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Going to law school can be an enticing career option for students from liberal arts backgrounds. It can also be a solid option for those who love the process of debate and examining many points of view. Perhaps you’re a working adult who is interested in continuing a legal education via distance learning. Currently, the ABA does not accredit law schools that offer fully online JD degrees,[1] but here’s what you need to know about finding a solid degree program.

What Types of Law Degrees Are Available?

  • Pre-Law Bachelor’s Degree: While a specific pre-law degree is not required in order to apply to Juris Doctor (JD) programs, a pre-law bachelor’s can be a good option if you’re sure that law is right for you. These four-year programs are designed to introduce students to a broad variety of liberal arts topics and the critical thinking skills that are required for legal work. Coursework in these programs is typically heavy in communication, political science, and writing. 
  • JD Degree: The Juris Doctor degree is a graduate degree that provides students with the skills and credentials to become practicing lawyers. JD degrees take three years to complete. Students take classes in contracts, constitutional law, torts, civil procedure, property, and more. Many law schools allow students to specialize in a particular legal area, such as advocacy, public law, or business law. Successful graduates may sit for the bar exam that is required by all US states to become licensed lawyers.
  • LLM Degree: The legum magister (LLM) degree program is usually considered to be a post-JD degree program. Many LLM programs in the United States are geared toward lawyers from outside the United States who wish to become familiar with the US legal system. Other programs are for US licensed lawyers who want to specialize in a particular legal area, such as international law or intellectual property issues. LLM degrees usually take one year to complete and require that students complete a thesis.

What Should I Know About ABA Accreditation?

You’ve probably heard that American Bar Association accreditation is important for law schools. In most states, you’ll need to graduate from an ABA accredited program in order to sit for the bar exam. For particular requirements in your state, check out the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

The ABA warns that “Earning an education completely via distance education may drastically limit your ability to sit for the bar in many states.” This is because many states use ABA accreditation as a requirement for sitting for the state bar exam.

How Do I Apply to Law School?

In order to apply to an ABA-accredited law program, you’ll need to carefully review the admission procedures. In most cases, you’ll need to have a high undergraduate GPA, competitive LSAT scores, and two to four letters of recommendation. A resume outlining your education and employment history as well as a personal statement are also common requirements. Most law schools also have an admission fee of $50-$100.

How Do I Choose a Program?

  • Accreditation: Remember to look for institutional accreditation of any school you are considering attending, if you hope to qualify for federal financial aid. American Bar Association accreditation is also vital in most cases if you wish to sit for the bar exam.
  • Career Aspirations: Make sure you choose a law degree that really reflects what you want to do. Don’t forget about legal assistant and paralegal programs, which prepare graduates to do support work for lawyers. There are also non-JD graduate programs for individuals in business who need to understand the law.

What Sort of Job Prospects Will I Have When I Graduate?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts about average job growth for lawyers in the coming years. Strong competition for these positions is expected, as the current rate of law school graduates outpaces the demand for lawyers. Lawyer job opportunities are also tied to the growth of the economy and may be harder to find in recessions.[2]

References

  1. ^Distance Education. American Bar Association. Accessed February 19, 2013. http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/distance_education.html
  2. ^Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed February 19, 2013. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Legal/Lawyers.htm#tab-6
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