Corporate law generally focuses on legal documentation and transactions, rather than litigation or trials. Corporate attorneys must earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.).
While distance learning J.D. programs have many advantages, such as convenience and more lenient admissions policies, they also have drawbacks. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), there are no ABA-approved distance learning law programs in the United States. Additionally, California is the only state that will allow students who earn a J.D. from an unaccredited school to take the bar exam if the school is registered with the California bar committee. A complete list of registered distance learning law schools is available on the State Bar of California website (www.ca.gov.state).
Because California is the only state to allow graduates from unaccredited programs to take the bar exam, law schools that offer online J.D.s are primarily based in that state. These are generally private universities that mainly focus on providing distance education options. They provides programs entirely online except for proctored finals. Unlike ABA-approved offerings, online law degree programs typically do not require Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores for admission but may instead use their own admissions exam. A bachelor's degree is commonly required for enrollment as well.
Most distance learning law programs take four years to complete, and the State Bar of California requires that 864 credit hours be completed during that time. In many distance learning programs, coursework is issued online, and students follow a guideline to stay on track. Exams and quizzes are often open-book; however, final exams must be proctored. Proctors must be approved by the institution and typically must be professional educators, lawyers or judges. Some schools also require that students attend periodic review sessions in person, while courses and class discussions are usually conducted online.
It's important to keep in mind that Juris Doctor programs do not feature specializations and instead give students a comprehensive legal education that prepares them to work across many areas. Selected coursework that does focus on corporate law might cover the required practices for negotiating business deals, purchase agreements and formation of corporate entities. Other typical subjects covered in an online curriculum include the following:
- Tort law
- Drafting bylaws
- Wills and trusts
- Legal writing
- Property law
Corporate lawyers typically work in law firms, as in-house counsel for organizations, or as solo practitioners. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts average job growth of 6% for lawyers throughout the 2014-2024 period, fueled by a need for transactional attorneys in health care, finance and insurance (www.bls.gov). Competition is fierce in this occupation due to a high number of law school graduates, so the BLS reports that those willing to relocate may have better odds of finding a position. As of May 2015, the mean annual salary for lawyers was $136,260.
Corporate lawyers will sometimes pursue a Master of Laws (LL.M.) if they're interested in pursuing a specialization, such as international business or intellectual property. A J.D. is required for admission to most LL.M. programs, and some distance learning J.D. programs can qualify candidates for LL.M. programs. These programs are often totally online and can be found at several accredited law schools.
To summarize, the distance learning options for prospective students who are interested in corporate law are limited. The most relevant J.D. programs are offered through private institutions in California.