An Accredited Online Law Degree:
Where Can You Actually Get One?

Actually, there is no such thing as an accredited online law degree or law school.

Shocking, right? Sorry to break the news.

But wait up. It's not so simple. There are "registered" online law schools "registered" in California that allow you to take the bar and become a lawyer.

Let's take a step back. What does accreditation mean? The practice of law in the U.S. is regulated by each state individually. There is no one official national or federal accreditationinstitution. Each state (that is, usually the highest court in each state) sets its own rules on how people can qualify to become lawyers.

However, by default, the American Bar Association (what is basically a trade association for lawyers) does serve as a quasi-official accreditation institution for law schools. An ABA-accredited law school is one that meets certain standards created by the ABA. More importantly, a graduate of an ABA-accredited law school is free to sit and take the bar exam anywhere in the United States.

But weirdly, according to the ABA, there is not a single accredited online law degree out there where you can get a juris doctor, take the bar exam, and become a lawyer. Not one accredited online law school worthy of the ABA's totally arbitrary standards.

Bummer, right? And not at all fair, considering all of the astoundingly crappy and new traditional law schools that the ABA has accredited recently. Crappy in the sense that more law students are paying for expensive educations with no real prospect of getting a well-paying job.

Enter the great state of California. California has always done legal things slightly differently. For years, even before the Internet, it allowed graduates of distance or correspondence law schools to take the bar exam and become lawyers.

Perhaps, once online law schools began to sprout up on the Internet, California decided there wasn't much of a difference and said, "Ah, let 'em take the bar exam. That'll show 'em."

So while there is also not a single accredited online law degree program recognized by the state of California, the online law schools there are in California are "registered" in California and make you eligible to take the bar exam.

Without further ado, here three sections on accredited online law degrees: (1) registered juris doctor degrees that let you take the bar; (2) graduate online law degrees and (3) the future of the accredited online law program.

1. Accredited Online Law Degree Prorgrams - Juris Doctor

The state of California created two categories of registered, but un- accredited law schools: " Registered Unaccredited Correspondence Law Schools in California" and "Registered Unaccredited Distance Learning Law Schools in California."

If you can tell the difference between these two types of schools (both are, to the ABA, un- accredited online law degree programs), you are smarter than me. Please write back and tell me. Because I don't understand the difference.

Anyway, here is a single alphabetical list of both types of schools, which are both basically online law schools which, if you graduate from them, will let you sit the California bar exam . As I get more comments about schools offering an accredited online law degree (or an unaccredited one, as is likely the case), I will update this:

  • Abraham Lincoln University School of Law
  • American Heritage University
  • American International School of Law
  • California School of Law
  • California Southern University
  • Concord Law School, part of Kaplan University. This is far the most famous online law degree programs (much less most famous un-accredited online law degree out there) and one of the best online law schools at the moment.. You will see advertisements for this school. Right now, if you had to attend an online law school, this is the one that I would recommend, largely because it is famous, it is well-funded and connected to a larger institution (which gives it some accountability to its students, which is still not a lot). Also I can tell you it actually exists, that I have seen with my own eyes some of the course materials on line (because a tutoring student of mine showed it to me), and that I know two people who were kicked out of the program (it's actually quite easy to be forced to leave, actually).
  • International Pacific School of Law.
  • MD Kirk School of Law.
  • Northwestern California University School of Law.
  • Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy
  • St. Francis School of Law. This is one of the best online law schools at the moment for reasons I describe here.
  • Taft Law School - this is another famous non- accredited online law school (at least relative to the others on this list). At least by measured by how many advertisements I have seen for this school.
  • University of Honolulu School of Law - Note that this is not at all affiliated with the actual University of Hawaii in Hawaii. This is based in the lovely city of Modesto, California, which has none of the waves or sense of aloha as does the actual University. It's not a lie, but it's kind of deceptive, right? That is something to consider carefully before applying here.

2. Accredited Online Law Degree Programs - Graduate Degrees

The whole idea of accreditation goes out the window once you have completed a J.D. and pass the bar. After you are a lawyer, apparently the ABA could care less about whether you are getting a good post-graduate legal education.

Think I'm kidding? The ABA specifically does not care about accrediting graduate-level law programs at all.

According to the ABA website on graduate legal studies, "The ABA does not formally approve any program other than the first degree in law (J.D.). "

The ABA does place some restrictions on the ability of law schools that already offer a J.D. program to also offer graduate legal studies. Basically, graduate law degree offerings should not impair the quality of a school's J.D. program. Which is not usually a problem. It's not like law schools cater to LLM students anyway. At most schools, they are cash cows.

Anyway, some top ranked law schools that offer a graduate a graduate online law degree (again I will list more here over time):

  • NYU Law School - Offers an online executive LLM in tax. This is one of the top 6 law schools in the country and perhaps the best tax program in the nation, along with Georgetown's, so this is a great program IF you're interested in tax.

3. The Future of the Accredited Online Law Degree Program

Random, brilliant thoughts in no particular order (remember, you read them here first!):

  • I suspect that at some point the ABA will drop its resistance to online law schools and that there will be at least one accredited online law degree program. It "accredits" some terrible, crappy schools that charge as much as Harvard Law School to give you no shot at any job better than you had before entering law school. Why not accredit a much cheaper program (usually online law schools only cost $10,000 a year) that has no worse likelihood of resulting in actual legal employment for its students.
  • I suspect that offering an accredited online law degree (again whatever "accredited" means in this context given that we are dealing with prospective students who are already qualified to practice law) could be a great cash cow in the future if law schools can find the right pricing and program. This means in turn that more and more law schools will want to offer them.
  • I suspect that offering an accredited online law degree (again whatever "accredited" means in this context given that we are dealing with prospective students who are already qualified to practice law) could be a great cash cow in the future if law schools can find the right pricing and program. This means in turn that more and more law schools will want to offer them.
  • As a result, I think that over time more top ranked law schools will start to offer online graduate law degree programs. They just need to get the right pricing and right programs. Easy to say hard to do.
  • Easy for me to say, right? Basically, you have three types of LLM students.
  • First, many practicing attorneys would take a masters degree and pa a lot if it would help them get business or advance their careers. This is true of foreign LLMs, whose law firms back home often pay for the LLM. But this is also often true of U.S. citizens who take take LLMs -- they want to make, so they will willingly pay a lot of money for the programs.
  • A smaller set of lawyers would like a graduate degree to enrich their careers or switch from profit-driven law firm or in house work to something involving public interest law such as human rights or international law. (I personally know a couple mid career students who did this). You can't charge these students as much, in theory, but many of these could be already rich lawyers who want to do something more satisfying and can afford a full-priced program. I know a couple of people like that.
  • Anyway, this is a changing environment, so I'd love to see how right or wrong I am in even five years (and for posterity's sake, I am writing this on March 22, 2012).

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