The modern legal system in the U.S. is complex, and successfully understanding the process and procedure of the law is virtually impossible. We seem to be a litigious society in the United States and we have the highest number of licensed lawyers (more than 1,300,000) per capita than any other country. Still, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) careers in the law will grow by 10% (faster than average for all occupations) between 2021-31.
There are nearly 200 law schools in the U.S., the majority offering traditional 3-year, full-time law school programs. These schools are accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA), which is the voice of the legal profession in the U.S.
Law school doesn’t come cheaply. In March 2022, Forbes reported an average law school tuition was between $84,558 (public, in-state) and $147,936 (private schools), not including living expenses. The national median salary for attorneys in 2021 was reported by the BLS to be $127,990 per year. A Juris Doctor (JD) degree is required to practice, with the majority of states requiring a passing bar exam to be eligible to practice.
Most law schools still require the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) for admission and you’ll want to take it by December 1. With recent recommendations by the ABA, you may find some law schools will accept GRE test scores in lieu of the LSAT.
College Consensus trusts this information will help you make your law school decisions.
How We Ranked the 10 Best Online Law Degree Programs for 2023
The College Consensus 10 Best Online Law Degree Programs for 2023 are ranked according to an important measure of success – their first-time Bar exam pass rate.
College Consensus looks at college programs according to their record of providing a return on investment. Our ranking of the 10 Best Online Law Degree Programs shows the best combination of market reputation, educational quality, and rewarding income. All the programs in this ranking hold accreditation. We hope there is a program on this list that inspires you to take the next step.
This is a Hybrid Juris Doctor (JD) Program with concentrations in Information Law, Intellectual Property (IP), and Technology. The program offered through the New Hampshire University Franklin Pierce School of Law is the only ABA-approved of its type in the nation.
Designed specifically for professionals working in one of the concentrations, this part-time program lets you take courses, primarily online, with intermittent immersion experiences. Taught by internationally recognized faculty, you’ll receive the same educational opportunity as resident students in curriculum and clinics, bar exam preparation, academic and career services, scholarship consideration, and more. You can earn your degree in 3.5 years with courses presented synchronously or asynchronously, discussion boards, reading/writing assignments, and more. Among the courses offered are Civil Procedure, Property, Torts, Trade Secrets, and Criminal Procedure, as well as electives. During your final year, you’ll be able to participate in the college’s Legal Residency Program (externship.)
First-Time Bar Exam Pass Rate: 92%
Both The Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Report agree with our ranking of the Syracuse University College of Law as one of the best online law schools. Known as the JDinteractive (JDi), this is an ABA-accredited program offered online in real-time, live, and online courses, as well as self-paced studies and brief, on-campus residencies. This online JD program is part-time and mirrors the course content of the on-campus curriculum, and is taught by the same faculty.
This curriculum combines core courses in torts, property law, Constitutional law, civil procedures, etc., and you’ll have required on-campus residencies in Legal Foundations, Professional Skills, Legal Applications, and Advanced Legal Applications. The program offers a comprehensive slate of electives to meet your specific interests. An externship is available, working with experienced attorneys. Syracuse University has an online joint J.D./MBA you may want to explore that’s offered in partnership with the Whitman School of Management. The application deadline for this law school is July 15.
First-Time Bar Exam Pass Rate: 91%
Located in Newark, Seton Hall is the only private law school in New Jersey and, since 1951, has enrolled a diverse student body. This hybrid, part-time J.D. offers the same course of study as full-time students and is taught by the same faculty.
You’ll enroll in classes that meet on alternating weekends (typically 8:30 am-5:00 pm Saturday; 9:00 am-2:15 pm Sunday) over eight weekends per semester. This J.D. can be earned in 8 semesters (88 credit hours.) The curriculum covers general law studies in tort, civil procedure, criminal law, property, and Constitutional law, with electives. After your first two years, you’ll be able to include weekday and evening classes, and up to 15 credit hours can be taken online. A unique aspect of this program is the Legal Education Opportunity (LEO) that reaches out to prospective law students who may not have access to educational, economic, or social benefits of other students. Besides mentoring, faculty support networks and financial assistance are available to those who qualify. Application to Seton Hall Law deadlines for the Fall Semester is April 1st, and transfer student applications are due June 27.
