2018 Best Online Colleges for Law Degrees

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Online Law Schools

Many schools will provide the student with a focus or area of interest within the degree program. Courses within the focus may include domestic relations, immigration law, environmental law, wills and estates, employment law, and certain advanced law courses as well.

Along with the core classes in legal studies, associate degree students also complete general education requirements, such as math, natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities.

Some programs include an internship requirement in which candidates work under an experienced assistant or attorney to receive school credit.

Upon degree completion, students usually find work in law offices, private law firms, or businesses such as banks, insurance companies, or real estate offices, among many other possibilities. Some students may use an associate law degree as a jumping off point for further education, including law school, but for the most part, the degree prepares students to do clerical work within law offices.

Some employers prefer to hire candidates with professional experience, and associate students are advised to pursue co-op work or internships during their degree. Familiarity with a particular field of law, such as finance, healthcare, or insurance, can also increase a graduate's job prospects. Online bachelor's degrees in pre-law, legal studies, or paralegal studies are designed to introduce students to a variety of liberal arts topics and help them develop the critical thinking skills that are required for legal work.

Bachelor's programs in law and paralegal studies take four years and train students in legal office administration and other legal support skills; some programs are bachelor's-completion degrees and accept transfer students with a paralegal associate degree. Standard admission requirements include a high school diploma or the equivalent and college entrance scores.

While a specific pre-law bachelor's degree is not required to apply for Juris Doctor JD programs, this type of degree can be an excellent way for prospective JD students to explore the legal field. The curriculum of a potential degree program should be examined carefully, as pre-law school and paralegal degrees can vary significantly in their coursework and requirements. The curriculum in law and paralegal bachelor's programs combines study in specific law areas and skills with general education classes.

Major courses in the program discuss legal research and writing, civil law, criminal law, information technology, legal terminology, counseling and negotiation, and legal ethics.

Many bachelor's programs also include courses in the management and administration of legal offices. Those preparing for a career as a paralegal can expect to take classes in legal research, legal databases, client confidentiality, and ethics. Graduates of the law and paralegal studies bachelor's are well situated to begin or expand a career as a paralegal or legal assistant.

Although many paralegals possess an associate degree, some employers prefer to hire those with an advanced credential. Current paralegals can pursue a bachelor's in order to qualify for supervisory or legal office administration roles in larger law firms and legal departments.

There is a wide variety of law and legal studies degree programs available at the master's level. These are advanced degrees, designed for students and experienced professionals who either want to gain an in-depth understanding of law in general or gain specialized knowledge in a particular legal area.

Students can choose concentrations in legal studies, education law, health law, business law, criminal justice, law enforcement administration, legal research, and many others, depending on their career path. The master's degree in law or legal studies is a highly flexible degree. As such, the curriculum can vary greatly between schools and based on the individual student's needs. In many cases, students are required to take several classes from the first-year Juris Doctor degree curriculum, such as torts, legal writing and research, property, and criminal law.

This gives students a firm foundation in legal basics. Students then choose electives to tailor the degree to their interests, such as taxation, international law, environmental law, or energy law. These programs last one to two years and are useful for anyone who needs an advanced understanding of the US legal system or who plans to pursue career advancement in a legal office without actually becoming an attorney.

Master's degrees in specialized areas of law usually take one or two years of full-time study. These master's degrees are designed for professionals who do not plan on practicing law, but who have particular career goals that include an element of legal acumen. Business professionals, journalists, healthcare administrators, education administrators, and researchers are just some of the types of people who could benefit from a law-oriented master's degree.

For example, those with a background in engineering or science could pursue a degree program in patents in order to sit for the patent bar exam. Those who successfully complete the degree and pass the exam would be authorized to write patents for scientific and engineering clients. In the United States, the LLM takes three years to complete and is usually designed for attorneys from foreign countries who want to become versed in American law.

Other schools offer LLM degrees for US attorneys who want to gain advanced training in a particular legal area, such as telecommunications law or criminal law. A doctoral degree is the highest level of education in the field of law. The state of California is one exception to this rule, where students do have some online JD options; however, graduates of these programs would only be able to take the bar exam and practice in the state of California.

Doctoral programs generally take three to seven years to complete and require between 60 and 90 credit hours. Doctoral concentrations are available in subjects such as criminal justice or law and public policy; they are designed primarily for experienced professionals who would like to advance in their current career or work in research and academia.

