Most correspondence or distance law schools in the United States deliver content online, and opportunities are plentiful. Online law schools are attractive because they are cheaper, easier to get into and offer more flexibility for working adults. With rare exceptions, however, they will not qualify you to practice law. If you have career plans other than practicing law, or if you are seeking a degree other than a Juris Doctor, a degree from an online school may be a powerful career builder. A law degree can bolster credentials in business, government and academia.
The California Exception
To practice law in a state, you must pass that state’s bar exam. To take the exam in any state except California, you must have graduated from a law school approved by the American Bar Association. The ABA does not approve online or correspondence schools. Nonetheless, graduates of California’s 12 online law schools may take the California bar exam. Be warned, however, that the pass rate is low.
Some states will permit lawyers who have practiced in another jurisdiction to practice law in that state without re-taking the bar exam. As a California lawyer you may be able to apply for a waiver. In Massachusetts, one candidate successfully appealed the state’s ban on online graduates. Some states will also allow students who have a basic law degree from another country and an online Master of Laws from a U.S. school to take the bar exam.
Master's Degrees in Law
Master’s degrees in law are scholarly, rather than professional, credentials and are designed for lawyers, non-lawyers and non-U.S. lawyers who want to practice in the United States. They include the Master of Laws, or LL.M., Master of Science, or M.S., Master of Professional Studies, abbreviated M.P.S., the Juris Master, or J.M., Master of Comparative Law, or M.C.L., and Master of Jurisprudence, as M.J. These degrees vary by school. The ABA neither approves nor disapproves, and many are offered online.
Career Choices Other Than Law
A law degree can be a career builder in professions other than the practice of law. Most notable, perhaps, is public service, but a general knowledge of the law and the analytical and research skills learned in law school has broad application in business, government and academia. One institution’s M.J. in Health Law, for example, is designed for health care professionals who want to broaden their knowledge of health care law. Online delivery is very common, and lack of ABA approval is irrelevant.
- Above the Law: Law Schools
- American Bar Association: Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar
- Get Educated.com: Articles
- LLM Guide: What is an LLM?
- The University of Texas at Austin: School of Law
- Top-Law-Schools.com: California’s State-Accredited and Unaccredited Law Schools and the Baby Bar
Anne Wallace teaches in Indiana’s community college system, including courses in business law, business writing and paralegal studies. She has practiced law, specializing in pension and health care plans and published in "Benefits Quarterly," "National Underwriter" and "Benefits and Compensation Management." She has a bachelor’s in English from Wellesley College, and a J.D. from Fordham Law School.