Before the pandemic, online law schools were rare, almost non-existent. But after and were forced to go virtual, students, faculty and law societies awoke to the benefits of an online law school. However, even though many law schools in both countries now offer online or hybrid courses, there are currently no online JD programs in Canada. The few online law schools in Canada only offer graduate certificates (LLM) for law school graduates. But that also might change. As we mentioned, online law school has a lot of support from students, although there is resistance from other corners. This article will give you some background on what online law schools are, look at the pros and cons of online law schools, and whether an online law school program might be good for you.
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Online law schools offer either three-or-four-year JD, or graduate law degrees through a fully online or hybrid format. They have only recently emerged as a pathway to earn a law degree because of the switch to online learning brought on by the pandemic. Previously, there were only six hybrid JD programs in the US, and no fully online JD courses in either the US or Canada.
However, the Mitchell Hamline School of Law was the first law school in the US to receive accreditation from the American Bar Association (ABA) to grant JD degrees through online or hybrid formats. But all the US schools listed here have since received approval and are fully accredited.
However, the situation is different in Canada. If you want to be a lawyer in Canada, you must first earn a certificate from the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) – the ABA equivalent in Canada – representing the Federation of Law Societies in Canada to begin the licensing process for any province in Canada. But the NCA has yet to alter its minimum one-year of in-person instruction rule for all applicants who want to earn the NCA certificate.
This means that no law schools in Canada have created either online or hybrid JD programs. The online schools we listed here, such as at the only offer graduate law courses so you can earn a certificate in a specific concentration, such as administrative, tort, or Canadian public law, after you’ve graduated from law school.
Even though there is still institutional resistance to online law school, there are a lot of people (mostly students) who support them, but there are also those who do not. Some see online law schools as one of the , since it opens up law schools to more people. Others see it as a cheapening of the profession. Both sides have good arguments and there is no one right side in this debate. We’ll run through the arguments from both sides so you can make up your mind about whether an online law school is a good idea for you.
Pros of Online Law School
Makes a Law Degree more Accessible
The requirement to attend in-person classes is a burden that not everyone can shoulder easily. Student parents, mature students, and those who work full-time may not have a lot of time to spend going to and from classes. But the situation is even worse if you live in a remote community, or anywhere outside a large city where law schools are located. Sure, some students use the time to read or get some work done, but any way you look at it, commuting two or more hours each day can be draining. Of course, there is no commute with an online law school.
You can choose your level of participation (all online law schools have various requirements, so you may be required to attend certain live lectures or not, depending on the program) since you have online access to all the materials and lectures that you need. You don’t need to stress about making it to class on-time, and you can use your free time to attend to your other obligations or to do something productive such as exercise, work, or spend time with your family. But “accessibility” does not only mean making it easy to get to class.
Makes Getting a Law Degree more Affordable
Accessibility also means making it easier for everyone to pay for law school. Apart from the time you will save attending an online law school, you’ll also save a lot of money. St. Mary’s University in Texas estimates that its online students save up to $20,000 each year from not having to spend money on rent, transportation and other in-person associated living-expenses, which is a significant amount of savings! You’ll still get the same type of education as in-person students, but a reduced cost. You’ll also save yourself from taking on an enormous amount of debt, which can hamper your post-graduation career plans.
Leads to More Diversity
So, we’ve covered that going to an online law school can save you time and money, and while those may seem like ends in themselves, they are also means to an end. Lower costs and being able to learn and study when you want means that law schools can become more diverse and accept applicants from historically disadvantaged communities. These new lawyers can then choose to practice in those same communities and increase access to competent representation and to justice, overall.
It is not always that keep people from pursuing a law degree, even at some of the ; it is also the cost. For example, one year at Osgoode Hall Law School is $25,000 CAD. In the US, one year at Syracuse Law School is even higher at almost $60,000 USD. Of course, if you really want to learn law in a residential, in-person program you can always take out loans to pay for your education, but, again, why spend the extra money to do it in-person when the online option exists and saves you both time and money?
Makes Learning Easier
Learning the law is hard. Sure, you can make the admission process easier for yourself by choosing from among the or , but that is only the beginning. Once you get into law school, it is an uphill battle. But online law school can make learning easier in some ways, although it is also challenging for reasons we’ll talk about later. For example, if you’re watching a lecture online, you can playback the entire thing to review something that was unclear the first time you watched it. It may also be easier for you to participate and ask questions, if it is a synchronous class (a class you are attending in real-time, as it is being given), as you can just type a question and not have to raise your hand.
