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Learn about the evolution of online law schools and the benefits of enrolling at St. Francis.

During the past decade, online education has moved from being an innovative, and at times evolutionary, form of education to a well-accepted and respected delivery method for higher education. And as the events of the past two years have forced ABA-approved J.D. programs to pivot to online learning, the state of law school has evolved almost instantaneously.

As a matter of fact, some 90% of law students took at least half their classes online in 2021, according to The AccessLex Institute. This marks a drastic increase from The National Center for Education Statistics’ reports that 30% of college students took at least one distance education course in 2016.

Since law school has famously resisted online education, this stark contrast from pre-2018 suggests that more institutions of law are recognizing that these flexible programs offer value and access to students without sacrificing rigor. But some programs, like St. Francis, have a head start on developing robust online courses and resources to support student success in a distance learning environment. That’s because St. Francis has been online all along and has invested historically and currently in the best teaching and learning practices for its students. Read on to learn more about the growth of online law schools, and St. Francis’ recognized program specifically.

The Evolution of Online Law School in The United States

The first online law school program began in 1998 and was called the Concord School of Law. It was an unaccredited, for-profit school that offered legal education completely online. There were no physical classes, and students interacted with their professors and classmates only through email and message boards.

Despite the success of the Concord School of Law, there was some reluctance to consider online law school programs. Many people believed that education could only be effective if it occurred in a physical classroom and involved direct interaction between teachers and students.

According to the University of Denver report on Distance Education and the Evolution of Online Learning in the United States, “There was a general perception that online education could not replicate the experience of attending class in person. As a result, online learning would be inferior to traditional instruction.”

Another 2017 report presented by CHLOE (the Council on Higher Education Licensure and Accreditation) on The Changing Landscape of Online Education and a Focus on K-12 and Higher Education highlighted the challenges faced at the time. It stated that “Among the significant concerns of distance learning included the ability to provide the same quality of education as traditional face-to-face instruction, and difficulty in teaching diverse student populations with varying learning needs.

On August 6, 2018, the ABA House of Delegates voted to accept a proposed revision expanding the distance learning offerings allowed to approximately 1/3 of a J.D. program, and 10 credits of the first-year curriculum.

4 Factors That Led to the Rise of Online Law School

The increasing enrollment and credibility surrounding online law schools can largely be attributed to following 4 factors:

1. Technological advancement

In 1994, Netscape was launched and became the first popular browser that allowed students to have a better experience conducting research on the internet. Over time, there has been an increase in the quality and variety of online educational tools, including video lectures, interactive course materials, and social networking platforms. This has enabled the quality of online education to be at par with physical classrooms.

2. The desire for more convenience and flexibility

As the world has become more hectic and demanding, there is an increased demand for more convenience in our lives. This is particularly true for people with full-time jobs or working parents. They might not have the time to attend physical law classes during traditional business hours. As such, they prefer to participate in online law classes, which can be accessed from anywhere at any time.

3. The cost of physical classrooms

The cost of physical law schools is often prohibitive for many people. A 2020 ABA report showed that nearly 1,100 young lawyers postponed their studies due to heavy law school debt. As such, online law schools have been considered as an affordable alternative. Also, several online programs offer financial aid, such as scholarships, discounts, and part-time payment plans.

4. The legal demand for more law schools

According to enrollment data provided by the American Bar Association (ABA), the annual J.D. enrollment rate increased from 114,520 in 2020 to 117,501 in 2021. The increase can be heavily attributed to the outbreak of coronavirus, which led to the closure of several physical law schools for an indefinite period. This resulted in a surge of interest in online law schools, as these schools were often able to continue their operations without any interruptions.

Can you get an accredited law degree online?

Most U.S. jurisdictions require individual graduates of an ABA-approved law school to sit for the bar exam and practice as a lawyer. However, there are no ABA-approved law schools that offer full-time degree programs entirely online.

Currently, several institutions offer hybrid or blended learning programs that combine traditional classes with online lessons. This, however, is subject to an individual’s admissions requirements into that particular program.

It is important to note that the criteria for eligibility to take the bar examinations is set by each state, not the ABA. Graduates of ABA accredited law schools are approved to sit for the bar exam in any state, while graduates of a law school accredited by or registered with the California Committee of Bar Examiners can apply to sit for the California Bar, and may be able to sit for other bar exams, based on a variety of local rules.

How does online law school work?

Most online law schools use a learning management system (LMS) such as Blackboard, Canvas, or Moodle. This system allows professors to post messages, videos, assignments, and deadlines online. Students are then required to access these messages at an agreed time or date of the week, depending on a particular lesson plan devised by the professor.

Is an online legal studies degree worth it?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that employment opportunities for lawyers will grow by 9% between 2020 and 2030. The BLS also reported that a lawyer’s median salary was $84,910 in May 2020, higher than the median annual wage for most occupations at $41,950.

So, the answer is YES. It is very advantageous to acquire a law degree online! You can secure a job with competitive pay and excellent benefits. Also, an online law degree will allow you to work from anywhere in the world, which is a great perk.

Does online law school prepare you for the bar exam?

There are no guarantees that you’ll pass the bar exam after attending an online law school. However, attending an accredited online law school does make it easier for you to earn a law degree while meeting your state’s bar admissions requirements.

In reality, law school is designed to prepare students to be lawyers, which requires graduates to pass the bar exam. A logical claim would be that quality can be assessed by the percentage of graduates that pass the bar exam, or other standardized state exams such as California’s First Year Law Student Exam (FYLSE). If that is the metric that ultimately reflects quality, then the answer is clear.

Based on FYLSE and California Bar Exam pass rates, online schools such as St. Francis School of Law do offer a quality legal education, and graduates are well prepared for the legal profession. No mythical unicorns…but a way to leverage technology and learning science to offer a quality online legal education.

Discover the St. Francis Difference

St. Francis School of Law is the world’s first elite online law school offering various affordable online law curricula. We are the only not-for-profit online law school operating in the United States.

Our programs include a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, which has 3 substantive subjects: Criminal Law, Contracts, and Torts. Our program is tailored to helping you develop the necessary knowledge and skills to pass the California Bar Examination.

We understand that every student has different needs. This explains why we offer a variety of learning formats, including asynchronous, synchronous, and self-paced courses. Additionally, we offer monthly start dates and several enrollment options to help you get started promptly and meet your personal needs.

Get started today and find out how easy it is to earn a law degree online.