When it comes to legal matters, most individuals and companies prefer to leave it to the professionals, which means those with the knowledge and skills to work within this arena are always in high demand. Many different programs and levels of degrees exist, so the most important thing students can do before embarking on a program is to do lots of research. Whether seeking a career as a legal secretary or paralegal, criminal justice professional or trial lawyer, academic or policy advocate, there are appropriate online degrees to further these goals. Our guide will help students understand their options so they can make an educated decision on next steps.
Finding the right online law program is the first major research project for new students. The sheer number of online associate, bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate degrees and professional certificates ensures that the appropriate degree is available. But the prospect of searching for it can be daunting. The search tool below is designed to filter prospective law programs by key factors including tuition, college type, available programs and more to accelerate your search.
The options for pursuing an online law degree are wide-ranging and include opportunities at all levels including associate, bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate and professional certificates. Additionally, these degrees offer numerous specialties for students who seek to work in a specific legal area. Popular concentrations include paralegal studies, criminal justice, forensics, health care, and constitutional or environmental law.
Students considering an online law degree should take their time selecting a degree program based on professional goals, lifestyle, and financial aspirations. Recent salary reports highlight the wide range of pay rates: Paralegals on average make $47,000 while law firm Partners average nearly $180,000 annually. Meanwhile, staff lawyers average just over $67,000. The field of law is also known for long hours, so students should ensure they pick a field they are truly passionate about.
An online law degree at the associate level spans a range of avenues including paralegal studies, court reporting, legal studies, law enforcement, and criminal justice. These programs can typically be completed in about 15 months if attending full time or just over three years for working professionals. Paralegal studies are a perennial favorite choice given their indispensable role; the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts jobs in this field will grow 18 percent by 2020.
Professionals looking to combine their love of all things legal with law enforcement will find criminal justice programs to be of particular interest. The field offers many opportunities for diverse careers including criminology, political science, forensics, social work, chemistry, and engineering to name a few.Core Curriculum
An example of a core curriculum for an online associate degree in legal studies would include classes in topics like legal research and writing, civil procedures, the U.S. legal system and many specialized law topics including contract, administrative, family and bankruptcy law.
Students seeking further online education in law have many options when pursuing a bachelor’s level degree. Popular fields of study include pre-law, legal studies, and paralegal studies and many schools throughout the country offer excellent distance programs. Typically, these online degrees in law are designed to both introduce students to a variety of wider liberal arts topics while also developing the verbal, critical thinking, and analytical skills necessary for success in the legal profession. For students considering further legal education at the postgraduate level, a bachelor’s degree will provide the well-rounded education admissions committees will be seeking.Core Curriculum
Core curricula for bachelor’s level programs include classes on topics such as current legal issues, legal aspects of business, litigation, negotiation, analytical reasoning and advocacy to name a few.
Undertaking an online master’s degree in law offers a world of options for graduates, but it is important that students take time to identify the type of degree that will meet their future aspirations. Graduate options are offered as a variety of different degrees, including the Master of Jurisprudence (MJ), Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), and Master of Laws (LLM). The variations among these are given below:
Although an online MA in Law does not prepare graduates to practice law, this degree is well suited to professionals seeking to understand how to work with legal professionals and apply practical legal theories to their professional careers. Graduates will be able to navigate legal framework without the need to pass their state’s bar exam.
Recognizing the ever-increasing need for professionals in technical industries to understand legal and regulatory measures, the online MS in Law is a meaningful degree for students who want to take an active role in working through compliance issues, intellectual property questions, and regulatory approvals. While the degree does not prepare students to take their state’s bar exam, graduates will have a thorough understanding of how to be effective members of their organization who can provide invaluable legal support.
Designed for non-lawyer professionals seeking to increase their marketability within a chosen field, the online Master of Jurisprudence commonly provides concentrations in specialized fields, including health and pharmaceutical law, intellectual property law and financial services compliance. Given the competitive nature of these arenas, students able to navigate specific legal issues surrounding these topics will stand out from the crowd of applicants.
