The practice of law involves representing a client in a court of law or during legal negotiations, and providing legal counsel to clients. While lawyers may also draft documents and conduct research into case and statutory law, these tasks are often relegated to paralegals, or legal support staff. To practice as a lawyer, an individual must have earned a juris doctor (J.D.) degree, in most cases from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association, and pass a bar examination to become licensed in their state. While there is much interest in online degree programs in law, it is important to note that at present there are no fully online programs leading to the J.D. that are accredited by the ABA, according to the ABA website. Since most states require students to have graduated from an ABA-accredited program to sit for the bar exam, online law school programs are not currently a feasible path to becoming a lawyer for individuals in all states.
Even so, it is possible in some states to earn an online J.D. and still be eligible to apply for their state’s bar examination. Before enrolling in such programs, however, students are urged to make sure that the distance education program is approved by the state bar as qualifying legal education. The best online law degree programs will offer a curriculum that is more or less identical to that offered by a traditional law school. Individuals interested in the top online law degree programs other than the J.D. may wish to pursue a related degree in legal studies. Students may also explore online pre law degree programs that could prepare them for transition into a traditional law school.
Online Associate Degree Programs for Law
Online associate degrees in law are more commonly available in related areas, such as legal studies, paralegal studies, and criminal justice. Associate degrees such as these are a good fit for students who wish to enter careers as paralegals, legal assistants, legal secretaries, and other legal support workers. Associate degree programs in legal studies generally include introductory courses in law, as well as courses in civil litigation, legal research, business law, and legal writing. Students will also fulfill general education requirements in college writing, mathematics, science, and humanities for a well-rounded education.
Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs for Law
Online bachelor degree programs in legal studies are the most common undergraduate programs pertaining to law, although a few programs are available in related areas, such as Penn State’s online Bachelor of Arts in Law and Society. Such programs are a good fit for individuals whose careers routinely bring them into contact with legal issues. Such careers might include human resources, law enforcement, child and family services, affirmative action, government, private business, and more, according to the program details. Course work includes Rhetoric and Law, Conflict Resolution and Negotiation, Law of Labor-Management Relations, American Constitutional Law, and more. Online bachelor’s programs in legal studies may conclude with a capstone project, in which students conduct real-world legal research.
Online Master’s Degree Programs for Law
Online masters degree programs in law and legal studies are a good fit for mid-career professionals with bachelor’s degrees in an area unrelated to law. These professionals could benefit both from expanding their legal knowledge for their career and from advancement opportunities a graduate degree might provide. Students often have the opportunity to specialize in the area that best relates to their current career. For instance, Champlain College’s online Master of Science in Law allows students to specialize in managerial law, human resources law, health law, and intellectual property law, which will accommodate people from a broad range of career backgrounds. Courses might explore an overview of the legal system and legal principles, contracts and commercial law, litigation law, tort and personal injury law, employment law, and more. While some online master’s degree programs in law or legal studies are delivered 100% online, some programs, like that offered by Champlain College, may incorporate short-term residencies.
Online Doctoral Degree Programs for Law
Online doctoral degrees in law are a good fit for students who seek careers in academia that involve scholarly writing, research, and teaching at the college level. Such programs may also be suitable for top-level administrators who want the highest possible credentials to showcase their advanced legal knowledge. Many online doctoral programs in law will require a student’s occasional presence on camps for residencies, seminars, and interaction with faculty. For example, Northeastern University’s Doctorate in Law and Policy relies heavily on online course work, but also requires students to report to campus one weekend per month. Students will take advanced courses in law, learn advanced research methods, and cap off their program with the completion and oral defense of a dissertation, an extensive document detailing the student’s original, substantive research into an area of law.
Online Degree Programs in Law in the Work Place
While the ability to become a lawyer with an online law degree is exceedingly limited, individuals in some states may be eligible to sit for the bar exam after completing a state-approved online degree program in law. Lawyers earned a median yearly wage of $112,760 in May 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Remember that this figure is not reflective of starting salaries and that salaries are highly dependent on a lawyer’s experience, area of practice, location in the country, and whether they are in private practice or a partner in a law firm. Lawyers can expect 10% employment growth between 2010 and 2020, the BLS notes.
Paralegal work and legal assisting is a more viable career path for students with related degrees in legal studies and paralegal studies. These legal professionals earned a median yearly wage of $46,680 in May 2010. As with other legal careers, salaries are dependent on a person’s experience, the size of the employing law firm or corporation, and the size of the city where the paralegal lives. Paralegals and legal assistants can expect job growth of 18% between 2010 and 2020.