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Distance Learning & Online LLM Programs


Online LLM StudentA growing number of LLM programs can be studied by distance learning and online learning, where instructors and students communicate online rather than face to face. A wide variety of educational media and modes of communication and teaching are used. One of the hallmarks of many distance learning llm programs is that via flexible, modular class offerings, students can progress through them at their own pace.

Distance learning programs usually have a longer duration than their full-time equivalents. For LLMs, these typically usually last two to five years instead of one year full time. Some distance learning LLM courses require a combination of online and physical communication, where students attend residential sessions – this is often referred to as blended learning.

Why consider an LLM distance/online learning program?

1. You want to get on in your career

In this increasingly competitive legal world, maintaining a good skills base has never been more important as a way of getting on. A distance online learning program can help you to acquire those professional and transferable skills necessary for career advancement without having to take an enforced break from your legal career. Distance learning can also be a solution if you want to move sideways into a new area of law that requires the acquisition of new knowledge and skills.

2. You have to fit study around your commitments

If you have work and/or family commitments or need to be able to fit your studies around your other commitments, distance learning could be the answer. These courses tend to be highly flexible, allowing participants control over study schedules, to study at a pace and at times best suited to their needs, and to study when and where they choose. Sometimes you can even choose how to be assessed.

3. You want a wider choice

Distance learning can substantially increase the choice of law courses open to you because you are not tied to one location; attendance at a particular campus is often not required. This means you could have many law schools from around the world to choose from – this is an attractive option if you don't want to leave your home town, but don't like what's on offer at the local law school.

4. You want financial security or to keep the costs down

Being at work and studying at home will mean that you will not have to forgo your salary, and also your living costs will remain the same. Plus, you will incur no travel costs when attending your classes. These are important consideration, especially as most distance learning courses are much longer then their full-time equivalents.

5. You want to improve your chances of getting onto a course

Distance learning courses have fewer constraints on the number of places they can offer, which in turn means a greater chance of being accepted on to them.

LLMs by distance learning

Although distance learning is a common method of instruction for business, information technology and various other subjects, it remains relatively uncommon for law. Law is a conservative profession, so perhaps it is unsurprising that legal education lags in distance learning opportunities. Nevertheless, a growing number of distance learning LLM programs are available.

The University of London’s External Program offers a well-established LLM that can be completed in as little as one year or as many as five years. Institutions around the world offer distance-learning LLMs in a wide variety of subjects, from International Business Law at the University of Aberdeen and Commercial Law at the University of Derby, as well as the five distance learning LLM programs on offer at the University of Edinburgh, all based in the UK, through to Prosecutorial Science at Chapman University in the US, Intellectual Property at the University of Turin in Italy, Environmental Law and International Environmental Law at Macquarie University in Australia, People’s Republic of China Law at the Open University of Hong Kong, and an Executive LLM at the Instituto de Empresa Business School in Spain.

The LLM distance learning experience: do you have what it takes?

This type of studying does have different requirements and pressures from full time study, which you should be aware of. The institution will agree with you a timetable of study and deadlines for supplying essays and assignments, with videos, audio tapes and written materials available online to give you the raw materials for your studies. You can keep in regular contact with your tutor via e-mail or telephone and it is usual to e-mail your essays to them. However, in order to be successful in this mode of study read the following checklist:

  • You will need to be self-motivated or a self-starter. Even though you are not on a campus, you will still have to undertake study and provide essays to an agreed timetable. Without the structure of full-time study, it will be up to you to ensure that you keep the ball rolling. Your institution and tutor can give you advice and support, but ultimately it is your responsibility.
  • You will also need dedication and discipline as a distance learning program can be a long haul (usually at least twice as long as the full-time equivalent). It might be daunting, after a long day at work, to then have to undertake several hours of study, but persevere – this is the only way you will attain your goal of gaining a qualification.
  • You must also be organised and be able to multi-task in order to ensure that your other commitments (often the reason for distance learning in the first place) do not impinge on the time you need for study. Some students spend up to 15 hours a week studying and preparing assignments, so you will have to find a way of fitting this in. If you are able to establish a routine and settle into a rhythm, then this will become easier. Although this may sound daunting, many distance learning students go on to successfully complete their courses. Once you get the knack, there will be no stopping you.

