Programs in the interdisciplinary field of legal studies blend liberal arts and law coursework. Learners explore legal theories, principles, institutions, and practices. Legal studies programs cover fundamental topics such as economics and law, law and society, international human rights, and legal discourse.

Master’s students in the field typically choose a concentration related to their current industry or role. Concentrations often focus on highly regulated industries such as finance, healthcare, real estate, and human resources.

Students in juris doctor (JD) programs undertake deep studies of law and criminal justice in preparation for lawyer examinations, licensure, and practice. On the other hand, learners often pursue a master of legal studies (MLS) to enhance their expertise and qualify to enter the field or advance their current career. Employers in various industries hire professionals to help their organization identify and avoid legal issues. This guide highlights potential career paths, coursework, and scholarships for students earning an online master’s in legal studies.


  • What is the difference between a master's in legal studies and a JD?

    Traditionally a two-year degree, an MLS demonstrates legal knowledge but does not qualify graduates to take the bar exam. The JD typically requires three years and qualifies holders to take the bar.

  • Do you need a bachelor's degree in legal studies to earn a master's in legal studies?

    Applicants to MLS programs need a bachelor’s degree. Some programs also require prior coursework in legal studies or relevant professional experience.

  • Can I work as a lawyer with a master's degree in legal studies?

    An MLS degree does not qualify holders to take the bar exam or practice law. However, some MLS graduates later earn a JD and become lawyers.

  • Can I earn a master's in legal studies online?

    Many MLS students complete their degree online. Online and on-campus programs usually feature similar content. Many distance programs offer asynchronous participation options, which are ideal for working students.

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Career Paths and Outlook for a Master’s Degree in Law

Graduates of legal studies programs often become legal assistants, investigators, law librarians, and court advocates. Some MLS graduates pursue law degrees and high-paying criminal justice careers as lawyers and judges.

An MLS can lead to careers in various industries, including healthcare, real estate, and technology. Graduates can also secure roles in business, including positions as compliance officers, human resources managers, and budget analysts. The list below features a couple of career options for graduates of online master’s in legal studies programs.

  • Librarians

    Law librarians usually work in schools or government agencies. These professionals help students and researchers find and access legal information. Law schools often maintain libraries and employ librarians who specialize in legal research. Law librarians typically need a master’s in library science with an emphasis in legal studies. Individuals with a master’s in legal studies may qualify for law librarian positions, but they may need additional credentials.

  • Financial Analysts

    Financial analysts help clients make investment decisions. These professionals can work for businesses, banks, insurance companies, and securities firms. Financial analysts need at least a bachelor’s degree in a business-related field. These analysts benefit from knowledge of tax law and compliance, and earning an MLS can lead to specialized positions. Specifically, financial analysts who perform tax and compliance consulting services for companies or individuals can benefit from earning an MLS.

Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
Librarians $59,500 5%
Financial Analysts $81,590 5%

Source: BLS

Accreditation for Legal Studies Degrees

To obtain accreditation, schools undergo a voluntary assessment of their academic quality. Accreditation agencies evaluate institutions’ resources, curricula, faculty credentials, and student outcomes. Academic-oriented colleges and universities usually seek regional accreditation, which is the most prestigious type of institutional accreditation. For-profit, career, and religious schools typically receive national accreditation.

In addition to institutional accreditation, learners can look for programmatic accreditation from field-specific agencies. High-quality legal studies programs usually feature accreditation from the American Bar Association (ABA).

Institutional accreditation status impacts students’ ability to obtain financial aid and transfer credits. Only students at nationally or regionally accredited institutions can receive federal financial aid. Additionally, regionally accredited schools usually only recognize credits earned from other regionally accredited schools.

Courses in a Master’s Program in Legal Studies

Master’s programs in legal studies usually require 30-36 credits, including core classes, concentration courses or electives, an internship, and a capstone project or thesis. Capstone projects help learners cultivate advanced skills in legal research, analysis, and writing.

Core MLS courses often cover legal reasoning, law of information and records, negotiation and advocacy, and compliance. Enrollees learn about legal systems, theories, and principles.

