Pros and cons of online law school

As a third-year law student who has given 15 hours of my life a week for the past two years to sitting in a classroom, I’m a little biased when it comes to evaluating online law schools. I can’t help but feel that actually being face-to-face with other students and professors is essential for the study of law, and moreover, for preparation to practice.

I had the misfortune of needing to take some online classes to graduate from college on time, and I have to say, the experience of analyzing British Literature alone and not discussing it with anyone didn’t teach me well, anything, about British Literature. I find it difficult to believe that studying the law solo would yield different results.

Below, I list some of the pros and (the many) cons to learning the law over the Internet.

Pros

  • More flexibility

At Abraham Lincoln University School of Law in Los Angeles, the average student is 45 years old and is otherwise employed. Because the online degree takes four years, students have more freedom in pacing and working around their life schedules.

  • Cost

Abraham Lincoln students pay $7,500 per year plus fees and materials. Students matriculating through the Web at Concord Law School pay just $9,250 a year—totaling $38,000 for a four year law degree, cheaper than a single year at many private schools

Cons

  • No accreditation

At this time, the American Bar Association is not accrediting any online J.D. programs, thereby precluding students to sit for some states’ Bar Exams. It does not appear that the ABA is looking to give accreditation to these schools, either. 

  • No “fear factor”

Something about being asked to explain the Statute of Frauds in contracts made me physically ill, but it also made me actually read and take notes. The possibility of being called on in class made me a very active participant in my learning. Had I been held accountable through a screen or just “on my honor”, I would not have taken my studies as seriously. Though many online law students have to sit for the “Baby Bar” that measures their first-year knowledge of the law, I think the online system promotes procrastination on the students’ part, especially if they are busy with jobs and families.

  • No practical experience

Is there an online legal clinic where you help virtual clients? Or Alternative Dispute Resolution and Negotiations over the Internet? The practice of law is about sitting with other humans face-to-face and helping them work out their problems. If you don’t get to do this as a law student, how good are you going to be at it as a lawyer? I’m pretty glad I get to make my mistakes in a classroom now, instead of taking my first stab at mediation with real people who are actually paying me.

It seems that if someone wants to get a J.D. just to further his or her knowledge of the law, not to actually practice, online coursework might not be a bad call. But for those who want to be actual lawyers, interacting with professors, students and building practical skills at a traditional law school would serve them well. 

By Jennifer Pohlman, 3L at the University of Nebraska School of Law and student editor for The National Jurist

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