Support in your LLM distance learning/online program

Your institution will also give you as much support as you need. By making yourself known to other people on the course (by networking online, giving permission for your name and contact details to be passed on to other students, or by meeting them at summer schools or compulsory course attendance at the institution), you can set up a network of learners, which can also be another source of support, advice and encouragement. It is possible to undertake a distance learning program without a tutor and many institutions will offer you this option. Although some distance learners study their programs independently, many do opt to have a tutor. If you do have a tutor, your relationship with them will be very important. Making this work will make your distance learning experience easier. Some ground rules will be provided at the start of the program: you will be given written guidance on what you are entitled to expect from your tutor, including how often you can call them, how much time they are prepared to give you and how your work will be marked, including timescales and to what standards. The key consideration is that access to your tutor will be limited, so you should plan this carefully to make the most of what they can offer you.

5 steps to a successful relationship with your tutor

Here are five steps to establishing and maintaining a successful relationship with your tutor.

  1. Contact the tutor at a time that is convenient to them (particularly important if they are in a different time zone).
  2. Keep to your deadlines.
  3. Stick to arrangements you have made with them.
  4. Monitor your progress (this is your job, not the tutor’s).
  5. Give them honest and constructive feedback, both during and at the end of the course; don’t be afraid to compliment them!

If you follow these basic guidelines, in return you should find your tutor accommodating, understanding and flexible. They can be very helpful should circumstances, such as sudden work pressure or a family crisis, affect your ability to study or the progress of your program. They will help you manage the impact on your time, for instance by arranging the postponement of examinations to give you the extra time you might need. It is important to involve them from the start of a major problem. That said, a useful tip is not to contact them every time you have difficulties, but to make a note of them as they happen over a time period, say a week, and then bring them all up on one occasion with the tutor in order of difficulty. Time with them is precious, so make the best use of it.

Top 10 considerations when selecting your online LLM program

When choosing a distance learning LLM program there are several things you need to consider:

  1. The reputation of the course and the law school.
  2. Admission requirements.
  3. The cost and convenience of the course.
  4. What the course will cover, including its main aims.
  5. Teaching methods, including who the teachers are.
  6. Course materials provided.
  7. Assessment methods, including responsibility for setting and marking the exams.
  8. What support is available.
  9. The amount of time you can spare.
  10. Whether the final qualification is suitable for your personal or career development.

As long as you make sure you've checked all these details, you should be on the right online LLM course for you.

Online LLM tuition fees

Online LLM tuition feesStudying a Master of Laws program is an increasingly popular option, especially as some costs are lower for online LLM courses than for on-campus LLMs, and funding online part-time courses may be more achievable, however be aware that the tuition fees are no longer necessarily less than an equivalent on-campus course. 

Costs for online LLM courses vary widely between different law schools and different countries. Studying an online course based abroad might be a great way to reduce tuition fees, but you may have additional costs. Tuition fees in the US are often considered higher than in other countries, but many of their law schools are very prestigious with excellent worldwide reputations. This means that they could be considered a great investment in your future and career.

Can you pay in instalments?

Law schools usually offer their LLM students different payment plans and many law school's payments plans are based on the local funding options. Some law schools will require students to pay a portion of the tuition fees on acceptance of a place on the LLM course. Most law schools have this information displayed clearly on their website – such as New York University – so reading properly through all the relevant information should be part of your research before you apply. You should expect to pay the majority of your tuition fees before you start the online LLM course, but some law schools allow students to pay by the term or even by the course credit when studying part time.

