Jon Completes Law School: A Review of Four Years at NWCU Law

Graduation CapOn Thursday, I took my final exams for my final year of school at Northwestern California University School of Law. Assuming I passed my exams, I now have a law degree making me eligible to take the February 2019 California Bar Examination, which I shall do.

If you’ve been following, you know NWCU is a distance learning school. They combine reading assignments, live online classes, recorded coursework, and a message board to accomplish a legal education. The American Bar Association categorically refuses to accredit law schools that offer distance learning, so graduates are left to take the bar exams of states that do not require the ABA’s blessing. That said, four years at NWCU cost me about a tenth of a traditional law school (~$15,000 — total, not per year), and I was able to do it without giving up the day job.

The graduation rate at NWCU seems to be in the range of 15%, based on a count of students in each year, so it shouldn’t be thought that this law degree is easy. It also requires passing California’s First-Year Law Students’ Examination after the first year, which is probably the biggest driver behind the low graduation rate given that the pass rate for that exam hovers around 20%.

I posted a review of my experience at around the 2 month point and the 2 year point. I still think those are fairly reflective of my experience: you must be self-motivated, have 2 hours per day, every day for 4 years, pay attention to deadlines, and know that if you don’t, no one’s going to remind you until it’s too late. It would probably be in eveyone’s interest if the school did more to keep people on track, but then again, you’re an adult in law school, and as a lawyer, no one is going to hold your hand to make sure you file that brief on time. I do also wish NWCU would update some of their materials that have obviously aged quite a bit, but then again, for most areas of the law, the curriculum hasn’t changed that much.

I look forward to beginning my bar prep shortly. I feel well-prepared and appreciate that I was able to learn the law with minimal disruption to my life. Three months until the exam…

35 thoughts on “Jon Completes Law School: A Review of Four Years at NWCU Law

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  1. I’ve been watching you since the beginning and am a past donor. A monumental congratulations to you for getting through law school, Jon! This is a major milestone and I know you’ll ace the Bar come February.

  2. Congrats Jon. Big supporter here. I am finishing up a PhD right now in the sciences from a decent large public research University. My passion, however, has always been in the law. I wanted to be a lawyer, but sadly couldn’t afford it after undergrad. As a PhD student, i received a tuition waiver and stipend, which was necessary for me to survive this process.

    However, I would still like to follow my dream and get my law degree. One path I was considering was to get a job as a technical advisor and find a law firm that would pay for me to go to law school to become a patent attorney with the firm. Another path would be to get a job as faculty at a University with a law school and hope I could take courses at the law school in the evenings. This would be great but I’m not sure how feasible it would be. I’d also have to probably leave my family which is difficult right now.

    I was not even aware of distance learning for law students. I think it’s a great idea myself. However in my state, PA, I know full well that the cartel (aka ABA) wouldn’t allow me to be licensed in this state with such a degree. Another option I have been considering is Syracuse University’s online hybrid program which allows essentially 2/3 of the degree to be completed online and the remainder to be completed in person on campus in a one-week period.

    What are your thoughts and recommendations about how I should proceed? I would ultimately like to be ABA licensed to practice.

    1. Chris, I have researched this topic a lot and wrote a guide book back in 2007 (Lot’s of changes since)—-. And congrats to Jon! If you passed the bar already Jon, Congrats (I have to read the rest of comments).I researched those hybrid programs & the JD degree just says Juris Doctor according to their FQA’s and an email reply from 1 of the schools (But, your looking at over $120-130k on the low end (Minnesota school). Ohio, MN, and NY are the 3 programs—-So, your able to sit for the PA bar since it’s an ABA Juris Doctor and do NOT have to take the baby bar or harder CA bar. BUT, you mentioned Patent Law earlier in 1 of your posts and as someone else mentioned, you are allowed with a California non ABA accredited degree if you pass the Ca bar to practice most federal law Including Patent Law (And Immigration Law with what’s going on now) in the federal courts in all states. You just have to register as a CA attorney practicing Federal Law in PA, and that would enable you to practice in PA for Patent, Tax, Immigration and a few other types of Law.

