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Should I Get an Online Law School Degree?

Update: Here are some additional resources on online law schools and online law degrees.

Have you ever wondered whether online law schools are scams? To date, the American Bar Association has not approved any online law schools. Recently, advertisements on Law Student have included Google ads for online law degrees. We can’t easily prevent these ads, but we can evaluate them.

What is wrong with online law degrees and online law schools?
Google ads promote Concord Law School, California School of Law, and The Novus University. Many other online law schools exist, such as the William Howard Taft University and the Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy.

The problem is these online law schools are not approved by the American Bar Association, and as a result, very few states will allow graduates of these schools to take the bar exam required to become a licensed attorney in that state. In other words, students can get online law degrees, but they can’t practice law in most states.

California is the Exception for Online Law School Admission
California is one state with an exception. California does not require students to have degrees from an ABA approved law school before taking the California bar exam. However, passing the California Bar Exam is very difficult. And statistically, students from law schools not approved by the ABA fail the California Bar Exam more often than other students.

Other California Challenges: Passing the Bar and Getting a Job
Once students from a law school not approved by the ABA pass the California Bar Exam, they have other problems.

First, these students can generally only practice in California, but some states make exceptions after the student practices law in California for a few years.

The next challenge is getting a job. Students from a law school not approved by the ABA will automatically be categorized as less qualified than other law school graduates, which is especially a problem in a tough job market with many law students seeking legal jobs.

Deception of Online Law Schools and Students’ Reliance on the Deception
The problem with online law schools is they advertise themselves using terms like “accredited,” “recognized,” or “registered with the State Bar of California.” This misleads prospective students into believing an online law degree has the same credentials and standing as a law degree from an ABA approved law school. In reliance on this, students invest thousands of dollars and years of their lives only to experience great disappointment upon realizing the limitations of an online law degree.

On the Other Hand
Of course, there are students who realize the limitations of an online law degree. Also, some students wouldn’t be able to get any law degree if they couldn’t get an online law degree. Further, students may not want to practice law, so they don’t care about not being able to take the Bar Exam. Finally, some students of these schools are happy with their online law degree.

While all these things may be true, two concerns remain:

  1. Most students seeking online law degrees probably don’t know how limited their degree is, and they don’t know the challenges they face.
  2. Even if students know the limitations of an online law degree and don’t intend to practice law, they may change their mind about this after it’s too late. They will have spent thousands of dollars and years of their lives on a degree that fails to allow them to practice in the exact area they have been trained.

Conclusion: Enroll in Online Law Schools with ALL the Facts

I have no axe to grind with online law schools. But people considering an online law degree deserve to enroll with their eyes wide open. Online law schools should not mislead students into thinking their law degree is equivalent to a law degree from an ABA approved law school.

Learn More About Earning Your Law School Degree Online

This article is one of a series of online law school articles. Read the series here: online law school.

For more information, visit our Online Law Schools section or this website: Law School Online.

Leave a Comment

  • Shaphan September 18, 2007, 8:22 pm

    What about STETSON university in Florida? It is ABA accredited and it is online as well…right? Have I been duped into hope?

  • Law School Editor September 19, 2007, 8:37 am

    It appears that Stetson has an online LL.M. program. See http://www.stetson.edu/administration/marcom/media/spring07/law.pdf. However, I don’t believe LL.M. programs are regulated under ABA’s J.D. approval standards. Most states require a J.D. degree from an ABA approved law school to practice law in that state.

  • Lou June 5, 2008, 10:42 pm

    Thanks-informative and concise. I appreciate the info.

  • Bobby April 27, 2009, 11:34 am

    Thanks! Very helpful information.

  • WannaBLawyer September 29, 2009, 11:55 am

    As I understand it, if I go to an online law school and can pass the California BAR, I am allowed to represent in Federal Courts. Is that true? If so, does that mean that, although NY will not let me take the BAR, I can still represent in Federal court in my NY district, so long as I restrict my legal activities to only federal matters?

