Juris Doctor Degree Programs for 2020

From law graduates filling the rural attorney gap to technology moving up the value chain for litigation, the delivery of legal services in the U.S. is evolving. juris doctor puts you on the path to becoming a practicing lawyer and can give you a unique insight into industry demands, trends, and innovations.

What Is a Juris Doctor?

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.

Sponsored J.D. Program

University of Dayton Law Logo

Earn your J.D. from wherever you live with University of Dayton’s ABA-approved Online Hybrid J.D. 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.

  • Flexible online learning
  • Collaborative on-campus experiences
  • Semester-long legal externship

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.

Learn more about the hybrid and executive J.D. programs at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

Monterey College of Law

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.

Learn more about the hybrid online J.D. program at Monterey College of Law..

Purdue University Global – Concord Law School

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.

Learn more about the online Juris Doctor program at the Concord Law School.

Southwestern Law School

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.

Learn more about the part-time evening J.D. program at Southwestern Law School.

Syracuse University

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.

Learn more about the interactive online J.D. program at Syracuse University.

University of Dayton School of Law

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.

Learn more about the Online Hybrid Juris Doctor at the University of Dayton School of Law.

Sponsored J.D. Program

University of New Hampshire

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.

Learn more about the hybrid J.D. at the University of New Hampshire.

Why are there only ABA-Approved Hybrid Online J.D. Degrees?

Attending a law school accredited by the ABA allows you to take the bar exam in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). The ABA’s seal of approval means that your school meets the association’s quality standards for legal education.

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.

Attending an ABA-accredited school isn’t the only way to become a lawyer. In New York, California, and 29 other states as well as the District of Columbia, you can sit for the bar exam with a law degree from a non-ABA accredited school. But it’ll likely be more complicated to enter law practice that way, as some employers look for candidates who have graduated from accredited institutions.

Before you decide to attend a school without ABA accreditation, be sure to research bar admission limitations and ensure that the school will provide you with adequate legal training to enter the field. You can also refer to the ABA’s Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements 2019 (PDF, 1.7 MB), for guidance.

Sponsored J.D. Program

University of Dayton Law Logo

Earn your J.D. from wherever you live with University of Dayton’s ABA-approved Online Hybrid J.D. 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.

  • Flexible online learning
  • Collaborative on-campus experiences
  • Semester-long legal externship

On-Campus J.D. Programs

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.

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.
  • Transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation (the number of letters vary but two is typically the minimum requirement)
  • Personal essay
  • Resume

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:

  • Torts doctrine
  • Civil procedure
  • Contracts
  • Criminal law
  • Constitutional law
  • Intellectual property law
  • Trial practice
  • Family law
  • Legal analysis and professional skills
  • Legislation

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.

But on practical terms, a J.D. is often viewed as the highest academic distinction for lawyers. A majority of U.S. law professors, for example, do not have a Ph.D. (PDF, 610 KB).

Is a J.D. Worth it?

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.

The flip side is that the legal field can be a grueling, intense, and competitive industry. In 2019, there were a record 1.35 million actively practicing attorneys in the U.S (PDF, 49 KB), according to the ABA National Lawyer Population Survey. At the same time, many large corporations are trying to economize by cutting back on outside counsel and reassigning tasks to paralegals and legal assistants.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions on Juris Doctor (J.D.) Degrees

Are there fully online J.D. degree programs accredited by ABA?

No. While there is no fully online J.D. degree program accredited by ABA, there are seven hybrid online J.D. programs available that combine the flexibility of online learning and the engagement of on-campus programs.

What is the difference between a Juris Doctor and a Juris Master?

They are both postgraduate degrees. However, similar to Master of Legal Studies or other legal studies programs, Juris Master programs are designed for people who want to further their legal knowledge and may not want to become a lawyer or practice law.

Is it mandatory to apply to a J.D. degree accredited by ABA?

It’s not mandatory. However, if you want to be qualified to sit for the bar exam and practice law in certain states, a law degree accredited by ABA may be a better choice.

How should I compare and choose the best online J.D. program for me?

Students may check the accreditation status of programs or schools, the bar exam pass rate, concentrations available, online student support options, curriculum and workload required.

Can I work full time while completing a J.D. degree?

Generally schools allow students to work while studying. Some of them may also offer part-time enrollment to provide more flexibility for students. However, students should also take into consideration the workload of each term and make sure they can meet the graduation requirements.

Information on this page was last retrieved in August 2020.