With virtual education on the rise, more and more students are venturing out to discover exactly which degrees can be earned online. And a law degree is one that many people ask about. If you are seeking this type of degree, you’ve more than likely already completed your undergraduate education and are looking for a program you can fit in with your work or family schedule. The good news is that it is possible to get a law degree online. But unfortunately, you will have to attend class in person at least part of the time to be eligible to sit for the bar in many states. However, with some determination and a little knowledge, you can certainly find an option that works for you. Here’s what you need to know when searching for accredited online and continuing education degree programs.
Attorneys must pass a state bar exam to practice law. And to be eligible to sit for the exam, 18 US states require that the program they graduate from be accredited by the American Bar Association. In these states and many others, a few schools offer doctor of jurisprudence degrees as blended-study programs, meaning you can take part of your course load virtually. But no ABA-accredited programs currently offer their entire course load online anywhere in the US. There is a bright spot to the story, however. Former ABA staff consultant on legal education, Bucky Askew predicted in 2017 that the ABA would soon “broaden its standards for online law schools.” This could prove to be good news for many would-be attorneys who simply don’t have the resources required to physically attend class every day.
Exceptions to accreditation
One of the only states in the US that now offers law degrees entirely online is California. These programs are not ABA-accredited. However, in California, you don’t need an ABA-accredited degree to sit for the bar. In fact, the state has more than 40 law schools that are not accredited, and their graduates can sit for the exam. So, if your goal is to become a Bakersfield personal injury lawyer, you should be able to attend law school entirely online.
In addition, Alabama, Nevada, and Tennessee law school graduates do not have to graduate from ABA-accredited schools to take the bar exam and become attorneys. Other states have their own stipulations as well. For example, in the District of Columbia, Vermont, and Wisconsin, a student who graduated from a non-ABA school but wishes to practice law will have to meet extra education requirements before they can become certified. In each of these states, some universities offer law degrees either completely or partially online.
Somewhat of a loophole exists for students who are set on attending law school online, but do not wish to reside in one of the states that embrace it. And that loophole is reciprocity. Reciprocity is the courtesy that some states show each other in allowing attorneys who have passed the bar in one state to practice law in theirs. Each state has its own requirements, but some states, such as Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have agreements that lawyers from one another’s state can be admitted to their bar without examination. Other states will allow an attorney to bring their practices in as long as they also sit for their state bar. And then there are some states that offer no such agreements at all. But in the states that do, a person with an online degree who passes the bar in the state in which they graduated could then transfer their practice to a reciprocal state.
Whether you choose to find an online program or one that offers more of a hybrid approach, you do have options when it comes to law school. Just be sure to do your research to find a university that will give you the tools you need to pass the state bar wherever you choose to practice.