Online Master's Degree in Legal Studies

Legal knowledge and expertise is useful in almost every field, including healthcare, government, finance, and engineering. Professionals with a master's degree in legal studies are attractive candidates for many positions in businesses, nonprofits, and law firms.

The BLS projects legal occupations to grow at an average rate of 9% from 2016 to 2026

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects legal occupations to grow at an average rate of 9% from 2016 to 2026 and the number of paralegal positions to increase 15% during the same time period. The BLS attributes the growing number of paralegal positions to law firms' efforts to reduce costs and improve efficiency through delegation. In addition, many companies hire MLS graduates for roles in their in-house legal departments.

Also known as a juris master, a master's degree in legal studies is an advanced degree for students who wish to study law but who do not intend to become lawyers. Many institutions offer distance MLS programs, allowing students to work full time while earning their degree. Students earning their master's degree in legal studies online or on campus complete core classes and specialization coursework. MLS students gain an understanding of the U.S. legal system and learn to work within its framework.

Also known as a juris master, a master's degree in legal studies is an advanced degree for students who wish to study law but who do not intend to become lawyers.

Distance learning experiences vary by program. Some programs are individually paced; others are cohort-based, in which students progress through the program with a small group of peers. Additionally, many online programs are available in a hybrid format, which involves a blend of online and on-campus courses. While online programs offer scheduling flexibility, on-campus programs provide peer support and classroom interaction.

Many working professionals and learners with personal responsibilities choose online programs. Additionally, online legal studies degrees are often less expensive. Distance learners generally save on expenses such as housing and transportation, and some institutions charge all online learners in-state tuition rates. When choosing an MLS program, students should also ensure the program offers the specialization they plan to pursue.

Curriculum for a Master's Degree in Legal Studies

While curricula vary by program, most MLS programs include similar core courses, including constitutional law, torts, contracts, and civil procedure. MLS students choose a concentration to tailor their degree toward their career goals; common concentration areas include compliance, employment law, criminal law, international trade, and intellectual property law. The courses below are common to most master's degree in legal studies programs.

Example Courses

Introduction to Legal Studies This course introduces students to the American legal system. Students learn about types of law and the U.S. Constitution. Learners compare categories of law, research legal regulations, and apply legal reasoning to issues related to justice, law, and society.
Civil Procedure Students explore the legal processes used in civil and criminal justice. Topics include due process, pleadings, discovery, jurisdiction, professional ethics, and the roles of attorneys. Students examine how litigators apply these aspects of civil procedure.
Legal Research and Writing Students explore legal research, writing, and analysis. Students learn how to apply knowledge from primary and secondary legal authorities to solve legal problems. Students learn how to draft legal documents, such as memoranda and letters.
Constitutional Law This course explores the U.S. Constitution and the powers it grants and limits. Students study the structural and individual aspects of the Constitution, including the Supreme Court, the federal government, and constitutional amendments.
Regulation and Compliance This course examines regulatory compliance and the legal challenges organizations face. Topics include health and safety, the environment, consumer protection, and employment.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Master's in Legal Studies?

Students can earn a master's degree in legal studies as quickly as one year, and institutions typically set graduation deadlines. For example, Harvard students have five years to complete the MLS program. A master's in legal studies is similar to the first year of a juris doctor program. Learners explore foundational topics and examine the U.S. legal system. Most MLS programs require about 30 credits. Students in accelerated or individually paced programs may graduate in less than one year. In contrast, cohort programs and hybrid programs may require longer to complete.

Companies in every field require legal expertise and support. According to PayScale, the top employers for MLS graduates include an airline, a tech company, the state of North Carolina, and law firms. According to the BLS, the top-paying positions for paralegals are in the federal government and the finance and insurance industries; arbitrators in state government, legal services, and local government earn median annual salaries higher than $62,000. Students earning a master's degree in legal studies prepare for positions in a variety of fields. Most MLS students are professionals who want to advance their careers. After earning a master's degree in legal studies online, graduates often work on legal issues pertaining to HR, contracts, torts, and copyrights. Although the legal field is growing, top-earning positions are competitive. An MLS positions job seekers to attain high-level positions.

Online Master’s in Legal Studies Careers

After earning a master's degree in legal studies online, graduates pursue a variety of career paths. Many MLS students already work in the field, but master's degree in legal studies helps individuals advance their careers and increase earning potential.

Training Development Director

Many businesses employ training development directors to spearhead training programs and set goals and incentives for staff members. These professionals have varying levels of education and experience, depending on the field in which they work. Responsibilities include developing classroom and on-the-job training plans and setting goals and incentives for trainees.

