Online Law Schools: Benefits and Disadvantages

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There is a growing interest in online law schools, so I’m going to write some articles to guide people considering attending a correspondence law school online. Fortunately, law school today provides a number of options.

The interest in online law school or correspondence law school options comes from people who want to attend law school but cannot due to restrictions in their lives. These restrictions may be based on where a person must live, commitments at work, family responsibilities, or other aspects that prevent someone from doing the traditional law school route. Online law schools present accreditation and other challenges, but also provide opportunities for some.

Online Law School is Good for Some, but Not for Everyone

This article seeks to be objective. I believe online law schools are good for some people, but not all. I also believe you should understand both the benefits and consequences of attending an online law school before making the important decision of whether to enroll.

Benefits of Attending Law School Online or by Correspondence

Law students who are enrolled in an online law school cite a number of benefits:

  • Cost. Online law schools generally cost less than traditional law schools
  • Location. Online law schools provide flexibility in where law students are located
  • Time. Online law schools allow scheduling flexibility so students can learn at the times that are best for them, and take breaks at their own discretion.

Negative Aspects of Online Law Schools

Law students who attend online law schools also face a number of difficulties:

  • Becoming Licensed to Practice Law. Most states will not allow new graduates from online law schools to become licensed to practice law as an attorney. This is because most states require a law student to have attended an ABA approved (accredited) law school, and currently no online law school has been approved by the ABA.
  • Learning Experience. Online law schools cannot replicate the classroom discussion, face-to-face interaction with professors and students, and law student study groups that occur on traditional law school campuses. This arguably results in a different or worse legal education.
  • Training Experience. Online law schools do not offer the same experience with extra-curricular activities like moot court or legal clinics. A legal clinic is a course, supervised by a law school professor, in which students do real legal work for clients of nonprofit, government agencies, or private law firms, including public defenders, prosecutors, or others.
  • Jobs. Although every employer is different, many employers may not give a job applicant as much credit for having attended a online law school rather than a traditional law school. This may make job-hunting more difficult for graduates of online law schools.

Who Should Attend an Online Law School?

Whether online law school is right for you obviously depends on your interests and plans. The decision might easily be made through a process of elimination.

You should not attend an online law school if

  • you want to be an attorney in your state an your state requires graduation from an ABA approved law school
  • you want the traditional in-class law school learning experience
  • you want practical legal training experiences, moot courts, or legal volunteering opportunities not offered at online law schools
  • you want the strongest resume, so employers will respect your law degree without questions regarding it being from an online law school

You should not attend a traditional law school if

  • you cannot afford to attend a traditional law school
  • you cannot live near the law school
  • you don’t have time to attend law school because you have a demanding full time job

What Do You Want to Do After Law School?

Whether to attend an online law school, or for that matter, whether to attend law school at all, really depends on what you want to do after law school. Law school is only a means to an end. If you don’t have an end in mind, it will be difficult to figure out the right means. So first figure out what you want to do after law school, and then decide if law school, and in particular, online law school, is the best way to achieve your goal.

Did I go to an online law school? No. I attended a traditional law school and am now licensed to practice law. My state does not allow a law school graduate from a Non-ABA approved law school to become a licensed lawyer. So if I went to an online law school, I could not practice law in my state.

However, I have a number of friends who attended online law school. They went to school in California. Some are now practicing attorneys in California. One practices at a large international law firm, a job he got through pre-law school connections with a lead partner. Other friends who graduated from online law schools went into other occupational areas, and some of them pursued other advanced degrees, like one who obtained his doctorate in divinity and became a pastor.

A number of my friends who attended an online law school did not realize how difficult it would be for them to get law jobs after graduating. They have been frustrated with the fact they cannot immediately practice law in most states, and even in the states that allow them to practice law, the competition for law jobs in fierce. Unfortunately, law firms, which are filled with attorneys who graduated from traditional law schools, often prefer graduates from traditional law schools. As a result, graduates from online law schools have much difficulty getting hired at a law firm unless they have their own connections.

