Few careers conjure the American spirit like the profession of law. Living in a country built on one of the most forward-thinking legal systems in the world, Americans are consumers of the law. Every day it is obeyed, broken, tried in court, interpreted and reinterpreted. As the world changes, our laws are in a state of constant metamorphosis, and right now is one of the most exciting times in the history of our country for the legal profession. This is a time when we need the brightest minds available to lay the groundwork for protecting our citizens and property from all the new creations, as well as threats, that emerged after the birth of the internet.
What Doctoral Degrees are Offered in the Field of Law?
There are two doctoral degrees of law offered in the United States. The first, most familiar degree is the Juris Doctor (JD) which is accepted as a terminal degree for the practice of law and law-related coursework. The Juris Doctor (sometimes referred to as a Juris Doctorate) degree is a professional doctorate, specifically designed to train future attorneys and is the degree path that allows individuals to sit for the bar exam. Because students must pass the bar exam to be licensed to practice law, the JD programs are accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA does not accredit other programs.
The second doctorate in law is the Doctor of Juridical Science (JSD) or, for schools using the Latin title, the Scientiae Juridicae Doctor (SJD). The JSD is an academic degree aimed at educating professors, legal scientists, and other scholars in law. The degree originated in the US in the late 1800’s where it is primarily offered but is also available in Canada and in Australia. In the early years, the degree was offered at U.S. law schools like Yale and Harvard to produce full-time law teachers capable of training lawyers to practice law in the United States. A JD or a Master in Law (LL.M.) can serve as the interim degree for students pursuing a JSD. Today the JSD is also a popular degree for training legal scholars from outside of the United States who wish to practice law in another country. These students typically have a Master in Law (LL.M.) before entering the JSD program. Individuals in the US who wish to pursue the degree can have an LL.M. or a JD before seeking the JSD, but some schools require students to have a JD, which is generally considered more desirable.
What Do I Need To Know About The Accreditation of Online Law Degrees?
An important note on accreditation for all JD programs: The American Bar Association (ABA) Standard 306: Distance Education, which sets out the parameters for earning credit for study offered through distance education, will not accredit any JD program that includes more than 12 hours of distance or online education. Additionally, there are law schools that have accredited programs and also offer online programs that are not accredited. California is currently the only state that allows individuals to sit for the bar exam after graduating from a non-accredited program. Other states will let California attorneys sit for the bar exam in their state, but usually after demonstrating five years of practice in California as a licensed attorney.
Students interested in an online program should check with their state to determine the specific requirements. There is one additional rare exception for the bar exam. California, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington will allow individual aspiring to be attorneys to take the bar exam without a JD degree. An apprenticeship with a practicing attorney or judge can be substituted for the degree. Also worth noting is the changing tide in acceptance of online law programs. In the fall of 2018 Syracuse Law School will begin its first semester of the nation’s first ABA-accredited Live Online J.D. Program. This groundbreaking development is the first time the American Bar Association has granted a variance in their strict policy of only 12 hours of online or distance credit. The online J.D. program will be the first in the nation to combine real-time and self-paced online classes, on-campus residential classes, and experiential learning opportunities. Many view this act as a move toward greater acceptance of online education by the American Bar Association.
1. Thomas Jefferson University
The Thomas Jefferson School of Law is a private institution initally founded in 1969 as the San Diego branch of the Western State University College of Law. The school was renamed Thomas Jefferson School of Law in late 1995 and was granted full American Bar Association (ABA) accreditation in August 2001. Thomas Jefferson School of Law opened a new campus in downtown San Diego in 2011.
The Thomas Jefferson School of Law offers an online Doctor of Juridical Science Degree (JSD) Program designed for aspiring legal academics wishing to pursue sustained independent study, which includes substantial legal research and writing. It is one of the only online JSD programs offered online in the world. The program is designed for academics seeking to pursue careers as professors and law scholars. The JSD program is highly selective and only open to applicants holding an LL.M. or a J.D. or the foreign equivalent. The program starts each year in July and takes three to five years to complete. Students must take 60 credit units to complete the degree and must complete four different stages – JSD Pre-Candidacy, JSD Candidacy, JSD Evaluation, and JSD Defense of Dissertation. Tuition for the online JSD program is $1570 per credit unit for the 2018-2019 academic year. Most students enter the program with some transfer credits and Jefferson also offers part-time evening classes.
