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Law schools offer a range of programs, specialty tracks and learning formats, including traditional and online law degrees. These options can make learning more specialized and accessible, but sorting through them can be overwhelming. This guide outlines the kind of training and career information future students need find the right programs for them.

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Law Degree Options

Online law schools allow students to pursue several different types of degrees, depending on their goals and interests. Associate and bachelor’s degrees in legal studies prepare students for paralegal careers by teaching them how to conduct legal research and provide assistance to licensed attorneys. Bachelor’s degree programs offer more advanced training and serve as stepping stones to master’s and professional degrees, including the Juris Doctorate degrees that prepare future attorneys to pass bar exam and practice law. The Doctor of Judicial Science degree is the most advanced legal degree available and a popular choice for students who want to teach university law courses.

Online Law School Degrees

Law degrees tend to be heavily reading- and research-intensive, which makes them well suited for distance learning. Online law schools can help students pursue the training they need to enter any number of law careers, but in a much more convenient format. These programs strive to strike a balance between flexibility and interactivity. For instance, students enrolled in online Juris Doctorate programs may use an online course management platform like Blackboard to access course materials, watch video lectures, attend live classes and take exams online, but also collaborative schools like Skype and online forums to interact with peers and professors. Online law schools tend to offer the same degrees, coursework and practical skills as their more traditional counterparts, though they need not be all-or-nothing: many schools offer hybrid programs combining online and classroom instruction.

Program Highlight:
Online Bachelor’s in Law & Society

Online bachelor’s in law and society degree offer students a fundamental understanding of U.S. law, legal principles and legal systems. Curriculum is designed to develop strong critical thinking, research, rhetoric and legal writing skills, all of which can be applied to a variety of law careers. The degree can also be useful in fields that deal with various legal issues, such as human resources, affirmative action, law enforcement, education, health care or human services.

Every online law degree is different, but most bachelor’s programs require students to complete 120 to 130 credits worth of core and elective courses to graduate. Courses typically cover topics such as contemporary legal issues, the American legal process, rhetoric and law, conflict resolution and negotiation and introduction to law. Graduates will be prepared for careers as legal assistants, arbitrators, contract negotiators, law enforcement officers or conciliators.

Online Associate Degrees in Legal Studies

Associate-level online law degrees prepare students for entry-level careers as legal assistants and paralegals, or to pursue more advanced degrees. Online associate in legal studies degrees usually require about two years of full-time study and offer students a fundamental understanding of U.S. law, civil litigation and legal procedures. They may also learn how to prepare basic legal documents, write legal correspondence, organize legal assignments and navigate legal ethics. The following table highlights just a few of the kinds of courses students earning online associate degrees in legal studies might take:

COURSE NAME overview
Civil Procedures Surveys and evaluates the stages of a civil lawsuit: the preliminary stage, the pleading stage and the discovery stage.
Contract Law Develops a critical perspective on the law through legal source materials such as statutes, contracts and case law; assesses their implications for hypothetical cases.
Legal Research and Writing Teaches how to convey a legal analysis of a problem in a written form that adheres to the conventions of the legal profession. Covers researching legal problems, interviewing clients and drafting legal memorandums.
Law Office Management Provides an overview of office organization, file preparation, accounting and billing procedures, scheduling and calendaring, personnel management and organization procedures of the law office.

Online Bachelor’s in Legal Studies Degree

Online bachelor’s in legal studies programs offer students the knowledge, skills and ethical procedures needed to research and produce legal information and documents in law-related environments. Students take courses in the organization and processes of U.S. lawmaking institutions. They also learn the details of the paralegal’s role, emphasizing legal analysis, legal writing and drafting, legal research and computer competence. The following table outlines some of the courses students might take in the course of earning online bachelor’s in legal studies degrees:

