Guide to Earning an Online Law Degree
Students may find that online law degrees that prepare them for the bar exam in their state very rare. Bachelor's and master's degree programs in law-related fields are more common. These degrees may be intended for aspiring or already-licensed lawyers, as well as others seeking law-related careers.
Online Degree Options
Online degrees in law-related fields can be found at the bachelor's and master's degree level. These degree programs in legal studies, law and society, or related fields are appropriate for students who are interested in learning about legal theory and application. Bachelor's degree students may prepare for law school admission. Lawyers who have already earned a Juris Doctor degree and have been admitted to the bar may enroll in a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree program.
According to the American Bar Association, there are no fully online ABA-accredited Juris Doctor (J.D.) programs that prepare students to take a bar exam (www.americanbar.org); however, there are some schools that offer non-accredited J.D. programs. Students in these programs typically have a path to the bar exam in the same state in which the school operates. Other states may, in some cases, allow lawyers from other states who are graduates of programs not ABA-accredited to sit for the bar exam, as long as they have a minimum of experience as a practicing attorney in their home state.
Some bachelor's and master's degree programs offer students the opportunity to earn academic credentials as they earn college credits on the path to their final degree. For example, bachelor's degree students may be able to attain an associate degree or certificate part-way through the program. Master's degree students may be able to earn a certificate after a certain number of credits.
Online Law Program Characteristics
Online Student Profile
Most schools offer their online law degree programs with the full-time working adult student in mind. Admissions may be considered on a case-by-case basis for non-traditional students or students with varying levels of academic or professional experience who demonstrate that they may be able to benefit from the program. Some schools don't require common standardized test scores as part of the application process.
How Online Learning Works
Oftentimes, an online law degree can be completed without any visits to campus. In cases where periodic short-term residencies are required, they typically last less than a week.
Program entry dates can vary, and students may have a choice of start dates; however, classes often have firm start and end dates. Students might also have the flexibility to compress or extend their course length to fit into their schedules.
Schools that offer online law degrees may use an electronic course delivery system, which usually means one-stop access for course materials, assignments, class message boards, instructor and student communications, and more. Some lectures take place in real-time, while others are recorded and made available for asynchronous student access. Some interaction between teachers and students may take place by chat, e-mail, or telephone.
Specialized Services for Online Learners
Online students can frequently access specialized services geared toward their particular learning situation. Some schools may offer technical help via e-mail, instant message, chat, or phone. Extended service hours can accommodate online learners' schedules. Library assistance, including access to online databases and digital resources is often available. Distance learners may also be able to get help from on-campus librarians with performing research and acquiring materials. Services for online learners may also include help from the school's writing center, tutoring, exam proctoring, and faculty mentoring.
Schools may specify hardware, software, and operating system requirements, as well tools for access and participation, like a headset and microphone. Students are generally expected to know how to send and receive e-mail and attached files in order to fully participate in their classes.
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