Online PhD in Juris Doctorate

An online juris doctor (JD)program will prepare students to analyze legal issues, represent a client in court, and guide him or her through all other legal proceedings. They are trained to research statutory and regulatory laws, strategize a legal case, and attain complete understanding of all applicable rules, regulations, and responsibilities required of a legal counselor. Juris doctor programs work to foster communication abilities, critical thinking, and information literacy in students. Graduates should complete a J.D. program equipped to become effective researchers, quick-thinkers and excellent debaters.

While students will specialize in particular areas of law, every student who earns an online jurisprudence degree will cover the basics of contracts, torts, legal writing, and legal research. Other required courses will be in the areas of constitutional law, property law, civil and criminal procedures, and evidence collection and use. Many programs allow students to concentrate a large amount of courses in one of these areas, or in another niche, like corporate law, environmental law, real estate, or immigration. Students who complete an online juris doctor program should be able to apply for the bar exam in the state associated with their college or university, and all applicants should verify this before applying to any online juris doctor program.

About Online Juris Doctor Programs

Any online juris doctorate program will present students with the same type of coursework and subject matter as a traditional on-campus program. There are even many ways in which an online program will provide greater opportunities to connect with professors and classmates than in a traditional classroom. Students in online Ph.D. programs are required to participate in class by doing their own reading and watching or listening to lectures on their own time. They will have direct communication with professors and classmates via message boards and forums (typically required every few days in well-written and researched arguments), and an online juris doctorate program will require rigorous communication and unwavering self-discipline. Coursework required in most online juris doctor programs will be similar. Some courses required at California Southern University, which offers a fully online JD program, are outlined here:

Year One:

    • Contracts.

This course covers the basics of creating and understanding contracts. Students will study issues like bargaining, capacity, unfairness, unconscionability, drafting contracts, limitations on damages, and liquidated damages.

  • Criminal Law. This course will examine criminal law from its roots to modern day. Issues covered will include criminalization, definition and classification, imputability, responsibility, and special defenses.
  • Torts. This course will cover the legal processes concerning one person's unlawful behavior that causes another loss or harm. Students will examine negligence, development of liability, privileges, causation in fact, proximate or legal cause, and intentional interference with person or property.


Year Two:

  • Legal Research. This course offers training in the theory and practice of legal research. Students will learn how to do library research and understand all applicable research materials needed to research the law.
  • Constitutional Law. This is an intensive course that examines the U.S. Constitution as written and the Supreme Court decisions that have helped shape current meanings of these laws. Students will also cover the powers of Congress, states, and national entities.
  • Property. This course covers the methods of legal analysis in property law. Students will examine land transfers, leaseholds, the system of estates, and first and subsequent possession.

A dissertation may be a required or optional element of any online juris doctorate. The dissertation period will count for several course credits, and the student will spend that time writing and researching on a topic of interest. Programs that do not require a dissertation for graduation may still require some form of major research project in the last leg of the program.

Value and Criticisms of a Juris Doctorate Program

Online juris doctorate degrees are designed to prepare students to become lawyers. Not everyone with a PhD in jurisprudence will want to take the bar exams and become a working lawyer. Some may choose to teach or utilize their knowledge of the law for activism or consultancy. The majority of students in an online juris doctor program, however, will be working toward becoming professional lawyers.

The disadvantages students may encounter in an online juris doctorate may first include creating a strict schedule suitable for keeping up with the program. Law school is different from many Ph.D. programs in that it is less based on personal research activities and is closer to an extremely intense master's program. Students will take a large amount of classes in a short amount of time and they will be required to debate the issues at hand and study for the Bar at the same time, if they would like to work soon after graduation. It is essential for students to make sure they have the time to fully commit to an online juris doctorate and that a career in law is a serious goal.

Application & Admission Requirements

Both traditional and online law schools are selective, and only the best students will be chosen out of thousands of applicants. This does not mean getting into an online jurisprudence program is impossible, but it is vital to put your best foot forward and go beyond the minimum application requirements. Most colleges and universities will require transcripts with a strong GPA, a bachelor's or master's degree in a related field, recommendations, LSAT scores, and at least one personal essay. There are typically online application forms, and there may be application and handling fees.

Career Options & Job Market

The most common areas to go into after receiving a J.D. are law and academia. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the competition for lawyer positions after graduation is very strong and more students graduate from law school every year than there are jobs available. However, employment of lawyers will increase by 10 percent from 2010 to 2012, equivalent to average job and population growth. The BLS notes that lawyers made an average of $112,760 per year in 2010.

A graduate wishing to go into academia may find work as a legal professor and researcher at a university. Aside from these options, the cost and time commitment of an online JD program may not make going into other occupations worthwhile. Holding a J.D. can enhance hiring opportunities in business, finance, or even nonprofits, but these industries can also be entered without a J.D.

Where to Find Information

  • American Bar Association (ABA) The ABA is a national association of attorneys and is the world's largest voluntary professional organization. The ABA administers accreditation and sets standards for the national and state Bar exams, among other things.
  • American Association for Justice (AAJ) The AAJ is an association in the United States created to promote a fair and effective justice system.
  • ABA-Approved Law SchoolsThis is a link to the list of all law schools approved by the ABA. If you attend a school not approved by the ABA, you will not be eligible to sit for the bar and, in turn, unable to practice law.

How to Get Funding

Law students can get funding for their degree costs by first filling out a FASFA. They may be eligible for federal Stafford or Perkins loans, private loans, or federal grants. Students can also apply for outside scholarships. The ABA lists many scholarships and opportunities designed for minority students here.

  • Federal Direct Stafford Loan. The Stafford Loan program offers students low-interest loans for education past the bachelor's level. The interest rate is fixed at 6.80%, and the maximum loan amount is $12,500 per academic year.
  • Federal Perkins Loan. Federal Perkins loans are awarded based on financial need. They have a fixed interest rate of 5.0% and award an average of $3,500 per academic year.
  • Campus-Based Aid. Many universities offer institutional financial aid programs, like special loans, scholarships, or grants. All schools will also help provide students with access to federal aid.

Essential Advice

  • Is a J.D. right for you? Many students desire the salary or prestige of a law degree. However, competition is fierce, and there is no guarantee that a law degree will lead to a high salary or a prestigious position. It is best to make sure you have a true desire to practice law before enrolling.
  • Begin the application process as soon as possible. Applying to an online juris doctor program is no simple task. There will be a lot required of you, and it's important to get everything in early-on to prevent any late documents.
  • Consider professional experience. Working in the legal system before going for your juris doctorate can make quite a bit of sense. It will give you a leg up on the competition, generate contacts, and prepare you for the working world upon graduation.
  • Have a plan for payment. Never enroll in an online juris doctor program if you aren't sure how you will afford it. The salary you think you will make as a lawyer will not come close to paying down loans right away. Make sure you won't get into a major hole.