Non-traditional, older students who are interested in environmental law—but who don’t want to become practicing trial lawyers—can now enroll in two new, 100 percent online master degrees offered by Vermont Law School.
Vermont Law is offering a new master of law online degree (LLM) in environmental law, designed especially for people who are licensed attorneys, but seek re-tooling in an environmental specialty area.
Another new Vermont Law degree is the online master of environmental law and policy. This distance degree has been developed for managers who do not intend to practice trial law but seek the legal expertise necessary to manage complex environmental projects. Master in Law Online — Hot JD Alternative
Both of Vermont’s new online law degrees represent a new trend in legal education. Adults who are employed as managers or consultants are turning to distance learning to gain expertise in complex legal niche areas, such as taxation, health law or green law.
For students who are not lawyers, and who do not plan to practice law in the courts, these new online master's degrees offer an affordable alternative to going to law school.
ABA Accreditation Not an Issue
The American Bar Association (ABA) doesn’t regulate law master's degrees, only the juris doctor or JD degree. The JD is the type of degree required to sit for the ABA exam that allows one to practice law in the courts. No online JD degree program is currently approved by the ABA (see Online Law Schools Inch Closer to ABA Accreditation).
Schools don’t need ABA approval to offer a master in law online or on campus. And that’s a good thing because the ABA is divided on the wisdom of letting ABA accredited law schools offer online JD degrees. To date, the association has declined to let the traditional JD credential be offered 100 percent online by any school it accredits.
Professor Rebecca Purdom oversees the new online master in law online program at Vermont Law. The online degrees are distance learning versions of the very same degrees offered on campus in Vermont.
The main difference between the online and residential versions of these degrees is the time it takes to complete them.
The online degree takes 18 months (five 14-week semesters), while the on-campus degree is a one-year program. Otherwise, says Purdom, the cost, faculty and subject matter are identical. The online law courses are taught by the very same faculty that teach on campus.
JD vs LLM — Student Demographics
Online law students are quite different, however, from the residential legal eagles that flock to the rural Vermont campus.
“For the on-campus masters, it’s often folks who are a year or two out of school—24 or 25 years old,” says Purdom. “But for the online programs, we have one student who is 28, but the rest are folks in their 30s and 40s. Mid-career professionals are looking for these degrees.”
In fact, the new online LLM degree program, which is for students who already hold JD law degrees, is filled with folks “over 50, who are really deep in their careers and want a little extra training or expertise.”
Online degree students include people in high level positions, such as an administrative law judge in Washington, D.C., and a senior in-house counsel at a major corporation, says Purdom.
The online students may not be practicing attorneys, but they are established career professionals. The online student body includes two professionals who jointly manage an environmental consulting firm. Their desire is to learn more about the legal issues that impact their clients and their consulting business. They don’t intend to practice law in the courts or to seek legal clients.
But these older students, who are embedded in their careers and communities, can attend an online law program, which is why the residential law school decided to offer the new distance degrees, says Purdom.
“Putting programs online is, for us, about reaching populations who can’t get this kind of education any other way.”
Employer Recognition — Master in Law Online
One problem online students may encounter is the possibility that employers may not recognize this new form of mid-career professional legal degree.
This lack of recognition is not tied to how these degrees are offered—online vs. residential—but to the concept of a non-JD law degree. While alternatives are growing to the classic JD degree, a professional law master's is new enough that it lacks widespread recognition in the workplace.
Barry Currier, former dean of Concord Law School (an online school run by Kaplan) and now a legal education technology consultant, blames the lack of a consistent naming convention for confusion over the new non-JD law degrees.
Loyola University offers an online “MJ” (master of jurisprudence). Concord Law promotes its online degree program as an EJD (“executive juris doctor”). Other online schools refer to these new non-JD degrees as master's of science in law or master's in legal studies.
“Employers don’t know what an EJD or MJ is,” says Currier. Once they do, such degrees “are going to be tremendous career-enhancers for people.”
Other online legal master's degrees designed for mid-career adult students include:
Nova Southeastern University
Online Master’s in Health Law
Loyola University Law School
Online Master of Jurisprudence (MJ) in Health Law
Online Executive Juris Doctor (three-year program for non-lawyers to learn law, including optional specialty tracks in technology and criminal justice)
Online Master in Elder Law Degree (LLM)
University of Alabama Law
Online Master's Degree in Taxation (LLM)
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