Online law degrees are holding greater-than-ever appeal for lawyers as tuition fees continue to climb for ‘off line’ law schools.

The Financial Times reported that a Harvard Law juris doctor degree may now cost close to $US90,000 a year if insurance, housing and other expenses are added to the actual tuition fees charged by the university.

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Now Syracuse University Law School is to offer a JD program if it receives ABA approval.


The school, which hopes the programme will help reverse its enrolment decline, is delivering the course with edtech company 2U. The school’s intake for 2016 is up 14 per cent on last year, but — in line with the national trend — still almost a fifth lower than a decade ago.

Although the Syracuse costs will be the same as a standard program there is what they call an “opportunity cost” that will be considerably lower.

It will be only the second ABA-accredited law school to offer such a JD program, following one on offer from Mitchell Hamline School of law with a program started last year.


Other law schools offer fully online master’s programmes for non-lawyers, but ABA accreditation standards mean no more than a third of a JD course can be delivered online, and only 15 per cent of the coursework.

“US legal education is at the intersection of a historic downturn in traditional applicants and the upsurge of high-quality distance education optionalities,” says Ken Randall, who served as dean at the University of Alabama School of Law for 20 years.

“US law schools can, and should, be reaching new and non-traditional students, whether preparing them for a full-time practice of law or enriching their lives and adding value to their careers in diverse professions. It’s right that accreditation is aimed at protecting consumers, but regulations must advance creativity and new ways of delivering quality education to diverse student groups.”

David Amos, associate dean at the City Law School, University of London, a law school that offers distance learning courses, says online course let school reach new markets.

“It allows us the possibility of addressing a broader audience both geographically and in terms of the profile of the students,”he said.

The question is whether the courses will be sufficiently priced to permit students to learn quality courses at quality universities – or whether they will lead to a splurge of low-quality courses.

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