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Legal Careers You Can Have with an Online Degree

Nov 19, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Education.org Columnist | 0 Comments

It’s not easy to enter the legal profession if you earned your law degree from an online school. While regulations governing the practice of law vary state-by-state—and they can be a confusing patchwork—it’s generally illegal to practice law without having passed the bar exam. And to pass the bar exam, you need to have graduated from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association—which doesn’t accredit online schools.

There are some online law degree exceptions, of course. A small handful of states, such as California, allow people who graduated from non-ABA-accredited universities to sit for the bar exam. In Wisconsin, you can practice law without sitting for the bar—as long as you attended the University of Washington or Marquette University. However, this means you are limited in terms of where you can practice law. In other states, calling yourself an attorney, corporate counsel, or even legal associate will break the ABA guidelines.

However, there are ways you can have a career in law after earning your JD in an online, non-ABA-accredited school—in any state. Here are a few:

An academic career

You don’t necessarily need a JD degree to teach law. If you want to teach at a law school, it’s more likely that you will need one—but to teach legal subjects in a liberal arts college, chances are you won’t necessarily. You will, however, need an advanced degree of some kind—most likely a PhD in law, criminal justice, political science, or another related subject. You will also most likely be expected to write and publish in peer-reviewed journals in addition to your teaching duties.

A political career

If you’re going for a job in public office, law school credentials may serve you well—even if you never intended to practice as an attorney or pass the bar. A law school degree can give you credibility as a public official to both voters and government agencies—and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a traditional law school to do it.

Business or legal compliance work

If your job is making sure your company stays compliant with federal rules and regulations—anything from environmental regulations to labor laws—then a law degree may help you develop the expertise you need to advance in your career, regardless of whether it came from an online or traditional law school. Some corporate careers are highly legal in nature, without requiring you to pass the bar or to have been a practicing lawyer, and some companies will even pay for their employees in these positions to attend online law degree programs.

Work in local courts

In approximately thirty states, there are minor courts—operating at the town or village level—where judges are neither required to have attended law school nor to have passed the bar exam. Some states are in the process of overhauling these systems to reduce cases of mistakes and abuse, and to require more training—and many states are moving toward requiring local judges to be lawyers. However, for the time being, it’s still possible in many parts of the country to be a local judge without having passed the bar. 

Having a career as a lawyer without passing the bar isn’t easy. But you can still work in the field of law with a JD from an online school. There are careers that deal with corporate legal issues, academic opportunities, political opportunities, and even work in local circuit courts where an online JD degree will help you get ahead. Do some research into requirements associated with law careers that interest you—and the licensure requirements in your state—and you should be able to find a career path that will work for you.

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