While the programs listed above serve as baseline graduate degrees, the online LLM is unique as professionals who have already been serving in a legal capacity such as lawyers, judges or diplomats typically undertake it. Completed in one year of full-time study, most students undertaking this degree have previously practiced law outside of the United States. However, it is also a viable option for legal professionals seeking to concentrate their authority on a specific arena. Common specializations include human rights, health care, environmental law, taxation and technology law.
Though the Juris Doctor (JD) is perhaps the most widely known doctoral level degree in law, there are various options that cater to the aspirations of those entering the legal field. Other programs potential students should be aware of include the Doctor of Philosophy, the Doctor of Law and Policy, and the Doctor of Juridical Science Distinctions among these avenues are discussed below:
Students looking to teach and research law should consider undertaking a Doctor of Philosophy with a concentration in Justice, Law and Society; Criminology, Law and Society; or Public Law. Typically these programs are offered through the graduate department of the concentration field, though there are a few offered through the institution’s law department. Online versions of these programs are rare as most still tend to be taught on campus.
Professionals looking to be movers and shakers within the world of policy analysis and research will find online doctor of law and policy programs to be an interesting choice for furthering goals. In addition to learning about the history and development of policy decisions, graduates will be highly viable candidates for roles within government agencies, nonprofit organizations, research and consulting firms and large corporations.
Serving as the most popular choice for undertaking a legal career, the JD is typically a three-year program providing students with a sound foundation of legal understandings before moving them into areas of specific interests and concentrations. Students considering undertaking the JD should be very aware that no online programs are currently accredited by the American Bar Association, the governing body for allowing candidates to sit the bar exam. California, however, is the lone state exam that does not require this accreditation.
Unlike the previous programs, professionals seeking this degree will need to already hold a JD or LLM to enroll. Most students enrolled in these programs are already established in their law careers and many have multiple years of experience under their belts. The majority of coursework is research based, with the expectation of a significant dissertation making up the bulk of the degree. It is a popular choice for those looking to take up academic positions.
A wide range of online certificate programs exists and caters to many different end goals in and surrounding the legal field. Whether interests lie in furthering skill sets relating to paralegal and legal secretary occupations or gaining further education on specific topics within law, chances are there is a suitable online certificate program.
Many schools offer certificates in paralegal studies; for professionals looking to advance their careers, this can be a worthwhile endeavor to stand out in the pool of candidates while also securing a higher salary. This type of certificate focuses on preparing paralegals to work with a variety of stakeholders within legal environments, including attorneys, witnesses, and courtrooms while also learning interview and investigation methods and building high-level legal research and writing skills. Legal Secretary certificates, meanwhile, prepare professionals to become better communicators on legal matters, produce high quality research, understand and analyze legal concepts and provide exceptional legal writing.
For those working actively as a lawyer, online certificates in topics such as U.S. Business and Constitutional Law, Estate Planning, International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution, State and Local Tax Law, and U.S. Health Law are just a few of the options available.
Legal professionals typically specialize in a few areas of law. Some of the most common concentrations for online degrees in law include:
Students with an interest all things business should consider this specialty area, which allows for a sweeping range of knowledge including topics in bankruptcy, contracts, antitrust, corporate policy, international negotiations, nonprofit organizations, private equity and securities among many others. Many lawyers specializing in business law have the opportunity to help shape and frame the ever-evolving world of commerce as it moves towards more global and technological advancement.
Constitutional law is the foundation of America and provides an underpinning for understanding both how government works and how to be an active player in continually shaping and improving local, state and federal laws. Graduates of this specialization have many career options including direct work with governmental agencies, public policy and consultation.
This specialization is especially interesting for students seeking a broad range of knowledge with an interdisciplinary approach. Students will learn how psychology, law, society, policy and history all work in concert to impact legal procedures. Lawyers in this field often find themselves working to strengthen local, state and federal security and reduce the threat of terrorism.
Various forms of media and entertainment pervade the modern world and understanding the legal framework surrounding this massive industry is always in demand. Students looking to work within creative environments will be drawn to this concentration as it provides the opportunities to work in television, music, film and other cutting edge media industries. Topics of study include copyrights, intellectual property, communication policy, trademarks and patents and other focused topics pertinent to specific media industries.