COURSE NAME overview
Intro to Law Covers legal methods and terminology that provide orientation to state and federal laws and court systems.
Legal Research Surveys legal resource materials and how to research them. Includes constitutional law, statutory law, case law, administrative regulations and municipal law.
Civil Litigation Practice Introduces all aspects of a civil lawsuit, including jurisdiction, rules of procedure, pleadings, motions, discovery, trial procedures and the appellate process.
Patent, Trademark and Copyright Law Introduces intellectual property topics related to the Internet, including freedom of speech, ISP responsibilities, infringement, trademark issues, privacy, copyright piracy, international trade issues and new developments in trade secret law.
Business Organizations and Practice Covers substantive law of business entities, including sole proprietorships, general and limited partnerships, and corporations.
Legal Ethics Provides a comprehensive study of the specific ethical issues faced in the legal profession, as guided by the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
Estate Administration and Probate Practice Explores the role of wills, trusts and powers of attorney in the management of personal assets. Covers procedures to open, manage and close decedents’ estates, conservatorship, guardianship, small estates and refusal of letters.

Online Master’s in Legal Studies & Juris Doctor Degrees

A master’s degree in legal studies is a 2-year program that introduces students to the U.S. judicial system and legal theory. It is offered to professionals who require some knowledge of U.S. law in their field of expertise, whether as witnesses, investigators, resource personnel, or processors of legal forms or requirements.

A Juris Doctor program is a graduate level program that takes three years to complete with full-time study. Students planning to practice law must earn a Juris Doctor degree and then pass the bar exam. The first year of study includes basic topics such as civil procedure, international law and criminal law. The last two years include electives associated with the type of law the student intends to practice. The following table examines classes offered in a Juris Doctor program at a typical online law school:

Public Interest Law Introduces various issues and areas in public interest law, such as legal aid, non-profit organizations, government agencies, legislative advocacy and philanthropy.
Environmental Law Provides an overview of the history, requirements and emerging policy issues associated with environmental laws and institutions.
Legal Writing Teaches how to research and analyze legal problems, and to convey a legal analysis of a problem in a written form that adheres to the conventions of the legal profession.
Constitutional Law Covers a wide range of topics including the constitutional structure, the scope of federal powers, the separation of powers, the 14th Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses, individual liberty, federalism, the First Amendment, the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court.
Torts Explores basic elements of torts law as it differs from criminal law. Includes intentional fault, unintentional fault, nonfeasance, imputed fault, no fault and damages.
Public Interest Law Touches on different issues and areas of public law pertaining to careers in legal aid, non-profit organizations, government agencies, legislative advocacy, philanthropy and more.
Corporate Tax Problems Covers federal income taxation of corporations and their shareholders. Topics include formation of the corporation, capital structure, operational alternatives, distributions, liquidations, personal holding companies and the accumulated earnings tax.
Bankruptcy Provides a comprehensive introduction to federal bankruptcy law. Topics include bankruptcy estate, classifications of claims, exemptions, discharges, the automatic stay, preferences and fraudulent transfers.
Local and State Taxation Introduces the law of state and local taxation. Covers real property tax, state persona and corporate income taxes, and sales taxes.

Online Doctor of Judicial Science Degrees

The Doctor of Judicial Science (S.J.D.) qualifies students to work as law professors in academic settings. This highly advanced online law degree is research-intensive, with most of the time spent on the completion and defense of a dissertation. Full-time students can complete the program in approximately three years. Applicants tend to be law professionals with many years of experience. The topic of study for a dissertation depends on the student’s area of interest. Some examples are business law, legal advocacy and family law.

Career Options for Online Law School Graduates

Online law school graduates’ career options depend very much on the type of degrees they earned. For instance, future lawyers must typically earn bachelor’s and then three-year Juris Doctor degrees before they can even sit for the bar exam–the test that qualifies them to practice law. They may also choose to specialize in specific areas of the field, like bankruptcy law, business law, criminal defense and personal injury law. Students who pursue postsecondary certificates, associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees are typically qualified to become paralegals or other legal support professionals, depending on the states in which they practice. The following box outlines featured law professions along with key career and training trends.

Featured Careers

  • Arbitrators/Mediators/Conciliators

    When parties in a legal dispute wish to resolve their dilemma outside of the court system, they hire an arbitrator, mediator, or conciliator. These professionals use mediation techniques to minimize or rectify conflicts so that both disputants can settle on an agreement. Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators use their legal knowledge and interpersonal skills to collect information via interviews and meetings, then negotiate with dueling parties to craft and present a solution.

