Becoming an attorney is an excellent career choice. Anybody who desires to practice law has to obtain a Juris Doctorate (JD), after which they can sit for and pass the bar exam. The American Bar Association (ABA) regulates the quality of legal education in the US. It ensures that all schools meet a minimum standard. Here, we’ll discuss admission requirements, different online programs, and whether there are any online ABA-accredited law programs.
What is a Juris Doctor?
Juris Doctor is the Latin phrase for Doctor of Law. Abbreviated as JD, a Juris Doctor is an academic credential and law degree that enables graduates to take the bar exam and subsequently. The degree typically takes three years to complete and can be anywhere between 85 to 90 credits. The ABA recognizes a JD as the “first degree in law.”
What is the ABA?
The ABA stands for American Bar Association. It is the largest voluntary organization of American lawyers and the biggest globally. This organization serves as the national voice of the legal profession and dictates the code of conduct and modes of operation. And, it is responsible for the decision-making of the legal issues in America, including legal education.
The American Bar Association, founded in 1878, commits to advance and promote the rule of law across the US and other countries by providing practical resources for legal professionals, law school accreditation, model ethics codes, and more.
The ABA adopts standards for legal education, which led, in 1952, to law school accreditation. The ABA has recorded some milestone achievements, such as the Rule of Law Initiative established after the fall of the Berlin wall.
Its mission includes providing benefits, programs, and services that promote members’ professional growth and quality of life. The association also promotes full and equal participation amongst members and in the justice system by all persons and eliminates bias in the legal profession and the justice system.
It has also overseen an increased public understanding of and respect for the rule of law, the legal process, and the legal profession’s role at home and worldwide.
The ABA also holds governments accountable while advocating for new human rights laws and a fair legal process. It assures meaningful access to justice for all people, thereby preserving the independence of the legal profession and the judiciary.
The Importance of ABA Accreditation
The ABA has been accrediting law schools since 1959. It is the most prominent legal association in the US. Though some states have their own accreditation processes, most states require an ABA accreditation to take the bar exam and practice law.
The accreditation process ensures national uniformity in the education of law students. By attending a school accredited by the ABA, you can take the bar exam in any state. Furthermore, many law firms only hire graduates from ABA-accredited programs. Graduating from a certified program gives you the best advantages and flexibility.
How Do Schools Get Accredited?
Primarily, the ABA accreditation ensures rigor and uniformity in your legal education on a national level. To receive certification from the ABA, the law school has to first apply to the association. After application, the institution must develop a self-study where they highlight the school’s strengths, weaknesses, goals, achievements, and plans. The law school must comply with the association’s standards to get a provisional status. Law schools can stay on provisional status for at least three years but not more than five years.
The ABA sends delegates to the school for visitation and site evaluation during these three years. These delegates inspect and evaluate the school’s facilities and then report to the accreditation committee. Once the ABA is satisfied with the institution’s compliance with its standards, it can then offer accreditation.
After accreditation, the law school will still have to keep up with the ABA’s standards. Some law schools have lost their certification for failing to maintain the ABA’s educational standards.
Having an ABA accreditation gives any law school a level of visibility. Compared to non-accredited schools, ABA-accredited law schools have more access to funding from donors and the government.
Educational institutions with funding have better economic growth and can afford to be more productive and innovative. The school uses the funds for research grants, contracts for goods and services, student aid, scholarships, work-study programs, and new facilities. All these translate to a better learning environment for students.
Since the ABA is a highly recognized and renowned association, any relationship with them rubs off on the school and students. With ABA’s high standards, employers can trust that graduates received the best education from such schools. Generally, graduates of ABA-accredited law schools hold more credibility in the legal field. As a fact, graduates who attended ABA-accredited schools receive higher starting salaries.
Excellent Educational Standard
ABA accreditation status requires law schools to provide excellent learning resources for students. Schools have to maintain the latest learning improvements to retain their status. Also, as a requirement for ABA certification, law schools are mandated to cover the entire curriculum. As time goes on, the ABA keeps updating its educational standards. Students of ABA-accredited schools can be sure that they are receiving a top-notch education. Recently, the ABA made a new requirement for schools that 75% of their graduates who sit for the bar exam must pass it within two years. This assures that each school provides a thorough and complete education.