  • Law School Maven October 27, 2009, 5:20 pm

    The website for the Califonia School of Law, found at http://www.californiaschooloflaw.com/, lays out the following possibilities for practice outside of California after graduating from that online school:

    With a little investigation students will find that some other [outside California] states: will allow our graduates to sit for the bar exam after graduation; will allow our graduates to sit for the bar exam after passing the california bar exam; will allow our graduates to sit for the bar exam only after first gaining experience as an attorney; will NOT allow our graduates to sit for the bar exam

    You can contact your state bar to find out if a California Distance Learning law school satisfies the educational requirements. You can find a directory of state bars at ABA.Net.

    If you want to practice law in a state that currently will not allow our graduates to sit for the bar exam, there are some options.

    Federal Agencies and Courts
    If you pass the California State Bar and find employment with the Federal Government or Courts, you can work in any state. Graduates can work for agencies like; The Justice Department, Social Security, IRS, EEOC or federal courts.

    State Agencies
    If you pass the California State Bar, in some states an exception for state government employees has been made for agencies such as the city attorney or public defenders.

    In House Counsel
    If you pass the California State Bar and find employment as In House Counsel with a corporation, some states will allow you to work as an attorney for the company.

  • Law School Maven October 31, 2009, 5:50 pm

    An interesting article on the factors to consider in deciding which online law school to choose to attend is at http://www.hundredsofheads.com/80-1135.Forum/.

    The author, an experienced lawyer and legal educator, with experience in the field of online egal education, addresses the following topics:(I) Whether the law school utilizes the universally preferred Socratic Method in its teaching program; (II) Whether the law school actually is an online law school; (III) Whether the law school is “producing” a significant number of law students eligible to take the requisite First Year Law Student Bar Exam; and (IV) Whether students at the law school are able to pass the First Year Law Students Exam (“Baby bar”).

  • Law School Maven November 6, 2009, 5:10 pm

    The first line of the article above reads: “Have you ever wondered whether online law schools are scams?”

    One thing, for sure is that my law school, the California School of Law, is not a scam. That my law school is a bona fide institution is proven by the fact that every entering student, before being formally admitted, must pass a pre-admission course designed to “weed out” those students who lack either the comittment or the academic ability to perform at a high quality law school. No tuition is charged for this course. I am informed that about 20 to 25 % of the students either fail the course or voluntarily withdraw. Further, I am informed that the School just had its registration confirmed, after a thorough review, by the State Bar.

  • 1elle May 17, 2010, 6:29 pm

    @Law School Maven:

    “That my law school is a bona fide institution is proven by the fact that every entering student, before being formally admitted, must pass a pre-admission course designed to ‘weed out’ those students who lack either the comittment or the academic ability to perform at a high quality law school.”

    This, quite frankly, doesn’t prove anything. It may not be a scam, but having admissions standards (however “standardized” they may not be) is not indicative of anything, really, besides… having admissions standards.

  • Accredited Online Courses September 12, 2010, 12:00 am

    Totally agree with your views on this issue. Schools should not pass themselves off as accredited unless they really are. Students should do their due diligence however and research various options regarding accredited online courses and schools before enrolling and giving up their hard earned cash.

  • Aspiringlawyer October 23, 2010, 11:25 am

    A person graduating from an accredited online law school may sit for the California Bar Exam. It is up to each person to study and pass that exam, and there are many states that will allow one to take their bar immediately, such as Washington State,after passing the Californa Bar. Of course if a person could go to a traditional law school, this would be adavatageous, but many could never afford or have the time later in life to do such a thing. Once you are a lawyer there are an endless amount of opportunities available to you, no matter how you became one. Anyone smart enough to make it through an online law school would have all these facts. This article is very misleading, and semi-accurate. I am an online law student, and it is hard work, just as hard as any law school, many will drop out, but for the few that can do it, it is worthwhile.

