Though most people would express ambivalence at the idea of more lawyers hanging out their shingles, several for-profit colleges aim to bring precisely this about by developing online law schools. The fact that present economic conditions disfavor the legal industry hasn't discouraged these for-profits from pressing forward.
As it stands currently, many obstacle block these for-profits' way. Accreditation presents arguably the biggest one. "Wholly online J.D. programs are not accredited by the American Bar Association, and graduates of the programs are eligible only to take the California Bar Exam, given that it's the only state in which online law schools can officially register (though some states have been known to make exceptions on an individual basis)," a March 23, 2011 U.S. News and World Report article informs us. "In all, there are 14 unaccredited distance or correspondence law schools registered in California, including Concord Law School of Kaplan University, California School of Law, and the Abraham Lincoln University School of Law."
You doubt that graduates of these online law schools intend to dogpile on The Golden Gate State in order to set up practice, especially considering that, though slightly more liberal than the policies in the other 49 states, California's rules do still discriminate against J.D.'s acquired through online studies. "Because the schools are unaccredited," the U.S. News article continues, "if students wish to complete their legal education and take the California Bar, they must pass the state's First-Year Law Students' Examination after they've completed their first year of school."
How much of a disincentive have extra hurtles, or, indeed, outright prohibition proven? Not terribly much of one, it seems. Online law programs have enjoyed burgeoning popularity over the past decade. The article reports that "the programs are growing. Concord, for instance, was launched in 1998 and had only eight online students. Now the school boasts 1,200 students and has had more than 1,300 J.D. and executive J.D. graduates. The school's first time California Bar pass rate is 37.9 percent, which is on par with a few of the state's ABA approved law schools, and school officials are confident the sector is gaining momentum."
In the online law schools' corner stands a formidable ally -- technology. As the World Wide Web and social media increase their robustness with respect to facilitating mass interaction, they become increasingly more attractive options than the traditional residential education model long favored by "brick and mortar" institutions. That model exerts very definite selective pressures; the time -- and, more importantly, the money -- needed to complete your degree means that if you either lack either one, you find yourself left out of the higher-ed game.
Yet such exclusion appears on its way out itself. The U.S. News article quotes St. Francis School of Law dean Peter Young, who waxes optimistic about online law programs' future prospects:
"For entrepreneurs, working professionals, and those who are considering a career change, an online law program offers tremendous value.... In the near future, the stigma associated with online education will dissipate as quality improves and as the volume of qualified online graduates grows."
You get the sense that this stigma has already begun to disappear, especially as more and more traditional nonprofit institutions jump into the online-ed game by developing their own online and "blended" learning curricula. After all, that which does not yield to persuasion does yield to force, and the incredible consumer demand building for online postsecondary educational options may just supply that force.