Are there any hidden costs?

Legal textbooks can be expensive, however, if you are studying an LLM you are probably already aware of this. For online LLM courses, there are costs such as printing materials and taking time away from paid employment or taking holiday days to study. If you need to sit exams, then you might have travel expenses either to the campus or other facility to sit the exam.

Can you study at a more prestigious law school for less money?

Just because you are studying online it doesn’t necessarily meant that you can study at a more prestigious law school for less money. In fact, many law schools charge similar or even identical tuition fees for online or on-campus LLM courses, although some law schools do charge less for their online courses for international students. It's always worth researching that perfect LLM course at a world-class institution, for example at the University of Edinburgh, the online LLM programs tuition fees are £24,700 for all students in the academic year 2023/24, but the on-campus LLM program costs £15,200 for UK students and £25,300 for EU international students. This means online study is financially slightly more advantageous for international and EU LLM students, but not quite so financially beneficial for UK students.

Online LLM funding

Many countries, including the UK, do not differentiate between on-campus and online learning when it comes to funding a postgraduate program. This means if the course is full time or a qualifying part-time LLM course, then you might be able to access government-backed loans. Alternatively, there are often scholarships and bursaries available to many students studying online and it is worthwhile checking even if you're based abroad.

Online study is often conducted part time and this can be an advantage as you may find you can afford the tuition fees by working alongside your studies or even that your employer is willing to fund or part-fund your studies.

Examples of online LLM tuition fees

This table illustrates the tuition fees you can expect to pay to study an online LLM program at a few universities around the world.



Online LLM Tuition Fees

University of Birmingham


£16,485 for all students

University of Edinburgh


£24,700 for all students

The University of Law

UK (online university)

£9,500 for all students

University of Southern California Gould


$59,115 for all students, plus university fees of approx. $65 per semester

Keeping motivated as an online LLM student

While studying an online LLM program has all sorts of benefits, sometimes keeping motivated is the tricky part.

As you will be studying your course remotely, all of your motivation must come from within, as you won't have your fellow students around you day to day to keep you on track. Here are some key ways you can ensure you maintain motivation while studying online.

1. Develop a timetable

Online LLM programs have a range of ways of presenting the course material. Some will be via live lectures and seminars through online platforms and others rely more heavily on pre-recorded sessions. Each way has different benefits, but sitting down at a desk to complete the lectures or seminars at the same time each week is a good habit to get into and will allow you to successfully balance the rest of your life and work around your studies.

2. Plan your time

University terms or semesters are not forever. If you have a year planner, then setting out the term dates and when your assignments are due will help you see when you can afford to take time away from your studies. Most law schools, for example the University of California in Berkley, will have this information available for prospective students. This will guide you to when you can fit in essential relaxing time to recharge those legal batteries and when you will need to buckle down to the work.

3. Develop a relationship with your lecturer

Getting to know your lecturer while you study your online LLM is not as easy as it is when studying an LLM program on campus. If your lectures are live online, then it's always a good idea to log on a few minutes early as there is often a little small talk while everyone gets organised, this could be the ideal opportunity to get to know your lecturer. Alternatively, ensure that you participate fully in online discussion forums and keep in touch with your lecturers via email or even having the occasional old-fashioned phone call.

4. Connect with your fellow students

The best way to keep motivated while studying your online LLM program is to be stimulated and interested in what your fellow students have to say about the course. Participate in the online discussions and connect with them through social media to discuss the course and other relevant experiences. You can even start to connect with other students before your LLM course starts as many universities have all their social media contact information and details readily available online.

5. Attend on-campus events

For many students undertaking an online LLM program is more to do with flexibility rather than the distance to the law school. This means that for those students attending an occasional on-campus session or networking event can balance out the disadvantages of not meeting many potential contacts in person. If you are attending a law school that is some distance from your home, then get involved with your local law society to ensure you benefit from those legal professionals around you.


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