Conclusion: Carefully Consider Whether Online Law School is Best for You

The benefits and disadvantages of attending an online law school affect the law school educational experience and, more importantly, the career prospects for law school graduates. Because of the long-term ramifications of a decision of whether to attend an online law school, prospective law students should carefully consider their career interests and how the advantages and disadvantages of online law school would affect them.

Attending law school by correspondence, which is generally done online, can be a great option for some. It provides a legal education at a lower cost and with greater flexibility, often for law students who could not attend law school if their only option was to attend a traditional law school.

But attending an online law school can also be a bad option for others, especially those who attend an online law school without understanding (1) the role of ABA approval of law schools and (2) how attending an online law school could affect the ability to practice law as a lawyer in states that require ABA approved law school graduation.

Best wishes on this important decision!

How About You?

Have you attended, or are you attending, an online law school? If so, your feedback or observations would be valuable. Please tell readers of this post your thoughts on this topic or your experience by leaving a Reply/Comment below.

Are you considering attending an online law school? If you have questions, please feel free to leave a Reply/Comment below. I would be glad to address your question in a future article discussing various aspects of online law schools.

Learn More About Earning Your Law School Degree Online

Compare Top Online Law School Programs at AllOnlineSchools.com

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.

Related posts:

  1. Should I Get an Online Law School Degree?
  2. Top Law Schools
  3. For Incoming Law Students: Why Law Schools Weigh Your LSAT Score so Heavily
  4. Law Schools & Law Students in the News
  5. How to Backup Your Documents Online for Free
  6. Law Review Tip 2: Online Legal Dictionaries

7 Responses to “Online Law Schools: Benefits and Disadvantages”

  1. Online Law School Concerns « Legal News from an Attorney Says:

    [...] online law school guide can be found at this site discussing the Benefits and Disadvantages of Online Law [...]

  2. Tay Says:

    Actually, you can both license and practice in CA. I have also talked to the ABA in several different states to find out requirements and while most say the school needs to be ABA approved, all have mentioned what needs to be done if the school were not ABA approved. For WA the person needs to be licensed as an attorney and passed the bar in CA in order to sit for the bar in WA. Or, they would have to have 3 out of the last 5 years in practice. In FL, I was told if the school was not ABA approved that the person would need to have 10 years of practice before being able to sit for the bar. Also, it depends on what you want to do after. If you are interested in practicing in federal courts, or if you’re looking to work in state courts. If you’re looking to work in the corporate sector or private sector. Online education is tough, and in many cases the schools are well structured with tough academics (I sometimes think the extra push in academics is the school’s way of trying to make up for the narow mindedness of people). If online school works for you, and you have the means to put in the work it will take to complete it, then go for it. If you can fit traditional college into your life and your budget, and it’s the best fit for you, then go for that. Just don’t think that because it’s online that autmatically means you’re not going to be able to sit for the bar or become an attorney. Do your research for yourself. Call the ABA; they’ll answer your questions. EVERY state is different.

  3. Best Online Law Schools Says:

    [...] difficult with all the misinformation on the web. We previously compared the options of attending a traditional law school vs. an online law school. Now let’s consider how to approach online law schools when deciding which one is best for [...]

  4. Kate Says:

    Thank you for the informative article. I’d like to ask if you could address the smaller, California approved law schools. During the Civil Rights movement California lessened it’s requirement for entrance into law school from a college degree, to only 60 college units. Soon after many small law schools sprung up. You still need to take the LSAT, however, they are much less expensive and not approved by the ABA, they are CA approved.
    I am specifically considering Glendale University College of Law. My question is this, is the “eliteness” of law school really all that important? If I attend one of these smaller schools, will I always have to defend my choice? Will I never have a six figure income or work at big firm? My intention is to help the underserved, but I’d still like to make a decent living and be proud of the school I attended. I look forward to your response at your convenience. THank you, Kate

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