Getting An Online Law Degree:
What is it really like?

So you're looking at getting an online law degree to see if they might be for you instead of "normal" law school.

By all means do your own research on online law degrees and check them out yourself.

If it interests you, I consider the best online law schools elsewhere.

What I provide below are a mix of research of existing (trying to save you some time) but more importantly personal insights of my own and students I have tutored who were attending online law schools (specifically Concord Law School and Abraham Lincoln Law School). I've also talked at length with a friend who attended one.

There is very little candid and publicly available information on online law schools generally. For instance, no one will tell you that there is no ABA accredited online law degree that will let you take the bar exam; there are only California registered programs!

I hope to rectify the lack of good information on online legal programs with this site.

Is an online law degree for me?

The answer to this question depends largely on why you want to go to law school.

My short conclusion, based on my own independent research and interactions with actual online law students is that short answer is that online law degrees are not for most people at the moment. I strongly suspect this could change over time, even over the next couple of years.

At the moment I think that online law schools are for a very particular kind of person, one who is:

  • extremely self-motivated and can learn by reading;
  • already have a successful profession in something else (say in engineering) for which a law degree or deeply understanding the law would be a tremendous benefit to that existing career;
  • cannot otherwise afford to take the time off to attend a full-time, brick-and-mortar law school; but
  • has enough time to get a steady amount of work done.

Again, at the momentI think that online law schools are specifically not for people who:

  • are not self-motivated but need someone to tell them they need to get work done (you can get kicked out of an online law school if you fall behind too far on your weekly assignments;
  • are not very sure that they want to go to law school or what they want to do after law school (although I think if this is the case, you should not go to a brick-and-mortar law school, either);
  • want to practice law outside of California (currently, the online law schools in existence only allow you to take the California bar.

Finally, at the momentI think that an online law degree may be suitable for people who:

  • really want to go to law school and face a choice between a third or fourth tier brick-and-mortar law schools without a scholarship and online law schools. (To me this is a no brainer because without a scholarship, even a third or fourth tier brick-and-mortar law school may cost you as much as Harvard Law School, or about $200,000 these days, whereas an online law school will typically cost you $10,000 a year for a total of $40,000.
  • want to be lawyers but don't have and cannot get the basic credentials necessary to apply to brick-and-mortar law schools, i.e., cannot or do not have time to finish undergraduate studies and the LSAT.
  • want to practice outside of California someday but have the patience to wait a number of years until they can waive into other states.

What is an online law degree like?

Law schools online differ from their brick-and-mortar counterparts in many ways, some of which are obvious from research you can do on the internet and some of which are not at all obvious.

First, most of the law schools online are for-profit institutions not attached to traditional research universities.

Second, online law schools kick out plenty of students because they don't keep up. I have had one friend and one tutoring student get kicked out of an online law school because they fell behind too far on their weekly assignments.

These law schools do announce on their websites that you cannot continue the third or fourth year of the program if you do not pass what is known as the California baby bar, a preliminary bar examination covering first-year subjects (not the full, real, grueling three-day exam California gives).

But most schools don't tell you that you can be kicked out, with no chance to finish your online law degree or reclaim the tuition you've already sunk into the program, just for not keeping up with the weekly assignments. (Of course, most schools don't tell you that they do not offer an ABA accredited online law degree, and that no one does.

This is a huge difference from brick-and-mortar law schools, which usually base your grade solely on your final exam. No one knows if you have done the required reading or not, and you don't get quizzes or other interim tests.

Actually, although my friend and student were shell-shocked when they were kicked out of their online law degree programs, I think that this policy is not entirely a bad thing, even if it is harsh and traumatizing.

In a "normal" law school you can very often get terrible grades or clearly be someone not suited for the legal profession, yet you will not be kicked out because the law school is making so much money off of you. Yet you are better off getting kicked out, especially if you are not at a top law school, because if you are only a mediocre student, you face the very real prospect of graduating with $200,000 in debt but no means to pay it off.

Of course, the paradox is that online law schools are almost all for-profit, but they kick people out perhaps contrary to their apparent economic interests because quality control is a huge issue for schools offering an online law degree at this moment. Perhaps such strictness is in their long-term economic self interest.


Manny Recommends:

Here are my personal recommendations for products and services that I have reviewed that can improve your results in law school.  This list is short because I include only my top picks.  

7Sage Law School Prep  - Get top grades in law school. 
Planet Law School - Understand the law school game.


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