      On a side note, if no one mentioned and excuse me as I stopped reading all the comments up to this point (I will catch up), Concord Law School dd get purchased by Purdue in Indiana and it’s called Purdue U Global now but still Concord Law at Purdue U Global. So, you can qualify for regular federal aid there, and it’s a 4 year California program still. So, same guidelines as NWCULAW and you need baby bar and 4 years/Ca Bar. Its 10-12k per year I believe instead of $2800.

      So, good luck to Jon in passing, and if any of my ramblings helped, good luck to you.

  3. Happy New Year Chris, The Pennsylvania Board of Bar Examiners oversees and regulates the practice of law for Pennsylvania, and not the American Bar Association.

    Please check out the Pennyslvania Bar Admission ‘Rule 203 – Admission of Graduates of Accredited and Unaccredited Institutions’ located at https://www.pabarexam.org/bar_admission_rules/203.htm

    If you graduated from an unaccredited law school, and successfully passed the Bar Exam from a state that has reciprocity with Pennsylvania, and are admitted to practice law in that jurisdiction, then you could apply to take Pennsylvania Bar Exam.

    Also, you could practice Federal law in Pennsylvania, after you are admitted to an non-PA state bar and granted admission to the federal circuit bar located where you want to practice.

    There are three ABA law schools that were granted a special variance to provide a hybrid JD distance delivery program: Hamline- Mitchell in Saint Paul, Syracuse University College of Law and Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles.

    There are a lot of options for you out there! Wish you a great 2019 and congrats on your PhD – that is fantastic discipline and commitment!

    Respectfully,

    -Keith

    1. Thanks for the info. I did know about the hybrid programs – but still not all states recognize those either. For example, the NY doesn’t recognize the Syracuse one. If I might ask, are you a lawyer? If so (and even if not), I’d like your recommendation about what I should do.

      I will graduate probably at the end of next Fall. I’ll have a PhD in a science field from a respected University, so it seems to me I should be able to find someone to pay for me to go to law school? It seems fairly absurd to me to essentially forego working with a PhD, live another three years on a student’s salary, take out student loans, and then put myself through law school that way.

      I have been thinking three options make sense:
      1) Get a job at a University somewhere, even if it is in a non-tenure track lecturer position. Presumably this would allow me to take classes within the Univ. for free and I could hope to get some of the basics out of the way this way.

      2) Get a job that will pay for me to go to law school.

      3) Get a job at a University somewhere and then simultaneously go to law school at night or when I am able.

      4) Get a job and then take advantage of one of these hybrid JD programs. My concern with them is this. Say I get a JD from Syracuse or the other school using the hybrid program. Is my degree going to say that it was the online hybrid JD program? I know at my Univ. for instance, many people take online classes / programs and they earn a BS / BA with no indication that those courses were ever taken online. My major concern is that the online “label” could be taken as a lack of quality and could affect future employment within the legal profession.

      Maybe there are other possibilities that I am missing.

      1. Chris, this is the least expensive of the 3, ABA approved, and their is a video on the site. ITs about 30-35k per year for 4 years. Mitchell Hamline and they require you to visit once a semester I believe. https://mitchellhamline.edu/academics/j-d-enrollment-options/hybrid-j-d-program/ Fully ABA accredited and degree says Juris Doctor, mentions nothing about online.

        Oak Brook in California, part of the non ABA schools just like NWCULAW, has the same program where it was 1 week per year. For a 3-4 year period when I researched this, they had the highest bar pass rates in CA by the way.

        But if Patent Law is your thing, you can do the NWCULAW program like Jon and work in PA by passing the CA bar as I mentioned, and register in the Federal Courts in PA—-or even once you pass the CA bar, petition PA to sit for bar. WIsconsin and 1 more state automatically allows you to sit for the bar once you pass Ca anyway, and other states either need a petition or a wait time.