Degree: Doctor of Juridical Science (JDS)
2. Abraham Lincoln University
Abraham Lincoln University (ALU) was founded in 1996 in Los Angeles, California by Hyung J. Park, a practicing California attorney and Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s success in gaining an education despite difficult circumstances and obstacles, Park named the school after the former president. The impetus for creating the school came from Park’s own experience and struggles. Beginning college at age 25 while also working to support his family, Park understood the difficulties of the non-traditional student and he established Abraham Lincoln University to open a path of opportunity for others.
Abraham Lincoln University (ALU) offers a fully online Juris Doctor (JD) degree. The Juris Doctor (JD) program can be completed in approximately four years and requires 140 quarter credit units. Courses are taken one at a time to ensure a deep understanding of content. The classes are held online through live, interactive sessions which are archived for later review. The school enrolls students on a year-by-year basis for each year required to complete the program. ALU students must pass the First-Year Law Students’ Examination (FYLSX) at the end of the first year of law school study.
Abraham Lincoln is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) and registered as an unaccredited distance learning law school with the Committee of Bar Examiners (CBE) of the State Bar of California. ALU’s authority to grant a Juris Doctor (JD) degree qualifies graduates to take the California State Bar Examination.
Degree: Juris Doctor (JD)
3. Northwestern California University School of Law
Northwestern California University School of Law (NWCULaw ) was founded in 1982 and is the oldest degree-granting online law school in the country. Offering online correspondence-based distance education, the school currently enrolls around 500 students annually and is located in Sacramento, California. Originally designed to cater to non-traditional students juggling family, work, and finances; students have the flexibility to enroll at any time and begin their studies immediately.
NWCULaw offers an affordable, fully online, Juris Doctor (JD) degree for students interested in sitting for the California Bar. The Juris Doctor (J.D.) Degree Program at NWCULaw is completed over four years with an accumulation of 216 credits. Classes are taken through the course management platform eJuris. The software enables students to access course material, collaborate and communicate with faculty and other students in text chats and video conference sessions, and to view and listen to lectures from anywhere in the world. Additionally, students have access to an electronic law library, through LexisNexis. Students are eligible to practice law in California if they successfully take and pass the California First-Year Law Students’ Examination after the first year of the program, and after completion of the J.D. degree program, successfully pass the California General Bar Exam.
Degree: Juris Doctor (JD)
4. St. Francis School of Law
St. Francis School of Law is a small, private online law school located in Newport Beach, California. The school was established in 2011 and is owned by Baker College, a private not-for-profit educational system located in Michigan. The school is the only not-for-profit online law school operating in the United States, St. Francis strives to produce graduates capable of practicing law immediately upon graduation.
St. Francis School of Law School offers an online Juris Doctor (JD) program that focuses on practical professional skills training. The program is part-time and takes four years to complete with 130 credit hours. The curriculum includes live online classes taught by experienced professors. St Frances is registered as a distance learning law school with the ABA. Students who complete St. Francis’ online J.D. program will have met the legal education requirement of the State Bar of California and may apply for admission to the State Bar of California to practice law.
Degree: Juris Doctor (JD)
5. California Southern University
The California Southern University, or CalSouthern, was founded in 1978 with a vision: to make education of exceptional quality affordable and convenient for non-traditional students—students who are often adults juggling career and family obligations. The CalSouthern campus is located in Costa Mesa, California, an easy drive from both Los Angeles and San Diego.
CalSouthern offers a fully online Juris Doctor (JD) program designed for working professional. The program emphasizes analytical thinking and ethics. The Juris Doctor degree is conferred with the completion of 88 required credits and takes four years to complete. The school’s faculty is comprised of practicing attorneys with real-world experience that provide a relevant and current education. Graduates of the CalSouthern JD program who have complied with Title 4, Division 1 of the Rules of the State Bar of California will be eligible to sit for the California Bar Examination.
Degree: Juris Doctor (JD)