Do you have dreams of depositions and cross-examinations dancing in your head, but no time to go to law school full-time? Online law schools might be just the ticket for you.
However, a few words of warning first: Online law schools aren't an exact substitute for the traditional bricks-and-mortar variety. For one thing, online law schools aren't accredited as of yet by the American Bar Association. This means graduates of online law schools will face a tough row to hoe on the way to getting licensed to practice in any state except California (which has different rules). Consider your goals carefully before plunking down any hard-earned cash to an online law school.
- Decide what your goals are. Do you want to practice law? Or do you simply want the legal education? This alone may determine whether an online course of study is appropriate for you.
- If you want to practice law, and you do not live in California, nor do you plan to move there in the near future, then stop right here. Start investigating the traditional law schools, begin saving your money, and sign up for the LSAT (a standardized test most law schools require for admission).
- If you've decided to go ahead with an online course, investigate the available options. Concord Law School is generally agreed to be the first online law school, and it has several courses of study, depending on the student's objectives. Other options are: Abraham Lincoln University Law School; Breyer State (non-bar JurisDoctorate program); and Northwestern California University School of Law, among others. Check out Findlaw's Student pages for a listing; also utilize web searches at major search engines such as Google.com, Dogpile.com, and teoma.com, as programs may be added or changed periodically.
- Apply. Each program will have different requirements, but generally speaking, the online courses of study are not as rigorously selective as the traditional law schools. That doesn't mean, however, that you shouldn't put your best foot forward. Every program will have a limited number of seats. Distinguish yourself from the "pack" by highlighting your life experience, carefully reviewing and revising any required essay or writing sample, and clearly communicating your goals in attending law school.
- Have a "family meeting." If this is your family's first experience with a prolonged online course of study, you'll need to educate your children and spouse (or roommate or significant other) as to what to expect for the next several months or years. Share your schedule with them. Clearly communicate your needs, but don't forget their needs as well. For instance, saying "Mommy will need quiet time from 7 PM until 9 PM for studying. Then we can have bathtime and a story before bed" may be more productive than repeatedly having to yell for "quiet!" the night before a big exam!
- Take a good, critical look at your home office space. If you don't have sufficient space to dedicate to computer equipment, books, notetaking, and a printer, then adjust things so you do. Law school is tough enough without cramping your ability to study - literally!
- Evaluate your technology against the program's specifications. If you need to update any part of your computer (i.e., faster Internet connection, more memory, special software) make sure you do so well in advance of your first "class" or due date for assignments.
- Set aside sufficient time for classes and for study time. Studying law is hard, no matter how "naturally" it might come to you. It requires great concentration and Herculean efforts at retaining arcane points, case holdings, rules, and statutes. Set aside blocks of time in your schedule that allow you sufficient time to "get into" a subject. Don't just assume you'll work in study time "whenever you have a minute." Actually schedule your study time into your day planner or computer calendar.
- Schedule breaks, too. Don't hesitate to take frequent breaks - at least five to ten minutes every hour. This will keep you refreshed and focused, and will also help save your eyesight and posture.
- Speaking of posture, make sure you practice good ergonomics when you study. Online courses of study - whether it's law, or any subject - necessitate long hours in front of a computer. Believe it or not, you can get hurt just sitting in front of a computer! Stress injuries from typing, physiological problems and back pain from poor posture, strained eyesight from peering at computer screens through glare and inadequate lighting - all these things are hazards to your health, and to your degree.
Invest in a good chair that provides proper support. Make sure you have positioned your equipment where the monitor will give off no glare. Check your lighting. Periodically adjust your posture (helpful tip: instead of trying to "sit up straight," think of rolling your shoulders up and back, and bringing your shoulder blades closer together - this will help you achieve good alignment without putting too much stress on your lower back). Investigate wrist pads to help prop up your wrists while typing for long periods.
- Take it seriously. It may not "feel" like law school, but you'll be studying the same subjects as any traditional law student. Give the subject the respect it deserves. Law is a time-honored and profoundly important profession. Whether you plan to practice it or not, come to your study sessions with a sense of reverence and respect.
- But don't take yourself too seriously. Lighten up every once in awhile, and schedule some fun time. Law school is truly hard work, and you need to get out of the house and have some fun, too.
- Be vigilant about self-care. The last thing you need is for your regular "day" job and your studies to suffer because you've worked yourself into the ground. Practice extreme self-care: eat a diet rich in vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and fruits. Get adequate exercise daily. Protect your eight hours of sleep a night as if it were sacred.
- Take the time to instill good study habits from the start. Create your own outlines - don't rely on "canned" outlines alone. Spend the first few minutes of a study session reviewing what you learned the last time, and take a few minutes at the end of the session to review the current session. This helps cement concepts in your memory and provides for much better retention. Avoid last minute cramming at all costs.