    Median Salary: $61,280

    Median Hourly: $29.46

    Est. Growth: 10.4%

    No. Employed 6,520

    Minimum Education: Bachelor’s

  • Court Reporters

    Court reporters transcribe the dialogues during trials and other legal proceedings. Using an intricate short-hand, court reporters create a word-for-word record of the proceeding for use as an official document. Additional, but not necessary, duties include captioning for television or real-time translation for the deaf/hearing-impaired at special events.

    Median Salary: $48,160

    Median Hourly: $23.15

    Est. Growth: 9.6%

    No. Employed: 18,590

    Minimum Education: Postsecondary non-degree award

  • Judges/Magistrate

    Judges and magistrates play an important–perhaps the most important–role in legal proceedings, namely in overseeing the process and ensuring all the relevant rules are followed. The duties of a judge or magistrate are many. For example, they must regulate the admissibility of evidence and the methods of conducting testimony; instruct and advise juries, attorneys, and litigants; award compensation for damages (civil cases); and issue legal decisions and criminal sentences.

    Median Salary: $115,760

    Median Hourly: $55.65

    Est. Growth: 2.3%

    No. Employed: 27,220

    Minimum Education: Doctoral/Professional

  • Judicial Law Clerks

    Judicial law clerks assist judges in court. They conduct research on laws, court decisions, documents, opinions, briefs, and other information. They are also tasked with drafting and proofreading court documents and reviewing complaints, petitions, and motions. Law clerks attend court sessions to record information during oral arguments. They are also responsible for informing judges of relevant changes in the law and for responding to judicial officers or court staff on general legal issues.

    Median Salary: $47,120

    Median Hourly: $22.66

    Est. Growth: 4.3%

    No. Employed: 11,200

    Minimum Education: Doctoral/Professional

  • Labor Relations Specialists

    Labor relations specialists manage and administer labor contracts, as well as address issues regarding salary, health care, and pension. Overall, these specialists assist employees in understanding labor documents and contracts prior to and during employment. Depending on the place of employment, additional responsibilities may include overseeing staff training, union relations, employee relations, and payroll and benefits paperwork.

    Median Salary: $54,660

    Median Hourly: $26.28

    Est. Growth: -0.8%

    No. Employed: 75,930

    Minimum Education: Bachelor’s

  • College Law Teachers

    College law teachers instruct postsecondary students in topics pertaining to understanding and practicing law. They prepare and deliver lectures, facilitate classroom discussion, evaluate students’ work, and create and administer exams. College law teachers are also responsible for staying informed on changes in the field by reading relevant materials, attending conferences, and collaborating with colleagues. Some teachers conduct independent research on law-related topics and publish academic articles or books.

    Median Salary: $99,950

    Median Hourly: NR

    Est. Growth: 17.6%

    No. Employed: 15,260

    Minimum Education: Doctoral/Professional

  • Lawyers

    Lawyers provide advice on legal issues and disputes to individuals, businesses, and government agencies. They represent these entities in legal proceedings and in court, defending clients or prosecuting defendants with the use of evidence, laws, prior rulings, and regulations. Other responsibilities include selecting jurors, meeting with judges, questioning witnesses, and studying laws and prior cases to develop strategies for court presentations and arguments.

    Median Salary: $113,530

    Median Hourly: $54.58

    Est. Growth: 9.8%

    No. Employed: 581,920

    Minimum Education: Doctoral/Professional

  • Paralegals/Legal Assistants

    While exact responsibilities vary depending on the size and specialty of a law firm, in general, paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers prepare for a trial, hearing or other legal meeting by conducting research, organizing exhibits and presentation materials, preparing legal documents, and gathering and analyzing data. Some paralegals work only on a specific part of a case, such as reviewing reference files. Two common types of paralegal and legal assistants are corporate and litigation.

    Median Salary: $46,990

    Median Hourly: $22.59

    Est. Growth: 16.7%

    No. Employed: 267,030

    Minimum Education: Associate’s