A new generation of online Master of Law (LL.M.) programs offered by highly ranked law schools are transforming the legal education landscape. Though distance learning programs were once viewed with skepticism by professionals and educators, recent developments in communications technology have made it possible for top-tier institutions of higher learning to offer online programs. These institutions have begun to offer the same faculty, curricula and degrees associated with their prestigious schools in a more flexible and accessible online format.
History of Online Education
Online education has existed since the early days of the Internet, but initially met with justifiable skepticism. How can a truly dynamic educational experience occur when professors and students never meet face to face? How does one evaluate the quality of an online degree? For-profit universities, questionably accredited institutions and websites that sell meaningless degrees cast a shadow over distance learning programs. But today, an increasing number of the world’s best universities offer online equivalents to their traditional graduate programs. And the American Bar Association recently appointed Barry Currier, the former dean of the online Concord Law School, as its educational watchdog.
Online LLM Programs
Lawyers seeking to acquire specialized knowledge now have around 50 online masters of law programs to choose from like the recently launched @WashULaw, an online LLM in U.S. law for foreign lawyers and New York University which offers an Executive LL.M. in Tax online.
Alabama School of Law offers LL.M.s in both Business Transactions and Taxation online. And Florida Coastal School of Law offers an LL.M. in U.S. Law online. All three programs feature live video-classes taught by the same faculty who teach in their traditional programs, highly selective student bodies of experienced lawyers and the same ABA-accredited degrees conferred on full-time on-campus programs. Tuition ranges from $14,950 for the complete Florida Coastal program to $24,475 per semester at NYU.
Is Online Education Right for You?
Online education has become more flexible and accessible than ever before, but it is not the right choice for everyone. Individuals in certain circumstances will be strongly drawn to the advantages of distance learning. International lawyers interested in U.S. law, practicing lawyers who want to gain specialized knowledge without foregoing professional opportunities and working parents might find it very difficult to earn an LL.M. degree through a traditional program.
But online graduate education best serves individuals with particular strengths. Discipline is required to show up for classes and complete assignments on time. Organizational skills are necessary to structure one’s time, set priorities and juggle education, personal and professional obligations. And strong communication skills are vital to developing relationships and collaborating over the Internet. Individuals who do not excel in these areas may still complete their programs, but will face greater challenges along the way.
Online legal education has come a long way from the early days of the internet. With prestigious law schools using innovative technology to provide high-quality education in a flexible format, this option is becoming very attractive to many. But it is still important for each student to evaluate their own strengths and find the legal education program that is right him or her specifically. What is clear is that the proliferation of high quality, online legal education provides a great opportunity for many lawyers to attain specialized knowledge who might have foregone an LL.M. in the past.