If you’ve been looking for an accredited online law school, chances are you’ve come up with some serious roadblocks. While online law programs have existed for quite some time, the American Bar Association (ABA) has refused to fully accredit any of them. That meant that graduates of these programs were not allowed to sit for the bar to become a practicing attorney.
Until now. The landscape of online law programs is changing rapidly.
The ABA has recently begun allowing law students to complete more credits online. Law schools across the country are eagerly stepping in to create innovative “hybrid” programs that allow students to earn their Juris Doctor degree largely from home.
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Hybrid law degrees from accredited institutions
A hybrid J.D. program allows students to complete the bulk of their coursework online, and to fulfill the classroom portion of their studies during several concentrated on-campus residencies that generally last several days. At the completion of these ABA-accredited programs, graduates will receive the same degree they would’ve earned at an on-campus law program and are qualified to sit for the bar exam.
Why are there no fully online programs? That goes back to the ABA’s original hesitancy to allow more online credits.
Historically, a main component of earning a law degree has been participating in classroom discussions and exercises that are based on the Socratic method. This allows professors to lead dialogues that challenge students’ assumptions and understanding of legal concepts. In the past, these exercises have been a challenge to reproduce in an online forum.
However, several schools have been working to implement technology solutions that allow for more real-time discussion. That has been a big motivator for the ABA to begin granting waivers to a small handful of law schools, allowing their J.D. programs to incorporate significantly more online credits than in the past.
In addition, some schools are avoiding the need for the ABA waiver by offering hybrid law programs that restructure the online/on-campus mix to allow students to complete their law degree in a more flexible way, while retaining full eligibility to sit for the bar after graduation. (See the second half of this post to learn more.)
Option A: Law schools with ABA waivers for online programs
Let’s take a look at the four programs that have been granted ABA waivers so far.
1. Syracuse University
Syracuse University was the second school to get the coveted ABA waiver, launching its hybrid J.D. program in January 2019. It is also currently the top-ranked law school to receive the ABA’s blessing for this type of program.
The first class included 32 students; 241 people applied.
According to the school’s website, the hybrid program is just as rigorous as the residential J.D. program. The hybrid option was designed to make Syracuse’s program accessible to students who aren’t able to attend classes on-campus because of employment or family commitments.
The hybrid program includes three learning components to provide more flexibility for students. They are:
- Online class sessions that include live, interactive instruction.
- Self-paced learning modules that students complete on their own.
- On-campus residencies at Syracuse’s campus in Syracuse, NY, to allow students to participate in exercises and discussions in-person.
Students in this program may also have the opportunity to join the Syracuse Law Review.
Applicants for the hybrid program are subjected to the same entry requirements as the traditional law school applicants. The school notes that LSAT scores among the first class were slightly higher than those of people in the residential program.
This program can be completed in three years and three months. Learn more about this program here.
2. Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Mitchell Hamline School of Law, in St. Paul, MN, was the first law school to be granted the ABA waiver. The first class of hybrid law program students graduated in 2018.
This program can be completed in four years. Students must participate in on-campus residences 10 times while pursuing their degrees.
Online study is completed in 11- or 12-week-long semesters. This portion of the program is generally asynchronous, meaning students can work largely at their own pace, on their own time. However, there are weekly scheduled online discussions.
Tuition is the same as the on-campus law program. Applications are accepted all year, but there are a limited number of seats in the hybrid program. Learn more here.
3. University of Dayton
The University of Dayton has also received the coveted ABA waiver.
This online hybrid J.D. program can be completed in three years and eight months. It’s designed to allow students to maintain their professional and/or caregiving responsibilities while attending law school.
The curriculum is taught by the same School of Law faculty who teach on-campus. Taught using the Socratic method, the program features live online classes (meaning students will need to ensure the class times fit into their schedules) and asynchronous interactive coursework that can be completed on their own time. Students must also attend 10 on-campus residences during the program and complete a semester-long externship.
Applicants who have not taken the LSAT can apply using a valid GRE score, and scholarships are available.
Learn more here.
4. University of New Hampshire
Launched in the fall of 2019, UNH’s program is the first hybrid law option with a very specific focus: intellectual property, technology, and information law.
UNH’s Franklin Pierce School of Law has long been known as a top school for intellectual property, attracting students from around the world.
Its new hybrid program is intended to appeal to working professionals in the tech and IP fields. While students can complete the bulk of their studies online, they are required to participate in on-campus residencies four time per year, for four-day sessions.
Learn more about the program here.
Option B: Part-time, hybrid law programs that don’t require ABA waivers
Some schools have avoided the waiver requirement by creating or restructuring existing hybrid programs to offer the maximum amount of online learning permitted under the existing rules, but also provide flexible scheduling that gives non-traditional students access to a legal education.
All of these programs have a relatively similar structure — four years of curriculum with on-campus instruction every other weekend and online learning to complete the rest of the program. Students generally have increased online options for the second two years of the program.
1. Touro Law
Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center launched its hybrid program in the fall of 2018.
The Long Island law school’s program is geared toward working professionals who would normally enter a part-time program but who may require even more flexibility because of work or family obligations. The FlexTime J.D. program can be completed in four years.
Because Touro Law observes the Sabbath on Saturday, students attend campus every other Sunday during fall, spring, and summer semesters for the first two years. The second two years of coursework can be completed primarily online.
Learn more about the program here.
2. Sturm College of Law
The University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law has the oldest part-time JD program in the country, and it’s ranked #11 by U.S. News & World Report. They recently restructured the program as a hybrid on-campus and online program.
Students attend on-campus classes eight weekends each semester, with two additional weekends for final examinations. The rest of their coursework — including interactive exercises and activities, discussion boards, and assessments — is completed online on their own schedule. The same professors that teach in the full-time program provide instruction for the part-time JD program.
The program typically requires four years to complete. Learn more here.
The School of Law at Loyola University Chicago also restructured its existing part-time program to provide online learning and access to a legal education for more students.
The program, ranked #14 in the country by U.S. News & World Report, takes four years to complete and requires on-campus class attendance every other weekend during the semester. The remaining coursework is completed through the university’s highly interactive, collaborative online learning platform.
The same faculty teach in Loyola’s full-time J.D. program and the part-time hybrid program, and the admission requirements are the same for both programs. Learn more about Loyola’s program here.
4. Seton Hall
Based in Newark, New Jersey, Seton Hall Law School’s part-time hybrid program requires eight weekends on campus each semester during the first two years of the program. Instruction between weekends takes place on Seton Hall’s online learning platform and includes self-directed activities as well as discussions with professors and classmates.
Seton Hall’s program maintains the traditional Socratic method while allowing students to structure a significant portion of their learning at times that work for them.
During the second two years, students can continue with the alternating weekend format or choose to take up to 15 credits each semester entirely online. Learn more here.