Apart from credibility, being a graduate of an ABA-accredited law school gives students recognition. For starters, graduates of law schools with ABA accreditation are allowed to sit for bar examinations in any state of the US. Also, it’s not uncommon for students to put accreditations on their resumes and even mention them during interviews.
Hybrid and Online JD Programs
The ABA accredits 199 programs and schools. Aspiring legal practitioners can earn their Juris Doctor degree from these institutions. A handful of these schools offer hybrid programs that allow students to blend online learning with in-person components.
Fully-online law programs exist; however, none hold accreditation by the ABA. Before choosing which law school format is best, candidates should consider particular factors such as learning style, career goals, and budget.
Alternatives To ABA-Accredited Law Schools
According to the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), attending an ABA-accredited law school allows candidates to sit for the bar examination in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. An ABA accreditation seal means that the institution has met the ABA’s quality requirements for legal education.
The ABA has not yet accredited any 100% online law school program. However, all of this will change in the foreseeable future as more and more law schools are delving into online education. Recently, the ABA has granted waivers to certain hybrid programs. These programs mix traditional learning with online courses, and the waivers mean that they can begin to apply for accreditation. Many educators argue that law programs can be completed wholly online with suitable investment in technology and properly trained faculty.
However, you can become a lawyer without attending an ABA-accredited law school. In the District of Columbia, California, New York, and 29 other states, candidates can take the bar examination with a degree from a law school not accredited by the ABA.
While you can enter law practice without ABA credentials, this path is risky as most employers prefer graduates from accredited schools. It is advisable to research admission limitations and the school’s ability to provide adequate legal training before applying to a law school without ABA accreditation. Look up the ABA’s Guide to Bar Admission Requirements for further guidance.
Will the ABA Accredit Online Law Programs Anytime Soon?
The American Bar Association has a rigorous and rigid process in accreditation and approval of virtual or online courses. Many believe that ABA certification of online law courses might take three years before it is actualized.
But the good news is that accredited online law courses are edging nearer to becoming a reality. The American Bar Association has considered reducing the rigorous rules and regulations that have hindered online law degree programs.
Even though the American Bar Association has been reluctant to approve online programs, expectations are that the process is gaining serious momentum.
Why Is The ABA Reluctant To Accredit Online Law Programs?
One of the major setbacks for ABA’s disapproval of accreditation for online law courses is in the examination process. While traditional law degrees give one big exam at the end of the course year, online schools advocate for segmented examinations. Students in virtual courses would be required to take more than one examination.
This does not meet the ABA standards and policies well, and it may slow down the process. Moreover, students take this one exam on campus under intensive supervision. This would not be the scenario with virtual law schools.
Furthermore, the ABA has the long-held notion that interaction in the classroom is an integral part of a quality and standard legal education. Consequently, officials with the ABA may not realize what is achievable through online learning or the virtual classroom. The ABA prefers traditional learning classrooms punctuated with face-to-face debates, arguments, and rhetoric over virtual learning, devoid of these advantages.
The legal profession is unusually slow and unreceptive to change. Such a conservative attitude makes the possibility for ABA accreditation for online courses highly unrealistic. One of the reasons and factors for this is the hefty school fees these on-campus law schools charge. There are fears that online law schools may reduce the costs and minimize the prestige and nobility associated with the law degree.
ABA Approved Online JD Programs
Vermont Law School
Vermont Law School offers different variations of its JD program. The program equips students with the skills needed to lead in other areas of law — criminal law, environmental law, conflict resolution, International law, land use, water resources, and energy law.
The curriculum focuses on legal doctrine, the social content of the law, and values for effective law practice. Traditionally, the JD program spans three years, with students attending fall and spring semesters classes.
However, Vermont Law School has an accelerated two-year plan for students with limited funding. There’s also an extended four-year plan for students with other responsibilities.
Suffolk University Law School
At Suffolk University Law School, the JD program is quite intense. To participate in the online program, students must attend the first year of classes in Boston. The main reason for these mandatory in-person classes is to allow students to meet their peers and professors.
After the first year, students must make a minimum of 3.0 GPA to take online courses. Students who meet the GPA requirements can enroll in online classes for the remaining two years. During your time at Suffolk University Law School, you can participate virtually in student groups.