Paralegal

Paralegals support attorneys and conduct legal research. They work in law firms, legal departments for businesses, and court systems. Paralegals assist lawyers and accompany them to court. Graduates often qualify for paralegal positions after completing an associate degree in legal studies online program; however, many employers prefer to hire paralegals with at least a four-year degree, such as an LLB from a legal studies bachelor's degree online program.

Probation Officer

Probation officers, who must hold state certification, work with and monitor offenders to prevent them from committing new crimes. They typically hold a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or sociology, and earning a master's in legal studies increases job prospects. Prospective probation officers must complete rigorous training to obtain certification.

Police Sergeant

These veteran police officers supervise and train sworn and civilian personnel. Most U.S. police sergeants have significant experience in the field, often more than 10 years of experience. While officers can take the sergeant exam early in their careers, leadership experience is an important qualifier for police sergeant roles.

Contract Negotiator

Contract negotiators work in many industries. They assist in labor and business deals for companies and government agencies. Some negotiators work only on a company's internal contracts. Many employers require negotiators to have at least a bachelor's degree in business or business administration. Some employers prefer applicants with a business background and a law degree, such as a master's in legal studies.
Occupations and Salary for Online Master's Degree in Legal Studies Graduates
Job Title Overall Median Salary Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (>20 years)
Training Development Director $93,995 $67,529 $88,248 $113,063
Paralegal $46,367 $39,929 $48,911 $56,549
Probation Officer $40,811 $37,189 $42,229 $59,149
Police Sergeant $67,278 N/A $64,540 $78,484
Contract Negotiator $69,975 $61,986 $73,690 $93,478
Source: BLS, May 2017

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Legal Studies Prepares For

Accreditation status is an important consideration for students pursuing a master's degree in legal studies online or on campus. Accredited institutions meet or exceed established standards of quality. The two main types of institutional accreditation in the United States are regional and national. Regional accreditation is the older type and is mainly for nonprofit, degree-granting institutions. National accrediting agencies review for-profit and single-purpose schools, such as career or technical colleges.

Students should attend institutions with accreditation from an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

Accreditation impacts transferability of credits and student eligibility for financial aid. Students should attend institutions with accreditation from an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). While the ED recognizes all regional accreditors, it does not recognize all national accrediting agencies.

Programs may hold specialized accreditation. Students pursuing a master's degree in legal studies should look for a program with accreditation from the American Bar Association.

Students have various options for financing their master's degree in legal studies, including scholarships and federal financial aid. Each year, the U.S. Department of Education provides more than $120 billion in federal student aid, including loans, grants, and work-study programs. To determine their eligibility for federal aid, students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) annually.

Students can also receive private scholarships. Many organizations and communities offer scholarships for students with high academic achievement or those involved in public service. Students can also pursue field-specific awards. Students earning a master's degree in legal studies online should begin their scholarship search at the local level before expanding to state and national awards.

Legal Studies Scholarships

Scholarships are financial awards that do not have to be repaid. Many organizations offer scholarships for students who demonstrate merit or financial need. Other scholarships are reserved for students pursuing a particular area of study or for residents of certain areas. Scholarships are available at the local, state, and national levels.

Legal Studies Scholarships

Earl Warren Scholarship $30,000

Who Can Apply: The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund offers this scholarship to U.S. citizens enrolled in their final year of undergraduate studies or their first year of law school. Candidates must have a record of academic achievement and must demonstrate a commitment to racial justice and civil rights. View Scholarship

ACJA-LAE Scholarship $100-400

Who Can Apply: Candidates must be members of the American Criminal Justice Association Lambda Alpha Epsilon, must be enrolled in an accredited post-graduate program, such as a master's or doctoral degree program, and must have a minimum 3.0 GPA. View Scholarship

John R. Colvin Law Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: This award helps students finance their first semester of law school. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or authorized to work or study in the country and must have published an article, on which the selection committee bases its decisions. View Scholarship

Aiello Harris Legal Scholarship $1,000 twice a year

Who Can Apply: Candidates must be currently pursuing a law-related or paralegal degree or have been accepted into a legal or paralegal program. Applicants must have at least a 3.0 GPA. Candidates may be pursuing a juris doctor or a degree in pre-law, paralegal studies, or legal assisting. View Scholarship

Console and Hollawell Legal Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: Candidates must be pursuing a law-related degree or have been accepted into a legal program. Applicants must have at least a 3.0 GPA and must be a U.S. citizen. View Scholarship
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