Juris doctor is Latin for “Doctor of Law.” A juris doctor or J.D. is what you receive upon graduation from law school, typically after three years of study. This graduate degree may prepare you to sit for the bar exam and earn a license to practice law. In 2018, half of U.S. lawyers earned $120,910 or more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s more than three times the $38,640 median annual income for all occupations.
Online and Hybrid J.D. Programs
Aspiring attorneys can earn their juris doctor degree through any one of the 203 schools and programs accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). There are options for working professionals interested in part-time study as well as those who want to combine online courses with on-campus components. Each program has its benefits.
To determine which one is the best fit for you, consider your professional ambitions, learning style and financial budget. Here is a small selection of schools offering online and hybrid J.D. programs:
Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Location: Saint Paul, MN Program Name: Hybrid J.D. Enrollment Options: Part-Time Length of Program: 3-4 years About the Program: First law program accredited, in 2015, by the ABA to offer a mix of online and residential courses. The school will launch a new blended law program in Fall 2020 that will feature 1/3 online and 2/3 in-person learning for the first two years. Students can choose how they want to finish the final two years. Those who opt to attend classes during the summer may be able to graduate in three years.
Location: Santa Cruz, CA Program Name: Hybrid Online J.D. Enrollment Options: Part-Time Length of Program: 3-4 years About the Program: Students spend their first year at the Santa Cruz campus before moving to online courses starting in year two. The law program is approved by the California State Bar Committee of Bar Examiners.
Location: Los Angeles, CA Program Name: Online Juris Doctor Enrollment Options: Part-Time Length of Program: 4 years About the Program: All courses are completely online. The program is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, but not the ABA. LSAT is not required.
Location: Los Angeles, CA Program Name: Part-Time Evening J.D. Enrollment Options: Part-Time Length of Program: 4 years About the Program: Requires campus visits only two nights a week. The rest of the courses are completed online on a part-time basis.
Location: Syracuse, NY Program Name: J.D. interactive Enrollment Options: Part-Time Length of Program: 3 years and 3 months About the Program: ABA-approved online law degree. Courses taught by the same law school faculty who teach residential students. Live, interactive classes and self-paced online courses. J.D. Interactive students are eligible to join Syracuse Law Review.
Location: Dayton, OH Program Name: Online Hybrid Juris Doctor Length of Program: 3 years and 8 months About the Program: The University of Dayton School of Law is providing wider access to a quality legal education through its Online Hybrid Juris Doctor program. The ABA-approved program prepares students to sit for the bar exam in most states.
Location: Concord, NH Program Name: Hybrid J.D. Length of Program: 3 years About the Program: ABA-approved Hybrid J.D. program with an Intellectual Property, Technology, and Information Law concentrations. J.D. students complete coursework primarily online with minimal residential requirements.
The ABA has yet to accredit any law school whose courses are offered entirely online. But as law schools increasingly expand into the arena of online instruction, the ABA has begun to issue waivers to hybrid programs – those that mix traditional campus learning with online courses – so they can apply for accreditation. With trained faculty and significant technological investment, distance learning proponents even argue that law degree programs can be completed exclusively online.
Traditional law school degree programs vary widely but they usually require three years of full-time study beginning in the Fall and a lot of hard work and dedication.
Historically, law schools required you to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) to be considered for admission. But more programs have begun to accept your score on the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) in its place. Five times as many students take the GRE as the LSAT, and law schools are hoping to tap into that bigger pool of potential applicants.
Typical Juris Doctor Curriculum and Outcomes
All law schools should teach you to think critically and creatively, educate you on a variety of legal doctrines, and expose you to subjects ranging from economics to sociology to help broaden your perspective. This holds true whether your program is offered on-campus, in the hybrid format, or taught completely online.
But there are differences too, such as the time to graduation, the level of flexibility in your school schedule, access to externships and other outside opportunities, and admissions requirements.
Here are some common admissions requirements for J.D. programs:
A bachelor’s degree
LSAT/GRE scores. Most traditional law schools accept only the LSAT; many hybrid and online programs accept either your LSAT or GRE score. In most cases, you must have taken the test within the past five years.
Letters of recommendation (the number of letters vary but two is typically the minimum requirement)
Program Courses and Areas of Focus
You can expect to take similar courses no matter the law school you attend. Some online and hybrid courses are even taught by the professors who teach on-campus classes. Your curriculum may include the following:
Intellectual property law
Legal analysis and professional skills
Steps to Complete Your J.D. Degree
Graduation requirements typically include maintaining a minimum grade point average and completing the core curriculum.
In addition, some schools may have a minimum number of credit hours for experiential learning which may take the form of externships, clinics, and simulated courses in which you will be required to solve a legal problem as if you were practicing in the real world.
Another requirement is a capstone project on a legal topic to demonstrate your analytical, research, and writing skills.
What Is a Juris Doctor Degree Equivalent to?
The answer to whether a juris doctor degree is equivalent to a Ph.D. is both complex and controversial. A Ph.D. called a doctorate, is the most advanced degree you can earn in many disciplines. You need a master’s degree to enter a Ph.D. program. It can take five years or more to earn a doctorate in say, English or Public Health. In addition, you’re required to write a dissertation to propose, research, and argue an original thesis before you can add “doctor” to your title.
Many people view a J.D. degree as a functional, but not an absolute equivalent to a Ph.D. For one thing, a J.D. is not the highest law degree. You can earn a Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) after your J.D. For another, law schools require only a bachelor’s, not master’s, degree for admission into a J.D. program.
A J.D. degree is a portal to more than just joining a law firm. People with legal training play a role in virtually every sector of the economy. They work at Silicon Valley startups to courtrooms to halls of academia and government.
The rigorous, analytical thinking that is the foundational skill of legal training can be an asset in many professions. President Barack Obama graduated from Harvard Law. Dozens of CEOs for Fortune 500 companies hold J.D.s.
Law pays well, and it can pay extremely well at the highest levels of seniority and tenure. The top 5% of in-house corporate associate general counsels earn $512,000, according to the 2018 Global Compensation Report (PDF, 2.7 MB) by the Association of Corporate Counsel. Earnings for the best-paid chief legal officers or general counsels can surpass seven figures.
The growing number of online or hybrid J.D. programs can make it possible for you to earn a law degree while you keep your current job. Distance learning opens up more choices of schools to choose from.
To ensure that your J.D. degree is a worthwhile investment in terms of money and time, have a clear career goal and think through how your preferred degree program will help you meet that goal. Once enrolled, take full advantage of externships, networking opportunities, and your school’s career resources. Earning a J.D. is an important, but still just one, step toward your legal profession.