        The Univ of Dayton is the other program besides Syracuse and Mitchell Hamline. But, again, 30-35k per year at the Minnesota Mitchell Hamline school is the least expensive of the 3 . 12000 vs 135-140k but ABA.

        Jon, again, great work on the Grading system for the First year exam (I plan on starting NWCULAW this year), and thanks for the info on TSA.

        1. Hi Dom!

          Thank you very much for your time and informative post. I appreciate you taking the time for me and responding.

          I am aware of the MH option – that it is by far the cheapest avenue. This is great! And I presumably could be doing it while I work a good paying job with my PhD. ABA accreditation is a big deal for me, so probably that’s the route I would go. I worry about attending a school without ABA accreditation.

          A bigger concern for me than that is will I be able to get a job with that law degree. I have spent quite a bit of time online reading and people on reddit / elsewhere seem to have this attitude that the legal profession is notorious for valuing pedigree.

          Thus, if I want to go into a firm that’s paying 200K for a patent lawyer, I worry that if they see a degree from MH (even though I have a PhD from another respected institution), they will not value my resume and I won’t be considered. Thus, it isn’t just a matter of being legally allowed to practice, it’s a matter of will I be able to get a decent paying job with that degree – esp for patent law. I was reading some online job posts for patent lawyers in my field and one of the requirements was “superior academic credentials.” I worry that attending MH will doom me. If it wasn’t for that, it would be my first choice.

          What do you think?

  4. Jon – YOU ARE AMAZING AND INSPIRING!! I got admitted to Northwestern California School of Law and start my 1L program in February 2019.

    I can not wait to read all the play by play for your CA Bar Exam preparations and your overall performance on the exam!

    All that you have accomplished is extraordinary and stokes the hopes and dreams of others that want to follow in your footsteps. Thanks Bro! -Keith

  5. Congratulations! I have been considering law school and your reviews/postings about NWCU have been quite helpful. I would imagine the high drop out rate is due to students not really knowing what they are in for with distance education – managing your time and paying attention to deadlines is a critical component of this type of learning. Do you agree? I feel this is geared toward dedicated self-directed learners. Thank you for sharing your experience.
    Kate

    1. Hi Kate,

      I do agree. Perhaps also people expect distance learning law school to be easy. You need to study 2-3 hours per day, every day, for the next 4 years. If that’s doable, then go for it!

      –Jon

  6. Jon Corbett:

    A spot on realist who knows more than a linear approach to learning substantive law.

    Jon is also one who SHARES with others HOW to be a self-motivated skilled practitioner in taking exams. This skill is particularly helpful in handling the reading comprehension skill required for the bar exam, whether FYLSX or the GBX. Quick, precise but accurate legal analysis to each fact situation, as Jon would agree, are crucial. Use study time to PRACTICE effectively.

    Because of these qualities, Jon should have no issue connecting WITH clients and helping to advance his civil rights advocacy work.

    Best wishes and Jon Corbett, congratulations. Looking to reading reference on your progress.

  7. Hi John, Congratulations! I have no doubts you will be getting the good news soon. I made it through the first year there and came to the same conclusions that you came too. Unfortunately, due to health issues which lead to cognitive problems, I was not able to pass the Baby Bar in 2016. During this time, the reasons I was going (to do pro bono work for a nonprofit) evaporated, so I will not be completing my law education even though my cognitive problems are improved and I suspect I could pass now if I studied and practiced writing exams. I have some old materials (books, CDs) that I would love to pass on to someone who could use them. Some of them may be dated and no longer useful (Gilbert’s, Emmanual’s). My environmentally conscious self can’t stand to donate them somewhere where they may just end up in the landfill. I first enrolled in Dec. 2012. I bought many second year books too.

