If you dream of becoming an attorney, you’ll need a juris doctorate (J.D.) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). However, attending law school the traditional way requires a great deal of time – typically three years of full-time study, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If you’re already overburdened with a hectic work schedule or a busy family life, earning your J.D. the traditional way can be all but impossible. The high cost of law school programs and the possibility that you might need to relocate to attend classes on campus can add to the difficulty. Fortunately, while earning a J.D. online was once impossible, recent changes have made the possibility a reality.
A Lack of Online Options
Until recently, there was no ABA-accredited juris doctorate degree program offered online. In fact, at one time the ABA forbid schools from allowing law school students to complete more than one-third of their credits toward their degrees online – and this was after the association relaxed even stricter rules. Still, not many schools took advantage of the rule change. The few existing online J.D. programs were designed to teach people, primarily business executives in non-legal professions, about the law without preparing them to actually practice law. There are also Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees, advanced degrees that do not on their own qualify graduates to practice law but that can add to the résumé of attorneys who already have a J.D.
The Emergence of the New Hybrid Law Degree Program
In 2015, one law school changed the status quo. The William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota began offering a hybrid J.D. program that was accredited by the ABA and designed to prepare students for a career in practicing law, the Star Tribune reported. The degree program is still not fully online. Students take about half of their credit hours in the virtual classroom during 12 weeks of online study. They complete their remaining credits on campus over the course of a week at the start or end of the semester. Instead of having to move to a new location and leave their jobs or displace their families, students can finish their on campus requirements over a relatively short trip. The degree program is classified as a hybrid program, combining both online and on campus study to cover the same material that traditional law school programs cover, including contracts, civil procedure, legal writing, property law and constitutional law.
While there is still no fully online law school degree program that will prepare students to become attorneys, the emergence of the hybrid degree program at the William Mitchel College of Law can give busy students the flexibility to earn their J.D. If this pilot project is a success, U.S. News & World Report predicted that other schools could follow in this program’s footsteps and expand online and hybrid options for students seeking an accredited J.D.