Environmental ethics permeate myriad industries; having a multidisciplinary understanding of how advocacy, public policy, economics and science all work together to affect the environmental landscape is a critical skill in many organizations. Students focusing in this specialty will be prepared to critically engage in legal work revolving around sustainability, global warming, natural resources and conservation.
According to Forbes, in 2014 the U.S. healthcare bill topped out at $3.8 trillion dollars. This massive industry needs competent and passionate legal professionals with a passion for helping people and many online degrees in law offer concentrations in Health Law. Whether graduates find themselves working with hospitals, manufacturers, insurers, pharmaceutical organizations or individual care providers, a background in this area of law will allow them to help shape the legislative, executive and judicial legal frameworks that regulate health care provisions..
For students considering a career in the legal field, it is important for each to identify what it is about the industry that appeals to them as well as what area they aspire to work in. Below are a few questions to help prospective students begin to think about these ideas.
Online education in the legal field is a constantly evolving topic; while many programs such as bachelor’s and master’s degrees can be completed online, the American Bar Association has been reluctant to accredit any online Juris Doctor (JD) programs, meaning students graduating from such programs are not qualified to take their state’s bar exam upon completion of the program, with the exception of California.
At the end of 2013, the ABA approved the first hybrid JD program offered by Minnesota-based William Mitchell Law School. This program requires students to be on campus for 1-2 weeks each semester with the remaining work done online. While no other programs have been approved yet, the ABA does review programs regularly and seems to be moving towards a more open policy towards online education in law. Still, for students seeking to take the bar exam, this should be a significant factor in their decision on whether an online Juris Doctor is the right program for them.
The credentials of faculty teaching online programs in law should be well researched by potential students before enrolling in a course; depending on the student’s goals, it will be important to know the backgrounds of professors. For instance, if the student wants to work as a paralegal, it would be important to research whether or not the professor has any on-the-ground paralegal experience or if they jumped directly into academia.
Many online professors are recognized for being at the top of their field and students should seek out the programs meeting their professional goals and being taught by excellent faculty in their area of interest. Florida State University is an example of top-tier education: the Criminal Justice program, both online and on campus offerings, include courses taught by the top two criminologists in the nation.
Most online degrees in law were designed with the working professional in mind and will provide several options for undertaking study. While full-time is always an option, many schools also offer a few different plans for completing coursework. Typically, the biggest factor to consider is whether courses need to be taken in a specific order and when/how often they are offered online.
While these services will largely depend on the individual school, most online law programs offer many, if not all, of the same benefits and resources offered to on campus students. Career services could include resume building, personalized job listings or even pairing with a graduate-mentor currently working in the legal field.
I really believe online learning is the way of the future. If you look at the traditional brick and mortar schools that provide online learning options, they are all pioneers in cutting edge education. It was also very significant for me that the program really understood the daily demands of working professionals trying to go to school while also having lots of other responsibilities. I could do my work whenever best fit my schedule, whether that was during my lunch break or after my children went to sleep. I loved the flexibility!
Yes. Thankfully my employer was also gracious and understood whenever I needed a longer lunch break to take a quiz and also offered me great resources that contributed to some of my papers written for my degree. The program is very rigorous and I probably spent about 20 hours per week completing my degree as a part-time student. It can be a challenge but it really is a wonderful option for furthering your education and in turn, your career, while also being able to continue working.
No, my course was delivered completely online. Initially, this was one of my biggest concerns about enrolling, as I couldn’t imagine how I would have the same learning experience as someone on campus. Having completed my undergraduate degree as a traditional student, I can say I felt the teachers provided the same level of care and feedback as I received on campus and given the nature of online learning, I felt like the assignments really prepared me to be on the forefront of technology once I graduated. I also really loved interacting with my fellow students during the weekly discussion groups.
My program used a lot of different technology to ensure we were all very connected, both to the faculty and to fellow students. We were able to have real time discussions and participate in live classes on a weekly basis. Blackboard was a great resource for helping keep everything organized. It also meant a very quick turnaround for feedback and notes on the assignments we were preparing.
If you think online is going to be an easier route than a traditional law school experience, don’t be fooled! You will work incredibly hard and a lot will be asked of you. If you are serious about furthering your career in law, though, this will be exactly what you want. Go in ready to put your head down and work hard and you’ll have a great experience.