    1. Hi Ming,
      I am sorry to hear you were not able to complete law school, but it is good news that you have recovered from your illness. I am planning to enroll in June and have been trying to figure out how to come up with the money to purchase my books. If you are still wanting to send them on to someone, I would gladly take them.
      Best,
      Kate

    2. Hi Ming, I am sorry to hear about your situation but I wish you all the best. I can relate. Even though it takes time, I believe in recovery. I hope at the right time, you can continue with your goals. I am planning to return to school and I’m in the process of registering. If you still have learning materials for donation, I would gladly put them to use and take good care of them. Best regards.

  8. Hi Jon, I graduated this past August from NWCU Law and I share many of your sentiments about the overall experience. It was not easy at all! I spent over 3 hours per day, 365X7, for the entire 4 years, plus a month of FYLSE prep. I just took the full Bar exam end of Feb, and studied nearly another 6 months for that (and I doubt I passed). At any rate, there is nothing quick or easy about this, but it has been a great experience overall. And, I certainly could not have done it any other way. Take care, Mike

    1. Sure:

      1) Practice by looking at the past bar exams published by Calbar. Spend an hour writing out an answer, compare it to the selected answers, and see what you left out.

      2) NWCU offers exam grading service for like $35. Go pick out some practice exams from NWCU, write them, and have them graded . Fleming’s does this too.

      3) Understand that NWCU grades essays like the bar exam. Which means you’re probably not getting an A. This isn’t exactly “fair,” but so long as you’re getting your diploma, don’t worry about getting C’s.

      –Jon

      1. Hi Jon, you said “don’t worry about getting C’s.” Just how important are the NWCU grades? I ask this question because I could earn extra credits from online participation, but I don’t want to participate just for the sake of earning a higher grade. Thanks!

        1. Depends. Do you want to get a higher degree, like an LL.M, afterwards? Your grades might matter. But to employers? If an employer cares about your grades, they are probably disqualifying you based on the school you went to anyway.

  9. Jon, do you feel a school like californiaschooloflaw.com which has live courses 2 times per week, taught by professor’s (Attorney’s) and actually use the Socratic Method, would have been a bigger help with the same studying you did? They meet 2 times on Tues & Thurs, 6pm Pacific, and it’s 2 courses each night, So, if your east coast, it’s 9pm to Midnight on Tues & Thurs, but its like an online meeting at work, with the teacher on a skype system and you can see the other students.

    They ask questions, you have to be prepared for class, and they include Baby Bar & Bar Prep in live course format. I believe they are around 6-8k per year only. When I researched it, they were just starting but have been around now for 10 years or 11 years. It’s not a chat or even a live video you watch, but it’s conducted as a real law school course where they call you out .So, it forces you to prepare for class in case they ask you about a case, law, or whatever your studying that week.

    Would that have helped you more besides your own study time? That is my dilemma now. I am in my 40s now with a daughter and wife, so when I researched this 10 years ago (And NEVER started), the ABA programs even though costly, might have been more attractive to me. But, with me being close to 50 when I would graduate, I don’t see the need for ABA since I want to practice Immigration law and live in FL (So I would be allowed in the Federal courts based on my research).

    So, what are your thoughts on the live classes 2 nights per week using the Socratic Method of teaching just like in an ABA school?

    thank you – Dom

  10. Well, I am here waiting to get the news on Jon’s CA Bar results; given his ambitious years of learning and civil rights activism, I would expect he passed.

    Let us know Jon!

  11. February 2019 California Bar Examination Pass List
    The State Bar of California makes the pass list available on this page in two phases:

    1. Applicant-Only Search
    Results from the February 2019 California Bar Examination will be mailed to applicants on Friday, May 17, 2019. Applicants will be able to access the pass list that evening, beginning at 6:00 PM (PDT) using their applicant number and file number.

