students or an instructor. If you have the self-discipline to manage your time, an online law degree is for you.
- Practicing law and being licensed by the ABA is only possible for online law students who are willing to work in California. After this, you may be able to take the bar in other states and practice law there. This is a long process if you don’t already live in California and can involve relocating, which is expensive. Attending a traditional law school is grueling, but it may be easier on your wallet than moving to another state.
How to Explain an Online Law Degree to Your Employer
If you are not practicing law, there’s no distinct reason to go into a lengthy explanation of your online learning experience. Siting your degree and the name of your school is enough for most employers and they may not ask any questions on how you obtained the agree. Many students who attend online schools for post-baccalaureate degrees have ample work experience on their resume and it is likely your potential employer will focus on what you can bring to the table.
If you are probed about your law school degree, do not lie. It is important you are honest and present yourself in the best possible light. Explain what your intentions were behind obtaining an online law degree versus going the traditional route. If your intention was to move to California to take the bar and practice, but something went awry, explain that. If the purpose was to further your career without practicing law, make that clear to your employer.
While many employers are warming up to online degrees, the conservative world of law has not. Because online schools are not acknowledged by the ABA, it may be a long time before an online law degree is seen as interchangeable with a conventional law degree.
Three Hidden Costs of Earning a Law Degree Online That You May Have Not Considered
- Subscriptions – Many law schools, both traditional and online, require students to have subscriptions to major newspapers. These newspaper subscriptions can cost over $100 per year, so it is wise to go the online route. Online subscriptions are usually substantially cheaper and allow you access to all of the newspaper’s content on the Internet. You can even divide the cost with other students, since only the login name and password is needed and can be shared.
- Supplemental books – Some law courses will require books outside of what’s on the syllabus. If you can obtain the book’s ISBN, you can look for the book online. Online stores like Amazon and half.com are usually far less expensive than buying books at a bookstore.
- Upgraded hardware/software – In some cases, you will need the appropriate software for a course and your hardware may not be able to accommodate it. Remember that any purchases for educational purposes can be claimed on your taxes. If you are buying a computer that will be used for your home and school, you simply figure out the percentage of time the computer is used for courses and calculate that percentage from the total cost of the purchase.
What is a Class Like When You Earn Your Law Degree Online?
For an online law degree, the curriculum is very much like that taught in a traditional classroom. The only difference is lectures are available via podcasts, for a student to listen to on their own time and class discussions take place on a messageboard versus a lecture hall. Online courses usually operate through a classroom web platform that allows students to log in, view the syllabus, course work, dates of exams and the class messageboard.
The professor will usually give you a guided time line of what order to study things, but often there are a limited number of tests in law classes. This means you must keep up with all class work and studying on your own and be prepared when the exam rolls around. More than any other online degree, a law degree involves self-discipline and ample time committed to learning the material.