The first online law school of its kind attracts a large number of applicants

  • St. Mary’s online-only JD acceptance rate this fall was 9%
  • Five-year pilot program won ABA approval last year

(Reuters) – A group of 27 aspiring lawyers have beaten long odds to land this fall in the first fully online Juris Doctor program to be accredited by the American Bar Association.

St. Mary’s University School of Law, which also offers a traditional JD program at its San Antonio campus, had 791 applicants for its first all-distance cohort. The online program offered admission to 71 applicants, an acceptance rate of 9% that comes close to Yale’s top law school.

“It surprised us,” said Dean of St. Mary’s Law, Patricia Roberts, of the program’s large pool of applicants. “It showed us that there is an interest and a need for it.”

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In May 2021, the ABA granted St. Mary’s permission to offer its part-time JD fully online as a five-year pilot program. The approval came after law schools were quickly forced to switch to distance learning by the COVID-19 pandemic, giving them more experience with distance learning.

St. Mary’s joins a handful of online JD programs that have been around for more than a decade, but its program is the first to win the ABA’s Seal of Approval, which allows graduates to take the bar exam in any state.

A dozen law schools also offer hybrid JD programs in which part-time students take most of their classes online but come to campus several times a year for in-person instruction. Three other schools have pending applications with the ABA to launch hybrid JDs

St. Mary’s fully distance students take all of their credit courses online, though they gathered on campus for a three-day orientation in August. Half of the online classes are delivered in real time, while the other half are asynchronous, meaning students can attend on their own schedule.

Students spend three nights a week in class and are expected to complete their JD in four years instead of three for the traditional in-person program. Tuition is $27,354 per year for the online program, compared to $41,138 for the shorter full-time program.

The distance students are older than St. Mary’s in-person JD cohort of 252, with a median age of 33 versus 25, Roberts said. Many have established careers and families to support that make a traditional JD program out of reach, she said. For others, moving to attend law school is impossible.

Seventeen students are from Texas, and the online class includes a state legislator, two engineers, two PhDs and several people currently working in law firms, Roberts said.

Read more:

First ABA-approved online JD program to launch next fall

Online course options are growing in popularity among law students, ABA says

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Reporting by Karen Sloan

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Karen Sloane

Thomson Reuters

Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools and legal affairs. Contact her at

Nancy I. Romero