Earning an Online Law Degree

Do you enjoy winning arguments — and don’t mind putting in the work to make sure your argument is rock-solid? Then a career in law may be a good fit for you. Lawyers advise and advocate for their clients — whether they be individuals, government agencies, or corporations — on legal matters, and they use their research and analytical skills to build strong cases. Demand for lawyers across fields is projected to increase at a steady pace; the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a job growth rate of 6% through 2024.

Lawyers of all stripes have a few traits in common: they’re highly analytical, able to parse large amounts of data and information to find what they need, and they’re good communicators, skilled in both writing and speaking. And since lawyers advocate on their clients’ behalf, they must have strong interpersonal skills that allow them to build trust with their clients. If you possess these skills, then earning a law degree online can lead you down a rewarding and lucrative career path.

If you’re considering pursuing a law degree, read on. Our guide will give you an overview of the various careers in law you may want to explore, and how attending law school online can get you there.

Meet our expert

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Shaolaine Loving Law

“Don’t be afraid to experiment to see what legal area or type of practice you like best.”

Online Law Degree Overview

Degree Avg Degree Cost Avg Loan Default Rate Time Commitment Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Unemployment Rate
Master's $20,428 6.54% 3 years $64,340 $89,503 6.2%
Whether you are new to the field, or looking to advance in your current career, you should weigh the costs and time of getting a new degree against its benefits. There is no one-size-fits-all degree. The best choice for you will depend on your current educational background, financial standing, employment history, and area of interest. For instance, those with no experience may want to consider an associate degree, due to its shorter time commitment and lower cost. If finances are tight for you, then you should prioritize the student loan debt and default categories, as you will want to choose a degree that offers you the best chance of improving your financial standing with minimal risk. If your employer or someone else is paying for your education, then you might want to consider the degree that will offer you the highest salary. All salary information is sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or PayScale

A four-year undergraduate degree is a prerequisite for all traditional and online law degree programs. Online law school typically takes three years to complete, and you’ll graduate with a juris doctor (JD) degree. Most lawyers don’t obtain any further degrees after they earn their JD, though some may pursue a master of legal studies online or another advanced law-related degree to augment their studies. Those who are interested in other careers related to law may consider pursuing a legal studies degree online, which you can complete at the bachelor’s or master’s level.

Online Law Degrees

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Online Master’s Degree in Law

Not all online law degree programs prepare students to actually practice law — such is the case for master’s degrees related to law. For example, students pursuing a master of legal studies online may be professionals who work with the law on a frequent basis (like police officers) and want to bolster their understanding of the law’s intricacies. Many programs offer a master of legal studies online that can be completed in one year if a student is enrolled full-time, though it will take longer if a student decides to continue working while pursuing a legal studies degree online. Students pursuing a master’s of legal studies degree online should note that the program will feel similar to curriculum in the first year of an online law school.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Legal Analysis, Writing, and Research; The American Common Law System; Civil, Criminal, and Administrative Procedure

  • COMMON MAJORS

    Environmental Law and Policy, Human Rights, Compliance and Legal Risk Management

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Social worker, Federal special agent (detective), Compliance officer

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $58,300 per year

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    Social workers: 12% job growth
    Federal special agents (detectives): 4% job growth
    Compliance officers: 3% job growth

Online Doctorate Degree in Law

Students who pursue law school online will graduate with a juris doctor degree. In most states, a JD from a traditional or online law school is needed to practice any kind of law. Most online law degree programs take three to four years to complete; during the last years of law school online programs, students can choose to focus on a specific type of law. Students interested in earning an online law degree should look carefully at the different online law degree programs they are interested in — not all online law schools are accredited. Accredited online law schools are more highly respected, and many states won’t let you practice as a lawyer if you earn an online law degree from a non-accredited institution.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Legal Methods, Constitutional Law, Anti-Discrimination Law

  • COMMON MAJORS

    Criminal Justice, Business Law, Intellectual Property Law

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Public defender, Litigation attorney, Prosecutor, Government counsel, Family law attorney

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $115,820 per year

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    All of these careers are projected to see a job growth rate of around 6% between 2014 and 2024.

Online Law Choose Your Career

Average Law Salaries

$76,823
$96,260
$101,516
$109,010
$131,744

Criminal Defense Lawyer

Salary: $76,823
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
% Doctorate Bar exam

Attending law school online could lead to a rewarding career as a criminal defense lawyer. As the name suggests, a criminal defense lawyer defends persons or organizations that have been charged with a crime. A subtype of criminal defense lawyer is the public defender, a lawyer who represents people charged with crimes who can’t afford to hire a lawyer themselves. In addition to building a defense case, a criminal defense lawyer may also work with the prosecution to lessen charges or obtain a plea bargain. All lawyers must complete the bar exams in order to be licensed to practice law. Requirements for the bar vary by state and jurisdiction.

Litigation Attorney

Salary: $96,260
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
% Doctorate Bar exam

Litigation attorneys spend a lot of time in the courtroom, where they pursue civil lawsuits for their clients. Property, debt, and personal injury disputes are common cases that litigation attorneys work on. While earning your law degree online, consider specializing in litigation if you think you’d be comfortable arguing in front of a judge during trial. You should also have the stamina and analytical mind to put in a lot of research at the office to build a solid case. All lawyers must complete the bar exams in order to be licensed to practice law. Requirements for the bar vary by state and jurisdiction.