    Results will be available in 12 hours

    2. Public Search
    The pass list will be available to the public beginning Sunday, May 19, 2019 at 6:00 AM (PDT).

    Important Information
    Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this list, all who took the examination must rely on the official written notification from the Office of Admissions of the State Bar of California. Results are scheduled for mailing on Friday, May 17, 2019.

  12. Hey, Jon! Congrats on getting your law degree and passing the bar!

    I was just accepted to NWCU Law School and would like to start next month (July). However, I have a concern that I’m hoping either you or anyone who has, or is currently attending, NWCU could shed some light on:

    My hesitation is the lack of accreditation because it may prevent me from employment opportunities and from sitting for other state bars. Can you tell me about what issues you’ve run into, if any, or insight when dealing with practicing law with a degree from an unaccredited institution both in and outside of California?

    A little background about me – I’m a paralegal with 5+ years experience, an A.A. in Paralegal Studies, and a B.A. in Law & Society (political science minor) from Penn State World Campus (a completely online bachelor’s program that I highly recommend for nontraditional students). I currently live in Sacramento and work full time as a paralegal. My long-term career goal is to become a Judge Advocate in California.

    Thanks and congrats again on your success!

    1. I get this question a lot, re: getting jobs with an NWCU degree. My answer is always the same: why would you want one of those? Working in a law firm as a new lawyer sounds like torture. Get your license and then go find yourself some clients. There are no shortage of people who need representation and who can’t afford $400/hr. rates from the big firms.

      Regarding other state bars, it is an issue and I am working on it, but if you’re interested in litigating, google “pro hac vice admission” — the process by which out-of-state attorneys can pretty much represent anyone anywhere.

      1. Hi Jonathan, big congrats on all your success. I will be submitting my paperwork to NWCU in the next couples of days and my goal is to work in federal criminal defense here in Texas. I also plan on taking some state cases pro hac vise. One thing I’ve been trying to research is if I’m allowed to give free legal advice here in Texas at the state level, or would I be completely forbidden to do this?

        1. Thanks Jeannie. I don’t know anything about Texas law, other than that you’re the only state that allows deadly force in defense of property. 🙂 Either read your rules of professional conduct or call your state bar association.

  13. Hi Jon –
    Congratulations on your achievements! I wondered how rigorous is the grading? For example, if you include the main points and write a good response, are you likely to get a good grade? Say an B+ or A? Is it unlikely to get A’s if you study and write solid, correct answers?

  14. Hello everyone!
    Today I applied for NWCU School of Law. I am exited! I have a Q. Do I get diploma from this institution that would indicate JD degree?

  15. Hi John,

    I’ve read that North Carolina and Wisconsin recently decided to allow someone who successfully passes the CA bar to sit the NC or Wisconsin Bar Exam regardless of an ABA accredited or Non- Accredited JD. Do you have any knowledge of this decision?

    1. Yes, this is correct. Upon receiving a CA law license, you are immediately eligible to sit for the WI and NC bar exams. You are also immediately eligible to sit for the WA bar exam upon completing an ABA-accredited LLM degree that covers fundamental American law (contracts, torts, civil/criminal procedure, etc.). If you have a qualifying ABA-accredited LLM, you do not need to hold a CA license to sit for the WA bar. VA will also allow you to sit for the bar if you have an ABA-accredited LLM in any subject and hold a CA law license. Some other states will allow you to petition the Supreme Court or BLE of the state to waive some requirements so that you can take their state’s bar exam without having to go through the years of practice requirement first (i.e., Michigan, Colorado, etc.).

      Also, NWCU, as mentioned, now holds CALS accreditation. So it is acceptable as meeting the educational prerequisite in a couple of states.

      Finally, if state accreditation is not an issue (which, for most people considering a non-ABA degree, it is not), then the other school to consider is the American International School of Law (AISOL.org). Their tuition rate is $2,975 for the first year and only $2,075 for years 2, 3, and 4. Your degree would only be $9,200 for tuition.

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