Better Outcomes for Both Law Schools and Students
Although online law schools have not caught on in Canada, the resistance is institutional (mostly coming from the NCA) so it is not that all law schools are against it. In fact, an online law school can have many positive effects for traditional law schools such as and in the US, and the or the in Canada. They can increase their by creating online law school programs but also increase their revenue without having to invest a lot of money. Law schools and the universities they are attached to can use that money for anything from building new infrastructure, investing in scholarships and bursaries, or even reducing tuition fees for all students, regardless of program.
Cons of Online Law Schools
Makes Law School Seem “Easy”
The unspoken bias against all online programs, not just online law schools, is that they are easier than in-person programs. And even though we talked about how online law schools can make learning a bit easier, you will still be required to do as much as work as an in-person student, so don’t go into an online law school expecting an easy time. You will still have to do all the reading, researching and writing as in-person students, and also have to do that all in-person students have to do such as volunteering, internships or externships.
They are not Fully “Online”
This requirement is program-dependent as different online law schools will have different program requirements. For example, the Syracuse College of Law does have an in-person requirement for some of the classes in the online JD curriculum, so you will have to go to campus on these occasions. Other schools such as St. Mary’s have fully online programs with the online component even stretching to office hours for professors, extracurricular work (internships, externships, pro-bono work) and participating in student-run organizations or societies. This means that you never have to set foot on campus, which was the whole purpose behind St. Mary creating the program; to serve students throughout south Texas who are unable to travel to campus regularly.
No Social Component
Being around other students, but also faculty and other support staff is one of the most rewarding things about your education. Online law schools, or any online learning program, do not have that component, although there are still ways to create a community online. But the lack of a social component for online law schools is also detrimental to your ability to network and make important contacts for your future career. Again, depending on the program you choose, you may or may not have in-person interaction with fellow students or faculty, but learning alone or in isolation can be stressful for some.
Learning Online is not the same as In-Person
Of course, learning online is not the same as learning in-person, but that does not degrade the quality of what you are being taught. Online instruction is not for everyone, and if you don’t think you will benefit from an online law school, then you don’t have to go. Maybe you don’t care about the benefits (saving time and money) and want an “authentic” law school experience, and that is perfectly fine. But just because it is not for you does not mean that no one should have the opportunity to go to an online law school. We highlighted the disadvantages of traditional, in-person law schools but just because they have flaws does not mean they should not exist; and the same applies to online law schools. They are not perfect, but that should not mean law schools not even consider them.
No Access to On-Campus Opportunities (clubs, social groups)
We talked about the lack of a social component with online law schools, but whether you have the chance to interact with on-campus amenities such as social groups and student clubs depends on the program you choose. There may not be a lot of time to socialize with fellow students or form study groups in an online law school but those are trade-offs that some people are willing to accept for reduced tuition fees and more free time, in general. The people who are interested in an online law school will probably not be interested in those social components, and value accessibility, flexibility and lowered costs more than being able to socialize.
Whether online law schools are worth it or not depends on whether any degree or certificate you earn will be recognized by a licensing body in your state or province. Even in the US, where online law schools are more prevalent, many state licensing bodies still have similar requirements as the NCA, where you must have a minimum of one-year (or more) of in-person instruction to take the bar exam.
Some online law schools in the US help you with this, though, and you can first check with the school to see whether the degrees they confer will be recognized. If not, they will help you meet those requirements, by offering in-person instruction or some other accommodation.
Since online law schools are so new, state licensing boards are still catching up, or are somewhat resistant to the change, similar to the NCA. There is maybe an institutional prejudice to completing a law degree in an online format, as it is viewed as less than traditional, in-person instruction. But the tide may be turning on online law school.
This may presage more schools in the US and Canada switching to an online format for their traditional three-or-four-year JD programs. While the institutions that license lawyers may be against online law schools, students are on board. The reasons that online law schools appeal to a wide variety of current and prospective law students are varied and usually have to do with why all students, regardless of what they study, prefer online or hybrid instruction.
Even though an online law school may seem like an easier alternative to in-person law school, the admission requirements are basically the same, which means they are hard. You have to submit the same types of application materials as you would for an in-person program, which includes everything from a and a to a , if you get placed on a law school waitlist. And you also have to have competitive scores for all standardized tests and your previous schoolwork.