Students in most doctoral law programs will learn how to conduct independent research and will be required to complete a written dissertation.

Courses may cover subjects such as justice administration, law and society, bioethics law, qualitative research methods, approaches to political understanding, higher education instruction, and emergency management, and students may be required to take a dissertation seminar as well. Doctoral graduates often become lawyers in various capacities or advance into roles as judges, legal researchers, or university professors. In order to practice law, individuals must become licensed by passing a state bar examination.

Online certificate programs are available for a wide variety of law-related careers such as legal assistant, legal nurse consultant, legal secretary, criminal justice, and law enforcement, but the most common law certificate is the paralegal certificate. Paralegal certificate programs are undergraduate programs that introduce students to legal administration and paralegal skills.

The paralegal certificate program prepares the student for work as a paralegal in private law firms or businesses. Paralegals have duties that include interviewing, investigating claims, preparing legal forms, conducting research, and assisting lawyers in court and other activities.

Although most online law and paralegal studies certificates take a year to complete, programs range in length from seven months to two years. The type of certificate program chosen, the school, the curriculum, and other factors will determine the exact length of the program. Certificate program applicants are typically required to have a high school diploma or a GED, but many associate or bachelor's degree graduates enroll in certificate programs as well.

While some employers prefer to hire candidates with an associate or bachelor's degree, others hire those with a paralegal certificate and provide additional on-the-job training. While law firms will likely remain the largest employer of paralegals, other industries, such as financial institutions, healthcare facilities, and insurance firms, also hire additional paralegals to save on costs. The curriculum will depend on the type of program you choose, but some examples of legal certificate courses include legal terminology, legal research and writing, tort law and claims, contracts, ethics, courtroom procedures, and the basics of criminal, business, and civil law.

Some certificate programs allow students to choose electives in the particular areas of law that interest them. Possible electives include property, corporate, probate, family, employment, immigration, or tax law, wills and trusts, property and creditor rights, and civil litigation.

Students may also be required to participate in an internship in a local law firm, which can provide hands-on training. Accreditation is granted to colleges, universities, and individual degree programs that choose to be evaluated by an outside agency and then successfully meet the agency's requirements for high academic standards.

It's recommended that students choose an accredited program or school to ensure that they receive a high-quality education with regard to its curriculum, faculty, and student resources and outcomes.

Although not required, paralegals can look for accredited programs through the American Bar Association. The ABA approves only a small number of percent online paralegal programs, as they typically look for more traditional educational approaches primarily in on-site settings.

Other accredited law-related degree and certificate programs can be found through either the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the US Department of Education. For students who plan to become a licensed attorney, it should be noted that in order to sit for the bar exam in most states, you will need to graduate from an on-campus Juris Doctor program that has been accredited by the American Bar Association. Review the particular requirements for licensure in your state via the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

If you are interested in working in a law office, assisting an attorney, or managing the administrative duties for a legal firm, a degree in legal office administration can qualify you for this type of career. Legal office administration degrees teach students about business practices in law offices, methods of communication, record keeping, billing, and laws relevant to careers in legal administration.

Legal office administrators of all varieties organize, manage, and assist in the legal process, enabling attorneys to do their best possible work in service of the law.

Duties range from basic clerical tasks, paperwork, and billing and information systems to interacting one-on-one with lawyers and clients. For all of these duties, the legal office administrator or assistant must combine secretarial duties and skills with legal acumen. California has strict rules about how many credits they will accept from unaccredited online law schools.

No matter which state you live in, be very, very careful if you decide to attend an online law school. Statistically, graduates of non-ABA-accredited law schools have much lower pass rates on the state bar exam. Even if you pass the California Bar, most law firms will still require proof of graduation from an ABA-accredited law school as a condition of employment. You may end up with a degree but no job.

If you do manage to pass the California bar and subsequently practice successfully as a lawyer in California for five to seven years, you may be able to take the bar in another state.

This route, too, is a long shot. On a few rare occasions, online law school graduates have been able to make this strategy work. In June , for example, Ross Mitchell, a Concord Online Law School graduate and valedictorian , was admitted to practice as an attorney in Massachusetts. Mitchell had earlier argued before the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners to gain permission to take the bar. The bar examiners ruled in his favor, but noted they were doing so as a personal exception for Mitchell, with whom they were impressed, and that they did not intend to set a precedent for other online law graduates.

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