Corporate Lawyer

Salary: $101,516
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
% Doctorate Bar exam

Earning a law degree online will set you on the path to becoming a corporate lawyer, who advises clients on business matters related to contracts, transactions, taxes, and more. Corporate lawyers can either work in-house — meaning they’re employed by and work for a single corporation — or at a law firm specializing in corporate law. Corporate lawyers specializing in small business matters may even have their own firms where they work by themselves or with a small team. Being comfortable both in the courtroom and surrounded by high-powered business executives is a must for successful corporate lawyers. All lawyers must complete the bar exams in order to be licensed to practice law. Requirements for the bar vary by state and jurisdiction.

Judge

Salary: $109,010
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
-1% 44,800 Doctorate Law Licensure

A judge presides over court cases, often deciding on a verdict in non-criminal cases. Judges must know the law inside and out and must be able to make impartial decisions based on evidence. To become a judge, you’ll need to spend many years building up your reputation as a talented attorney. Judges typically must hold a law license and should maintain licensure and good standing with their state bar association. Then you may be nominated or elected to a judgeship; typically, politicians — such as senators — make nominations. Due to budgetary concerns, employment growth for administrative law judges at the local, state, and federal level may be limited in coming years. However, there is a continued need for judges, and more jobs are expected to open as these professionals leave the office due to retirement or because their elected judgeship has come to an end.

Patent Attorney

Salary: $131,744
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
% Doctorate Varies

Patent attorneys help their clients file new patents on products and inventions and work their way through the patent process. Patent attorneys are among the highest paid attorneys in the law field. In part, because the job requires highly specialized technical knowledge in addition to legal knowledge; many patent attorneys earn undergraduate degrees in engineering, physics, or chemistry before enrolling in a traditional or online law school. All lawyers must complete the bar exams in order to be licensed to practice law. Requirements for the bar vary by state and jurisdiction.

Online Law Degree in Action

Shaolaine Loving Law

Shaolaine Loving graduated from Cornell Law School and did legal internships in New York City, Seattle, and Chapel Hill. She worked in the public and private sector in Las Vegas for the last 10 years before opening her own law practice in Las Vegas in 2015. Loving focuses primarily on family law and estate planning, but also handles other matters, like landlord-tenant and contract.

What are the most important skills a student develops or builds upon in a strong law degree program?

It depends on the type of law you will practice afterwards, but it can definitely train the student in doing legal research and writing, as well as being familiar with legal terms or concepts. For example, many of the basics learned in a contracts class are codified in various state laws and cases, and are pretty universal and useful immediately out of law school. One area attorneys or students complain about is the lack of real-world preparation. That is, that law school doesn't prepare students for the actual law firm environment and workload that graduates may encounter right out of law school, or on how to manage a solo practice if a student wanted to branch off on their own right after graduating. I think some schools are addressing this deficiency by offering more programs or clinics that allow realistic experiences.

What have been some of the greatest benefits of opening your own practice?

The flexibility in schedule and types of cases I accept. When you work for a firm, you usually have to accept whatever work a partner assigns you. With having my own practice, I am able to accept or decline cases as I choose. Schedule flexibility was a huge deal for me, however, since it allows me to accommodate my family's varying needs. I also enjoy seeing the fruits of my own labor.

… and challenges?

The biggest challenge for me has been having to devote time to marketing my practice. Unless you have a source of endless referrals, you have to continuously market your business to keep your name relevant in the industry.

Why did you choose to get into family law & estate planning specifically?

I like dealing with issues where I can see the direct benefits to individuals, i.e. my clients, versus working for businesses or for pure monetary recovery. Family law and estate planning concerns are very personal areas for people, so I find it more rewarding to help people achieve what they want concerning their family structure or living arrangement.

What type of person might want to consider a career in law?

You should have a passion to legitimately help people (or businesses), but with the resiliency to know that you may not always get the results you want. The law can be arbitrary, so you can't get burned out or take it too personally if you get unfavorable results. Also, understand that sometimes you may have to work longer hours or be under stress to meet deadlines, so you should be able to handle both.

What advice would you give to fresh law school grads who are looking for work?

Don't be afraid to experiment to see what legal area or type of practice you like best. I know attorneys who switched jobs pretty frequently before finding a firm they liked. You might think you want to work in a big firm, but actually enjoy a smaller firm better, or vice-versa.

Online Law Professional Requirements

Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

The LSAT is the standard test that traditional and accredited online law schools in the U.S. and Canada require applicants to take prior to admission. The exam measures test-takers’ reading and verbal reasoning skills, which need to be top-notch if you want wish to enroll in one of the more competitive online law degree programs. Many students who hope to pursue a law degree online start studying three or more months before they take the test.

Is it required?

Yes

How long will it take?

4-5 hours

BAR Exam

Traditional and online law school graduates must take the bar exam to be qualified to practice law. The bar exam is state-specific, so online law degree graduates are careful to only take the exam in the state(s) in which they want to practice law. Most bar exams are administered in two parts; the first part is the multistate bar examination, which most states require testees to take, and the second is an exam which covers laws related to the state. Many states also require a multistate performance test as part of the bar, which tests how takers perform in a realistic lawyering scenario.

Is it required?

Yes

How long will it take?

2-3 days