Will Online Law Degrees Ever Be The New Norm?

Will Online Law Degrees Ever Be The New Norm?
Summary: Technology is revolutionizing education by making advanced degrees accessible online. This shift offers flexibility and affordability, but the debate over the quality of online vs. traditional programs continues.

Weighing The Pros And Cons Of Online Law Degrees

Technology is rapidly changing the way we work, learn, and communicate, and with these changes has come a reconsideration of what education looks like. Where the world, for centuries, maintained the idea that learning (particularly for advanced degrees) must be taught and overseen on university campuses under the watchful eyes of professors and other administrative staff, technology has disrupted the long-held opinion. With the influx of so many different communication technologies that enable people to instantaneously exchange information, lessons that once had to take place in real time, in a classroom, have been moved to multiple environments.

Students with a computer and internet access in some of the most remote regions of the world can now tap into a similar experience as traditional education. Additionally, the resources and software systems that allow people to access information, posts, messages, or assignment stipulations at any time of day or night mean that there is much more flexibility for scheduling as well. While these are not the only benefits that advancements in technology have brought to the educational sphere, the effects have created a lasting change.

As a result, debate has arisen in some circles as to the superiority of one educational program over another. The two previous examples are not enough to base a conclusive opinion as to which may be better, but, for anyone passionate about the law or overcoming racial disparities in the criminal justice system, it still leaves room for the question of, "Will online law degrees ever be the new norm?"

Online Vs. In-Person Law Degrees: Factors Of Consideration

As with any case, there will be a slew of major and minor factors that will impose their weight on the final opinions that allow someone to be able to answer a question of this nature, but the fluctuations of those major factors mean that it becomes very difficult to say with any long-term certainty whether online programs (in any educational format) will ever become "the new norm."

Regardless, spending time looking at some of these major factors can help people to come to an opinion that is most conducive to their own goals while aligning themselves most profitably and efficiently with their personal lives. Let's start with one of the most important, obvious, and highly motivational factors: the cost of education.

1. Student Loan Debt

Colleges in general are expensive, everyone knows this, but despite the knowledge, there are still millions of students per year who decide to enroll in collegiate coursework. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of college education (meaning a four-year, post-secondary education in undergraduate studies) runs around $36,500 per year. While this does include things like books, supplies, and typical living expenses, the cost of tuition will obviously count for the bulk of that statistic.

With the cost average of college programs rising to more than double what it was a century ago, society and the economy still make demands upon certain professions in order to maintain a level of proficiency and accountability in such industries. Medicine and law are just two examples.

While not every industry or job posting will require a college education, the normalcy of that requirement has driven the majority of students for decades to seek post-secondary education as a means of bolstering their chances of future employment. Being that law is among those professions and industries that demand strict adherence to a proper certification of skills before actively practicing law, it only goes to reinforce the point that law degrees will likely always be a requirement.

Law degrees, however, are consistently far more expensive than the national average of just any degree. The average total cost of a law school education? $220,000. At those rates, even with a very broad range of potential wages—starting salaries around $50,000 all the way up to $205,000—leaving college with such an enormous debt should give anyone pause. However, when considering that online programs save students $31,000 on average in comparison to programs with traditional, on-campus experiences, it is much easier to justify the means.

The cost savings alone are a good enough point to post that online law programs may become the new norm in the future, but how does this weigh against the quality of education?

2. Quality Of Programming: Online Vs. In-Person Online Law Degrees

Are new, online programs of the same or lesser quality than traditional education methods? This seems to be one of the more important questions to ask, for even though online programs may be cheaper—thus justifying the staggering costs of a law degree—if they are not of the same caliber, then saving money is a moot point. There is some data to help answer this question.

A few years have passed since the pandemic, and with it, many of the drastic, desperately implemented program shifts actually made for a great (however stressful) field test for many educational programs. While the spectrum of personal experience of success or frustration with necessary transitions from traditional means to online formatting is very diversified, there is enough data that has been gathered during and since to create trends by which to consider whether one approach is better than another.

A survey done by Gallup in 2021 (and drastically summarizing their results) showed that, overall, many students were not as happy with their experiences. They felt less confident in being prepared with skills for the future (let alone the LSAT exam) in comparison to those who had experienced in-person lessons. Even with reports of teaching methods being similar between online and in-person programming, students from this survey reported higher confidence in traditional formats.


The report is a bit dated now but schools took the lessons in stride and have adjusted the methodology and quality of how to offer both educational formats. Despite this, it is still hard to say one path is superior to another as there are simply too many variables. Thus, it would be premature to argue whether online law degrees will ever "become the new norm."