Which are the very best online law schools?
This is hard question because there isn't a clear ranking system -- US News doesn't rank online degree programs -- and actual first-hand information is scarce for online law schools. There isn't much accountability at online law schools.
Let's take a step back.
No juris doctor program at an online law school, at the moment, is going to give you the kind of career you would have if you attended a national top-tier law school like Harvard, or even a regional powerhouse (like University of Alabama if you live in Alabama, for instance).
Indeed, there are not that many online law schools, actually, that permit you to sit any state's bar exam. Basically, if you're you can only take the bar in California. None are, at the moment, ABA-accredited (this is important because if you graduate from a law school with ABA accreditation, you can take the bar exam in any of the 50 states of the U.S.).
There are a lot more programs that masters of law online if you already have a juris doctor.
So, with all of that as a warning, let me pick a couple of the best online law schools if you are dead set on getting an online law degree. Again, below, I consider juris doctor and LLM programs separately.
If I were, today (I am writing this in late October 2012), looking for the best online law schools for the purpose of getting a juris doctor and practicing law in the United States, I would look mainly at two schools: (1) St. Francis and (2) Concord.
1. St. Francis Law School
Here is what I can say about St. Francis School of Law. (Warning: I had some talks with administrators at St. Francis about teaching for them, so I may be somewhat biased in their favor. They struck me as earnest, sincere people who were clear about what they were doing. But please, do your own independent research as well. Don't just count on my word.).
2. Concord Law School.
Concord -- owned by Kaplan University, one of the 800 pound gorillas of online education -- is by far the most well-established and well-funded online law school out there. I am not sure if it was the first online law school to prepare students for the California bar exam, but it's the most famous. Here are my thoughts on Concord:
There may be a good reason for this (and here I am just speculating) -- Concord want to maintain a high bar-passage rate, and one way to do that is to eliminate students who seem unlikely to pass. Just keep in mind that while Concord advertises its convenience, you have to make absolutely sure you can keep up with the work for four years. (I am not sure Concord refunds your tuition if you drop out -- I am guessing they do not.)
Now, if you already have a juris doctor and are already a practicing lawyer, and you want to add a masters of law (LLM) to your resume, there are many more programs out there.
Review those programs with a careful and open eye. Even though these programs below are online, many of them are not cheaper than actual, in-person LLM programs.
Also note: one if the benefits of attending a real, in-person LLM program is networking. For instance, LLM students at Harvard and NYU meet large numbers of other foreign students. Most return to their home countries and keep their classmates around the world as potential referrals and networking contacts.
In any case, if you want to get an LLM from one of the best online law schools, these are the programs I recommend. Indeed, these are degrees offered by very prestigious schools.
Note: These programs are all "mostly" online -- that is, there are some things that you have to appear in person for, and you will need to fly to New York or Oxford, England to do some weeks or coursework or take exams.
Do you have any thoughts on these online programs? Add your two cents below or send a tweet with the hashtag #lawschoolhacker.
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