University of Dayton School of Law
After finishing the hybrid JD program at the University of Dayton School of Law, students will be able to sit for bar examinations and successfully pursue a career in the legal field.
The program takes four years to complete, and it’s appropriate for students with work and family responsibilities. With the help of legal experts at the University of Dayton School of Law, students will study civil procedure, evidence, contracts, torts, constitutional law, evidence, and criminal law.
Loyola Law School (Los Angeles)
While the JD program can be rigorous, it’s collaborative. Since the Loyola Law School (Los Angeles) is concerned with study flexibility, the institution has developed different plans for students.
There’s a day program for full-time students to study and finish their program within three years. The school has an available evening program for part-time students, suitable for students with limited time. Loyola Law School prioritizes early applicants, so it helps to apply early.
Mitchell Hamline College of Law
At Mitchell Hamline College of Law, there are three different plans for their JD program. There’s a structured plan for full-time, part-time, and blended students.
While full-time students will have 4-5 classes per semester, part-time students will have 3-4 courses per semester in the first year.
People opting for the part-time plan can also attend morning or evening classes. However, part-time and blended students will have to spend one extra year in school while full-time students finish after three years.
Regardless of the study plan, all students will have access to mentoring, externships, journals, and public service opportunities.
University of New Hampshire School of Law
University of New Hampshire School of Law offers ABA-standard education with no relocation. The JD hybrid program at the University of New Hampshire School of Law focuses on intellectual property, technology, and Information Law.
Staff at the university have designed this particular JD program to assist professionals in technology and related fields in advancing their careers.
Like traditional students, hybrid plan students can access the faculty’s resources, academic support, bar examinations preparation, and scholarship opportunities.
St. Mary’s University School of Law
St. Mary’s University School of Law has a fully online JD program that teaches foundational concepts in law. The school’s faculty of law professors are trained and certified to teach online. With concerns for the online education quality, St. Mary’s has limited the number of online JD students to 25.
Enrolled students receive classes on foundations of substantive law, legal writing, and analysis. While online students can attend in-person classes, completing the degree is not mandated.
Seattle University School of Law
Students can gain outstanding legal education at Seattle University School of Law through their JD program. Among the school’s various study plans, the Flex JD program is suitable for students seeking online education.
At the end of the first academic year, both full-time and Flex JD program students are to complete 23 credits. The courses prepare students to become practicing attorneys.
The program covers courses like civil procedure, criminal law, contracts, professional responsibility, legal writing, and more. There’s also an accelerated global program for students with foreign legal education.
South Texas College of Law- Houston
Under their part-time JD program, the South Texas College of Law has two flexible plans for students with responsibilities. These plans are the on-campus schedule and the flexible part-time schedule.
With the on-campus program, students can earn their degrees by attending in-person classes for about four evenings per week. On the other hand, students on flexible part-time schedules combine online courses with two evenings of on-campus classes.
Syracuse University College of Law
At Syracuse University College of Law, the online JD program holds the distinction of the “JDinteractive” program. The unique program is specially developed and designed for students with responsibilities and commitments.
Different components like live online classes, self-paced instructions, on-campus courses, and experimental learning make up the JDinteractive program. As an advantage, students of the JDinteractive program can take elective courses, participate in supervised externships, and participate in organizations like the Student Bar Association and the Syracuse Law Review.
Is A JD Worth It?
Although a JD degree provides the leverage for aspiring attorneys to join a law firm, there is more to it than that. People with a JD degree play essential roles in almost all sectors of the country’s economy. You can find them everywhere, from courtrooms and government agencies to academia and Silicon Valley startups.
Additionally, the analytical thinking imparted in legal training applies in virtually all professions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), lawyers earned an average of $126,930 in 2020, with the top 10% earning over $208,000 annually.
Students can work and learn simultaneously with the increasing number of hybrid or online JD programs.
To ensure that your JD degree is worth the time and resources, ensure that you have a clear-cut career plan. This will enable you to pick a suitable degree program in line with your schedule. After enrolling in any program, explore networking and externship opportunities. You can visit the GetEducated.comto learn more about the legal profession and its various career paths.