Two Years In at NWCU Law — Updated Review & Tips for New Students

I started law school on November 16th, 2014 at Northwestern California University School of Law, one of the few online law schools thanks to California’s relatively progressive stance on legal education. I wrote a review a few months in, noting that all seemed well so far. Now that I’ve passed my 2nd year final exams in my 4 year, part-time program and thus broken the half way mark, I think an update is well-deserved.

Some thoughts on the experience:

First, if you expected that online law school would be easy, you’ve miscalculated. Each course, taken over the full length of the year, requires about 2,000 pages of reading and comes with several assignments to be completed. At 4 courses per year, you’re looking at about 8,000 pages, or 22 pages per day (roughly an hour — there’s no speed reading law school texts!) if you study 365 days per year. It’s very easy to fall behind, and to be perfectly up-front, about 70% of students who start their first year at NWCU do not make it to their second year. This is an online degree with no required class time, and there is no one there to let you know that you need to pick it up a notch until it is too late. You must pace yourself, as the difficulty of the final exams is on par with the difficulty of Bar Exam questions for the relevant topic, so there’s no softball testing.

Second, although there’s no requirement to attend online classes (you could read your casebooks and outlines and pass, if you learn well by reading), they exist and are useful. You can pick and choose from several time slots that cover the subjects you’re taking, and there’s no requirement to attend every week. Come when you can, no penalty when you can’t. There are also discussion boards for each subject where you can interact with other students. Also not required, but extra credit is given to those who regularly contribute in online classes and in the forum. You want that extra credit — it makes a big difference.

Third, start with the understanding that you don’t know how to write an essay for law school. You can’t simply read the instructions on the midterm or final exams and start typing, expecting to produce the results necessary. This applies even though I know quite well how to write legal briefs in the federal court system: law school writing is a different style altogether. If you want to pass, in my opinion you must complete the “How to Write an Essay” activity that the school offers in the online forums, as well as review passing answers for similar essay questions to get a feel for how they look (see below). This is not required by the school, but it very much should be, because you won’t pass otherwise.

Fourth, the goal of the school during your first year is to prepare you for the California First Year Law Students’ Exam — the “Baby Bar.” The Baby Bar is taken by students in California non-ABA law schools (as every online law school is) who have completed their first year, and you are, essentially, required by the state to pass it within a year and a half of the end of your first year. It is the same difficulty level as the real Bar Exam, but only covers 3 subjects — those you are studying in your first year — instead of 14. The NWCU midterm and final exam questions track the Baby Bar questions fairly well (I’d say the NWCU questions are actually slightly more difficult), and California publishes the essay questions and answers from past Baby Bar exams. The pass rate for the Baby Bar is typically in the range of 20% – 25%, so keep in the back of your mind that you’ve got to not only retain, but enhance, all of your first year knowledge even after you finish your first year, until you take and pass the Baby Bar. (A separate post about the Baby Bar is soon to come…)

So, prospective students: don’t start if you’re not 100% committed, because you will fall behind and waste your time and money when you can’t finish your first year. But, if you can stay on top of things, NWCU is the best value in legal education by far: I’ll have a law degree for less than $15,000 total, while traditional schools charge more than that per semester.  Current 1L students: really really learn how to write essays, as that is 100% of your grade at NWCU and roughly 60% of your grade after grade scaling for the Baby Bar. Do the “How to Write an Essay” activity, review past Baby Bar answers, and make sure you write at least one practice essay (while timing yourself — 1 hour!) for each subject. NWCU offers a practice grading service for a really nominal fee, which is very much worth it.

47 thoughts on “Two Years In at NWCU Law — Updated Review & Tips for New Students

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  1. Congratulation on your achievement. As I said a couple of months ago on this site, NWCU is one of the best online Law School,.
    I started my studies at NWCU in 2014 but was not prepare for it and drop out.
    Good luck.
    Roy Hibbert Sr

  2. Thank you so much for these in-depth reviews. Law school has been my dream for so many years, but when I found out it was actually affordable and attainable through NWCU, it felt like a whole world had opened up to me that I had long since closed the door on. I am hoping to start next January (finishing my undergrad currently).

    I am curious. How do the final exams work? Do you need to find suitable proctors wherever you live? Or are the exams open book? Just trying to factor in the potential cost of paying a qualified supervisor to oversee each exam.

    Also, is anything offered in person at the actual campus in Sacramento? I know they have a law library and mock courtroom, do students who are visiting have access to these?

    1. For final exams, you need to find your own proctor, who can be any educator or attorney. You probably know someone who fits the bill who would help you out. 🙂

      I’ve never been to the Sacramento campus. I imagine it is very small.

  3. Hi! I have just received my final exam scores of 1L and waiting for the final (combined) results and 2L registration of NWCU. Thank you for the nice posting. I should have found you early though it would be very much helpful for the preparating of baby bar. 🙂

    By the way, in the comments on my final exam from George, he repeatedly mentioned that I needed to write in a more ‘lawyerlike way’ which I totally failed to understand.

    Could you share your idea whether this ‘term’ is about formality of expression, reasoning in consequences of issues, or else? I have nowhere to get the answer to this question so far, since email questioning is not allowed by school and live chat attending is not allowed by my company (the class is on-air in working hour in Korea..).

    Thank you in advance. and it’s nice to seeing you =D

  4. I recently discovered your site while researching law schools. Thanks very much for all the tips and congratulations on your accomplishments.