  • Chris K. October 28, 2010, 5:18 am

    Those of you defending online law schools clearly do not / did not have the credentials to get into an ABA school. Keep lying to yourselves that your degree is worth something, because it’s not. Good luck with getting a job and making a living in anyplace other than a third-world country. These “correspondence schools” need to be shut down by the State.

  • WannaBLawyer October 28, 2010, 8:03 am

    Chris K – that is a little harsh. As a matter of fact, I scored in the 95th percentile on the LSAT and had a choice of ABA approved schools to attend. Sometimes the issue is not intelligence related. Did it ever occur to you that not everyone can suspend their life completely to attend a full time traditional law school, or that there are some people who think that traditional law school may be over priced? Unless you know why the individual is considering an online alternative to a traditional law school, you should try to avoid stereotyping. There are many valid reasons to consider an alternative to traditional law school.

    I will agree that it is more difficult to convince the world that a non-traditional law school degree is valid, but it seems to me that if one can pass the bar exam, they should have earned some credibility right there. I think that the issue may be that those who graduated from the ABA approved school with $200k in loans do not want to feel robbed when they see a fellow collegue who graduated from a non traditional school with little or no debt. They refuse to believe that a degree that costs any less to obtain could possibly be viable.

    I do not have a law degree from an ABA approved school or other, but I do understand the issues here.

  • Chris K. October 28, 2010, 6:21 pm

    WannaBlawyer: WHO do you think you are FOOLING by claiming to have scored in the 95th percentile yet chose to attend a non-accredited, online “correspondence” law school? Seriously, stop the BS and stop insulting people’s intelligence. You may be able to fool YOURSELF or a FEW uninformed people, but these shenanigan’s will not work in the legal community. I refuse to have an intellectual debate with someone who is being blatantly disingenuous.

    To aspiring attorneys: Take the LSAT seriously. Create a study-schedule and stick to it, taking as many practice questions and exams as possible. Do not, I repeat do not, take the LSAT until you are fully prepared and are confident that you can score well enough to get into an ABA-accredited school. Indeed, LSAT preparation companies will give you this same advice. There are no shortcuts – with hard work and effort, you can do it. Do not let WannaBlawyer’s comments (about convenience, cost, etc.) discourage you. If you truly have a life-event that is keeping you from attending an accredited law school, then please, take time off to get your affairs in order because law school is a serious, yet worthwhile, commitment.

  • WannaBLawyer October 28, 2010, 8:58 pm

    Chris K – I did not say I went to Law School. I clearly stated at the end of my post that I do not have a law degree. Read carefully… I only said I scored in the 95th percentile on the LSAT and that there are reasons other than intellect to consider attending a non accredited school. Circumstances of life prevented me from attending a traditional school (even though I was accepted) right after my undergraduate studies.

    I researched non-traditional schools recently and decided that a degree from one of these would not help me accomplish what I wanted from a law degree. Because it doesn’t work for my needs does not mean I should completely discount it for everyone. There may very well be people for whom a non-trditional law school gets them where they want to be.

    I certainly agree with you – if you can go to an ABA school, that is by far the best choice. Take the LSAT and go.

  • Cardinal November 25, 2010, 12:45 am

    I think the main area of concern here would be that of accreditation of the program and the school. There are many, many distance learning degree programs out there, but not all are noteworthy. Check first before you leap

  • Guest November 25, 2010, 1:35 am

    Harvard University should have an online law program along with other ABA schools.
    A lot of great schools have programs like business, public health, and other programs online. University of North Carolina has a doctorate program online for public health. I think law schools should start considering going online. I am sure they can get plenty of qualified applicants.

  • Guest November 25, 2010, 1:44 am

    If Harvard had an online law program or any other ABA schools many people would apply As long as it has the accreditation and people are able to practice law at whatever state that they live in.