1. Get Good Stats (LSAT, GRE, GPA)
You can get around this requirement by choosing a program that does not require either you take the LSAT or GRE, but you can’t escape the GPA requirement. If you choose a school that requires the LSAT, you should focus on preparing for and getting a competitive LSAT or GRE score to get in. Your GPA should be higher than average (at least 3.7 or higher). Your LSAT score should be anywhere between 150-170, but the more competitive the law school, the higher your LSAT score should be. If you must take the LSAT, try to create an that you stick to so you can focus exclusively on studying for the exam and getting a good result. You can also hire an or get any other kind of to help you prepare.
2. Spend Time Writing a Great Personal Statement
Writing a law school personal statement is a typical requirement for all of the and the US, and it applies to online programs as well. In your personal statement, you can talk about things such as “” or “”, but you can also mention more personal details that have motivated you to pursue a law degree. You should not recite details from your academic or professional achievements, as submitting a is often another admissions requirement. You should write multiple drafts of your statement and give it to other people to read before you submit it, so the more time you invest in writing it, the more polished and professional it will be to the admissions committee.
3. Write a Polished Law School Resume
Not all programs will ask for a resume, but a few of the programs listed above do require them. But a law school resume is a bit different from the resume you would use to apply for a job. On your law school resume, you should highlight anything related to your preparation for law school, from volunteer or paid work, military service, awards or achievements to leadership roles, and service commitments. A lot of schools place an emphasis on community service so make sure you have had experience in this field to put on your resume. But, as with a regular resume, try to highlight something special that you did in this position (leadership, problem-solving, conflict resolution) rather than simply stating what your roles and responsibilities were.
4. Get Good Letters of Recommendation
Again, not all programs will ask for a letter of recommendation, or they make them optional. If the latter, you should absolutely take advantage and submit at least one or more . You don’t necessarily have to choose former professors or instructors, unless the law school specifies who your referees should be, but you can also ask people who have seen you work in volunteer or service commitments, which can often be more valuable as they can offer a more human perspective of you as a person. Your letters should highlight what skills and qualities you demonstrated to this person that make you an ideal law school applicant and future lawyer.
The idea of an online law school is still relatively new. It may take years before other law schools in the US and Canada try them out, but there are many reasons why they should explore the option. Online law schools provide ease-of-access to thousands more students than traditional, in-person law schools and make law student populations more diverse and inclusive. The reduced costs and the time saved with online law schools means that more students from various background can attain their dream of attending law school and hopefully, becoming lawyers.
1. Are online law schools worth it?
The answer depends on what type of student you are. If you’re a mature student with other responsibilities, or if you live in another country and want to study law in the US, online law schools are definitely an option worth exploring as they are accredited programs and give out the same type of degree.
2. Should I go to an online law school?
Again, it comes down to personal preference and where you live, since there are currently no online law schools in Canada. If you’re someone that has always wanted to study law, but chose another career path, maybe an online law school can help you realize your dream. If you have the time, resources and determination to attend law school in-person, then you should choose that path, but online law school is more an option for non-traditional law students.
3. How much does an online law school cost?
While you can save money going to an online law school because you don’t have so many additional expenses (rent, food, transportation), the tuition fees for an online program are not that lower than for in-person instruction. Online law schools have different rates based on their individual programs, but no matter the school, you will still need enough money to cover your tuition.
4. How many online law schools are there in the US?
As of this writing, there are 14 online law schools in the US offering a full JD degree in either a fully online or hybrid program.
5. How many online law schools are there in Canada?
There are no online law schools in Canada for a standard JD degree as the licensing body for lawyers in Canada requires all applicants to have at least six months of in-person instruction. However, you can take graduate law courses in Canada online at the schools we listed.
6. What do I need to get into an online law school?
You need to have a good LSAT score (if the school requires it), a high GPA, a well-written personal statement and an outstanding law school resume. You also need to have a lot of extracurriculars, such as volunteer work, internships, and service commitments to make your application stand out.
7. How long do online law schools take?
They take as long as traditional law schools – three years.
8. Is an online law school better than in-person law school?
It can be better for some, but not in an academic sense. A lot of online law schools make a point of saying they offer the same level of education as in-person classes, but with the advantage of being able to study at a distance. So, whether online law school is better for you, or not, depends on what kind of educational experience you want from attending law school.