    It’s been almost a year since you wrote this piece and I am curious to know how you are doing in your third year. NWCU seems to be the best bet for JD studies from the information that I’ve gathered. Any thoughts, advice would be very much appreciated.

    I wish you the best of luck with your studies.

  5. Jon, thank you for such no-nonsense honest and to the point reviews, really helps. How did your third year go? And how does one find a proctor for exams – I doubt friends from among lawyers would be excited to proctor 4 times per semester, 8 times per year. Is there an outside service or additional service like other online schools offer? Thanks again.

  6. So helpful and encouraging.

    I’m in the process of applying. My two options in terms of start date are May or June. The May option gives me the ability to take the FYLSX in June 2019. If I go the June option route, I’ll have to wait to take the FYLSX in Oct. 2019.
    Do you have any advice as to how much time would be ideal after 1st year classes end and taking the FYLSX exam?

      1. Excellent. Will do. Thx so much for your reply. I enjoy your posts! Best to you in your final year!

          1. Thanks, Jonathan!

            I’m trying to find dates for the June 2019 FYLSX in order to determine when I should start 1L. I’ll keep checking the Calbar site. Thx.

          2. Can you please tell me roughly about how many hours daily did you devote to 1L study during your courses, not baby bar prep?

          1. Thanks. I’m excited and scared. If you have any advice you can share with me please fire away.

  7. I’m doing the midterms and hating the part B writing. finished contracts, torts and criminal, but the legal writing one has me at a stop. I just don’t know where to begin. Do they have this busy work at each year?

    1. It is indeed busy work required for each course. Remember that other than the real midterm essay and the final, everything is pass/fail, so you can write about just about anything so long as you meet the word count.

  8. I have a question? I have seen so many statements in regards to taking the California Bar at “anytime” so If I complete 1l and 2l is it possible that a person can sit for the bar?

  9. Jonathan, just cursious, how were the final exams administered? Was it through examsoft? Or was it a word document that you printed out?

      1. Can final exams at NWCU be done through live online proctoring services, or are students required to have finals proctored by a teacher, school administrator, judge or attorney?

  10. I was thinking about applying to Northwestern; however, I want to practice law in Georgia and not California. How will I overcome this after completing Law School?

    1. I live in MA and there have been about five residents that have gone to CA unaccredited online (self-study/telecommute) law schools, passed the baby bar exam, completed their JD, passed the CA Bar exam and sued the MA bar association to grant them permission to take the MA Bar exam, and they were granted the opportunity to take the MA Bar exam. My understanding is that they have all passed the MA Bar exam as well. Hope this helps. My point is that it can be done.

  11. Other more expensive online (interactive) programs that are accredited by the ABA. NY SUNY Law School – Interactive JD, which is online but requires about four onsite intensives per year, which is not bad, but the cost is about 70K per year. The other is Mitchell Hamline which has the same intensive requirements at about 25K to 35K per year. All good options but the cost is a bitter pill. These are non-California schools that allow you to take the bar in other states since the schools are ABA accredited. This is an interesting change in legal education options, but the cost is up there. NWCU will be my choice given my age, cost and work schedule. Best regards and wishes to everyone pursuing a legal degree online. Pursue your dreams!!!

  12. Hi there, NWCU 1L here. I so appreciate this website! What’s your advice for not overthinking your essay answers – particularly the midterm essays. Thanks!

    1. For midterms, it’s ok to think a lot. You have no time limit. But, only raise issues that are actually discernible from the question. For example, if you have a contract for the sale of goods, don’t tell us the UCC version and then say what the common-law version would have been. If it’s a mixed goods/services contract, then it’s a different story. “Assuming the court finds the UCC applies, xxx. But, otherwise, yyy.”

      For finals, you are fighting the clock. Put one hour worth of issues down on each exam. Start with the most major and obvious ones and work your way towards the “sorta possibly relevant” ones. Whatever you can get down in one hour is what you get down. Same for the Bar exam. 🙂

      Speaking of, go look at the selected Bar answers that CalBar publishes, for exams that cover the 1L subjects. Your answers should look like those.

      PS – I found that NWCU exam questions were more vague and arguable than those on the real Bar. “I can’t tell xxx because the question didn’t tell me yyy” was a common thought. Figure out if it’s an issue you think the examiner wants to hear discussed and then argue both ways.

      1. Thank you – that helps me feel less “stuck!” (And congratulations on passing the Bar!)

        You nailed one of my quandaries in your reply, as Prof. George recently told a student not to rely on what practicing attorneys may say about the UCC – only rely on the rule NWCU gives us for now…which is tricky when you have a transaction with goods and non-merchants (the attorney said no UCC application if no merchants).

        1. The UCC absolutely applies to non-merchant traders. However, some of the stricter rules apply only when one or both traders is a merchant.

          On the other hand, as you may know, the California Bar (and thus also NWCU) only tests on Articles I and II of the UCC. Those articles apply only to the sale of tangible personal property, which is why we have that test to determine whether the UCC applies. The full UCC applies to so much more, but we ignore that for exam purposes.

  13. I am taking your advice. Been in school since Sept. and I study at least daily for up to 6 hours. I read all the bar exams, use other sites, and practice the bar essays. It helps that I am a retired cop that loves to write, but it is a different style. But I enjoy it.

  14. I have even started the midterm essay today that are due in a few months. I am finishing the contract one already. It just took me over an hour. But I use the examples given in class.

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