First-Time Bar Exam Pass Rate: 82%
In 1909, the innovative Lincoln College of Law at Loyola University Chicago was established, and innovation continues today in the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Offering the ABA-approved Weekend J.D., you can earn this law degree with a combination of online coursework and classroom instruction (16 weekends each academic year.) Recognized in the top 10 Best Part-Time Law Schools by U.S. News and World Report, 89% of its graduates are employed within ten months of graduation. Loyola law graduates can work in law firms as trial lawyers, state or federal judges, or government agencies.
Loyola’s nationally recognized law faculty teach the 86-credit hour curriculum in Constitutional law, torts, contracts, criminal law, civil procedure, etc. An emphasis on professional values will introduce you to professional ethics, client commitment, and more. You’ll also participate in supervised client experiences and develop skills in legal research, recognizing client needs, developing solutions to client problems, and applying legal principles.
First-Time Bar Exam Pass Rate: 78%
Here’s one of the best part-time law school programs in the country. Through the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, this JD degree is one of the oldest in the country (est. 1892) and ranks #16 in U.S. News and World Report’s Part-time program.
This is a hybrid program with about a third of your coursework provided online. On-campus classes are required every other weekend (8:15 a.m. – 5:15 p.m. on Saturdays and 8:15 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. on Sundays) to complete the first 40 credit hours. You’ll cover studies in property law, contracts, civil or criminal law, corporations, torts, and more. As you move into the second half of the program, you’ll be able to participate in externships, scheduled courses, and clinical experiences. The college encourages part-time students to join full-time students in moot courts, law journals, and mock trials. Applications are due by March 1, all students are considered for merit-based scholarships, and federal student loans are available for qualifying students.
First-Time Bar Exam Pass Rate: 77%
If you have two years and want to earn a law degree, Spokane, Washington’s Gonzaga University has you covered with a two-year Executive J.D. program. This is a blended curriculum with online and on-campus coursework and participation.
You’ll begin coursework in the summer with first-year classes automatically assigned by the Registrar. Studies include 90-credit hours taught by law, leadership, and business faculty. You’ll complete 30 hours of public service work in addition to classes in tort, criminal law, legal research, writing, Constitutional law, property, etc. You’ll enter experiential learning, working with judges and attorneys on real cases with real clients. The experiential component can be done in Gonzaga’s legal clinic or through an externship. Among the requirements to apply, you need a bachelor’s degree and LSAT scores. Applications open September 1.
First-Time Bar Exam Pass Rate: 72%
This Ohio university in Dayton awards a J.D. degree offered through an online, hybrid program you can complete in less than four years. You’ll study legal doctrines in torts, criminal law, civil procedures, trial practice, family law, and an externship.
Using online coursework, live instruction, and in-person participation, this school’s 90-credit hour program is collaborative in design. You’ll interact with your classmates and professors in weekly online face-to-face sessions and assigned readings, view recorded classes on policies and legal procedures, and take quizzes or answer questions. Virtual discussions with your professor and two other law students are also part of the curriculum. You’ll be required to attend weekend intensives known as “Get Relevant Experience and Applied Learning (Get REAL) Intensives” on ten specified weekends. Each Get REAL weekend is estimated to cost between $400-500, and travel and lodging are your responsibility. Throughout the program, you’ll have 24/7 access to your coursework.
First-Time Bar Exam Pass Rate: 67%
We’re including the Touro University Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center’s FlexTime JDSM Program in Central Islip, NY, for its flexibility for students with work and family obligations. The school receives national recognition as one of the best part-time law programs (U.S. News and World Report) and exceptional professor accessibility (The Princeton Review.)
Using evidence-based instruction and tools, this is a hybrid program that requires ten in-person classes on Sundays for Fall and Spring Semesters, and you’ll have to complete one Summer Semester. The curriculum matches the school’s full-time campus standards. FlexTime students will be offered the opportunity to participate in various activities in the legal clinic, pro bono cases, honor societies, and organizations. Those activities include Moot Court, Touro Law Review, and Trial Advocacy and Practice Society (TAPS). Externships are offered each semester in federal and state courts, private and public firms, etc. Simulation courses are part of the curriculum as well. You can take a virtual tour of the school to help with your decision.
