Although fully online J.D. programs exist, none are currently approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). Most states use ABA approval to determine whether or not a program adequately prepares graduates to sit for the state bar exam. California is currently the only state that allows graduates of online law programs to take the bar exam.
However, practicing lawyers from any state can pursue master's degrees or graduate certificates online in order to enhance their credentials. Below are two examples of master's degrees available online, as well as information about the schools offering these programs.
University of Alabama's Master of Law in Taxation
The distance learning Master of Law (LL.M.) in Taxation is the only online program offered by the School of Law. The 24-credit program can be completed in two calendar years. The degree program is aimed at practicing attorneys who wish to transition into tax law. Coursework covers topics in tax accounting, international taxes, estate planning and tax procedures.
Prior to beginning their online program, students are required to attend campus for an orientation session. University of Alabama's LL.M. degree program differs from many other online programs in that lectures are transmitted live over the Web.
Students meet at specified class times to listen to lectures and interact with classmates; additional course materials are available on the program website. After finishing their first three semesters, students are required to complete comprehensive exams on campus.
The University of Alabama's School of Law is accredited by the American Bar Association. In addition to instructors from the law school faculty, this university's online law program draws professors from schools like Emory University and Georgia State University. The University of Alabama was the first public college in the United States and was founded in 1831. In-state tuition for graduate students at this school averaged $10,170 for the 2015-2016 year. In the fall of 2015, the school had enrolled 5,140 graduate students.
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Washington University in St. Louis' Master of Laws in U.S. Law
This fully online program is designed for international lawyers who want to enhance their knowledge of U.S. laws. Students explore the foundation of the U.S. legal system, including how laws are created and changed. The coursework includes classes in contracts and civil procedures, along with courses on negotiation, legal writing, intellectual property and international business transactions.
Students in the distance learning LL.M. program must complete ten courses for a total of 24 credits. The program is available for full-time students; however, most students enroll part time and take about four terms, or two years, to earn their degree. All classes enroll no more than 15 students.
The distance learning LL.M. degree program in U.S. law has all of the same requirements and expectations as the on-campus program. Classes in the Master of Laws in U.S. Law program can be attended virtually through streaming online video. Additionally, distance learning students participate in interactive discussions with their professors and classmates. The professors also have online office hours.
Washington University's School of Law has been continuously accredited by the American Bar Association since 1923. In addition, the university is the first top-ranked U.S. law school to offer an online LL.M. in U.S. Law program. During the 2015-2016 academic year, graduate students payed an average tuition of $47,300, and 7,184 were enrolled in the Fall of 2015.
Unless you plan on working in California, you will not be able to get the education needed to become a lawyer through an online program. However, if you are already a practicing lawyer wanting to specialize or hone your knowledge, you can pursue an online LL.M. program. Two examples covered here include University of Alabama's online LL.M. in Taxation and Washington University in St. Louis' online LL.M. in U.S. Law.