Distance education law degree: Is it as good as traditional law schools?

Distance education law degree under a microscope has its pros and cons.

Is a distance education law degree as good as one from a traditional law school? In this video, experts weigh in on the pros and cons of distance education (not just law degree).

Law education has evolved since its beginnings in Colonial America. Is distance education just part of the growth and change naturally occurring in education. A comparison with how law education has differed abroad could be illustrative.

Distance Education Law Degree

In England and most of the rest of Europe, a career in law starts in undergraduate studies, unlike the United States which basically christened the Harvard post graduate model for national implementation. But with the crisis of a glut of grads and a diminished job market, the ABA is re-examining its accreditation process which currently excludes online law schools. Expect them to relax policies in the near future.

As you explore the distance education law degree option, make sure to research your school’s:

  • first attempt bar passage rate
  • total costs of coursing the program
  • how many years will it take?
  • how many hours of study weekly?
  • rates of employment in legal careers 9 months after graduation for previous students
  • access to professors and other students through emails and chat
  • credentials of professors

Virtually every law school utilizes the same books and curriculum, so what makes a difference is how hard a student works towards learning the law,” said Chuck Katz, an online law degree grad.

Online legal studies program: Gaining sway

Online legal studies program is being defended by the cream of the crop. Top-tier Washington University broke ranks with the critics and joined the criticized when it offered a master’s in law (LLM) completely online in 2013.

I think if we can deliver legal instruction online to people at a level of quality that mimics what we’re able to do in the classroom, it’s going to be an agent of change over the coming years, even if people don’t want it to be. And the best schools are going to face that, and are going to make what they do better in all their degree programs and instruction, and everybody else is going to be left behind.”
— Kent Syverud, Washington Law School Dean, from Inside Higher Education

Other traditional law schools to break into the online market are:

  • New York Law School
  • Loyola University
  • University of Alabama
  • Vermont Law School

Online Legal Studies Program

Most of the pioneers of distance law school are in California, where laxer rules allow online law grads to take the bar, widely considered the toughest in the nation.

The Founding Fathers were trying to set up a society that was based on the theory that they did not want a tyrant.” — Lecturer on sample constitutional class at Abraham Lincoln University, one of the many law schools in online market today.


Online legal studies programs stand up under fire

Online legal studies program have been criticized for lacking in interaction with fellow students and face-to-face encounters with professors, deemed important for the traditional Socratic approach to law school. The American Bar Association has allowed only 12 units of online studies for accredited law schools, which rules on the total online legal studies program. Since most states require you to attend an ABA-accredited school to even take the bar, your options are uphill. Ironically the state with the toughest bar exam, California, is the only state that allows all comers to take the test. A number of online legal studies program students have passed the California bar.

Check out the video: ALU.edu Online Law School – Constitutional Law Class Lecture


Law degree online: you do the math

Law degree online stands to grow substantially this year. The New York Times reported on Jan. 30, 2013 that spiraling law school costs coupled with slumping job prospects led to a 20% fall in applications to the traditional sit-in-class institution. At $45,000/ year average, prospective students are choosing business, medicine and other careers. With good reason, when they get out of the traditional law school, they are crushed by $150,000 debt — and the six-figure law career they sought remains elusive.

You do the math. At around $10,500 a year, the law degree online is a positive alternative.

We are going through a revolution in law with a time bomb on our admissions books,” said William D. Henderson, a professor of law at Indiana University, quoted by the Times. “Thirty years ago if you were looking to get on the escalator to upward mobility, you went to business or law school. Today, the law school escalator is broken.”

Law degree online

Law degree online capitalizes on traditional schools’ demise

With the lowest enrollment since 1977 in traditional law school, cutbacks, layoffs, staff buyouts are planned for the fall, the Times reported. With clouds gathering over such schools, bar association leaders are looking at alternatives. To reduce student debt, New York is examining the possibility of taking the bar in two years instead of three. Expect bar association officials re-evaluate the online option.

As pundits foresee a revolution in the world of law, the online law degree stands to come out a winner. You decide whether this option is the wave of the future. Do the economics of the law degree online outweigh the naysaying of an industry steeped in tradition?

Fun facts about law degree online:

  • 60 college credits and 864 hours per year of correspondence law classes qualify you to take bar exam in California
  • In 2008, an average salaried lawyer in America earned $110,590 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • To become a lawyer in America, you must earn a Juris Doctor. But in many other countries you need only a Bachelor of Laws
  • Before law school, common undergraduate degrees are philosophy, English and history.
  • You must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA through law school.

* Read more: For an in-depth critique of the current law school panorama, read “Failing Law Schools,” by Brian Tamanaha. He catalogues in detail how law schools fudge their data and over-charge tuition in pursuit of high ranking at the expense of the population demographics they serve or could serve.