First-Time Bar Exam Pass Rate: 61%
If you’re in the Los Angeles area and want to earn your law degree, have work and family obligations, and can only attend part-time, you’ll want to explore the unique Part-Time Evening Juris Doctor program at Southwestern Law School. Offered in the evenings, you’ll avoid much aggravation in LA traffic.
The program uses current distance education technology, allowing you to take about half of your classes remotely and only travel to the campus twice a week in the evenings. You’ll benefit from the same curriculum as on-campus students, completing the required curriculum in your first two years and electives in the last two years. The electives allow you to participate in externships, honor programs, practical experiences, and more. Billboard Magazine and The Hollywood Reporter have named SWLA one of the best entertainment and media law schools. You’ll also benefit from a dedicated career counselor for help in job placement once you graduate. Some SWLA alumni include notable attorneys such as Marcia Clark, Gloria Alred, Tom Bradley, and others.
First-Time Bar Exam Pass Rate: 52%
For over 100 years, Mitchell Hamline School of Law in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area has catered to part-time law students. Keeping with the times, you can enroll in the hybrid JD, study online coursework, and participate in on-campus intensives. This is the first blended law degree recognized by the ABA in 2015.
In 2010, the school reimagined its hybrid program, and it’s now a four-year degree you can earn in three. The curriculum offers the best of the school’s weekend, hybrid, and executive classes. Your first two years will be a combination of 1/3 online coursework and 2/3 in-person attendance. The last two years offer a mix of blended, on-campus, and online classes. There are no “live” online classes allowing more flexibility in your studies. Even as a non-traditional student, you’ll have the same opportunities for clinics, externships, law journals, and other activities and are trained by the same faculty who teach on-campus. You’ll want to check into the school’s Study Abroad programs.
First-Time Bar Exam Pass Rate: N/A
Are Online Law Schools Accredited?
This gets complicated. The answer is yes and no. Traditionally, online law degrees weren’t accredited, but thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s beginning to change.
Law schools are accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA), but there are limitations to accrediting online law programs. The ABA has been slow to embrace online legal studies, but that’s slowly changing. Schools can offer one-third of the required credit hours for distance education but need to request a waiver from the bar association. The ABA doesn’t accredit programs offered entirely online but has begun issuing releases for hybrid programs. In January 2022, the American Bar Association (ABA) published a guide explaining online law school accreditation.
There are several hybrid J.D. programs through distance education that are ABA-approved for accreditation, and only one 100% online, test program. Earning a J.D. degree in a distance education program may hamper your ability to sit for the bar in some states. U.S. News and World Report published an article that indicated that a 100% online test program at St. Mary’s University School of Law was approved for accreditation in or around September 2022.
Below are schools currently accredited by the ABA for some form of distance education:
University of Dayton School of Law
Loyola Law School (Los Angeles)
Mitchell Hamline College of Law
University of New Hampshire School of Law
Northeastern University School of Law
St. Mary’s University School of Law (100% online. Approved for accreditation September 2022 per U.S. News and World Report)
Seattle University School of Law
South Texas College of Law-Houston
Suffolk University Law School
Syracuse University College of Law
Vermont Law School
How Long Will an Online Law Degree Take?
Online law degrees haven’t become mainstream like other professional degrees, and the right one for you may be hard to find, but that’s slowly changing. Like part-time programs, these degrees can take up to four to five years to complete, a year more than the usual three years of on-campus students.
Of course, the time commitment to an online program will depend on whether you enroll full-time or in a part-time program. Family and work obligations may interfere, and scheduling the classes you need may be difficult.
So, including your undergraduate degree, an online law degree can take up to 8-10 years.
Can I Take the Bar with an Online Degree?
Delaware was the first state, or colony, to administer a legal bar exam in 1763, and it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the formal American Bar Association was created. Formalized examination of legal knowledge began in the 20th century.
If you don’t have a law degree from an ABA-accredited college or school of law, you probably won’t be eligible to sit for the bar exam. That said, some states, notably Vermont, California, Virginia, and Washington, don’t require you to go to law school at all, let alone an ABA-accredited one. To practice law in the United States, however, you must pass the bar to be licensed.