Concentration options may include intellectual property law, healthcare law, mediation and arbitration, and international law. Many programs also feature concentrations or electives in environmental law, business law, and public interest law. Although curricula vary by program, the following courses appear in many online master’s in legal studies programs.

This foundational course prepares learners to collect, analyze, and present legal information. Students develop an understanding of the U.S. legal system, and they learn to research legal authorities and address legal problems. Degree-seekers practice creating common types of legal communications, such as letters, memoranda, and presentations.

This course examines the creation and implementation of laws in the United States. Enrollees learn about the U.S. Constitution’s relationship to law, including its impact on civil rights and social justice issues. Students also explore federal law, state law, litigation, and dispute resolution. Enrollees study the relationships between regulations, statutes, and case laws. This core course may serve as a prerequisite for advanced classes.

Many online legal studies master’s programs offer a concentration or elective class in intellectual property law. Coursework focuses on laws and processes for obtaining and protecting patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and trademarks. Degree-seekers also explore intellectual property concepts such as publicity rights and unfair competition.

This core course provides an overview of processes for making legal claims, resolving disputes, and composing legal deals. Coursework typically includes case studies and simulations. Degree-seekers study and practice implementing negotiation techniques, such as collaborative problem-solving and competitive bargaining. Students also learn about the ethics and codes governing attorney-client dynamics.

Learners in this core class examine the government’s executive branch and the relationships between Congress, the president, and the federal courts. Enrollees study federal laws and agencies, along with various adjudication and rulemaking tools. Students become familiar with key principles and concepts related to the separation of powers, freedom of information, and judicial review. Participants also examine how these agencies influence the public and private sectors.

Scholarships for Legal Studies

Even students in the most affordable legal studies master’s online programs can reduce out-of-pocket expenses by applying for scholarships. Many professional organizations, firms, nonprofit organizations, and schools offer scholarships. Learners may qualify for awards by demonstrating financial need, academic excellence, or leadership potential. The list below includes a few of the scholarship opportunities available to learners pursuing an online master’s in legal studies.

Legal Opportunity Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This ABA scholarship supports first-year law students who belong to underrepresented racial or ethnic minority groups. The scholarship committee considers each applicant’s financial need, personal statement, community service history, academic record, and family background.
Amount: $15,000 for three years of law school

AALL Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Aspiring law librarians enrolled in a library science or law graduate program can apply for this award from the American Association of Law Libraries. Candidates must demonstrate financial need, AALL membership, and work experience in a law library.
Amount: Up to $5,000

One Source Process, Inc., Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Students pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in a law-related field can apply. Applicants must submit proof of acceptance to or transcripts from a U.S. college or university. Recipients are chosen randomly and can apply funds toward degree expenses.
Amount: $1,000

Most Affordable Online Master’s in Legal Studies Degrees 2021

  1. University of Southern California

    Los Angeles, CA

    Located in Los Angeles, USC's Gould School of Law offers an online master of studies in law. Students take courses 100% online in full-time or part-time tracks and can complete the program in as few as 16 months.

    The 21-credit program starts with two courses: an introduction to the U.S. legal system and legal research. From there, students take 18 credits in their chosen certificate from one of the following: U.S. law, business law, compliance, entertainment law and industry, financial compliance, healthcare compliance, human resources law, or privacy law and cybersecurity. Students may also choose a general track by taking courses from each certificate section.

    USC does not require GRE or LSAT scores, but students must possess a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. Students may transfer up to five credits into the program for elective use.

    USC is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

  2. Florida State University

    Tallahassee, FL

    Based in Tallahassee, FSU offers an online juris master with three concentrations: financial regulation and compliance, legal risk management and HR compliance, and healthcare regulation.

    The 30-credit program begins with five required common courses: torts, introduction to legal studies and research, legislation and regulation, regulatory compliance, and contracts. Students then take advanced electives in their chosen concentration to complete the program. Each concentration offers a targeted series of courses designed for advanced study and includes courses such as e-health and telemedicine, economic privacy and cybersecurity, or consumer protection law.

    Applicants must submit GRE or LSAT scores to apply (waived through fall 2021). The school does not require a minimum GPA, and students do not need prior work experience to qualify for the program. FSU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  3. Texas A&M University

    College Station, TX

    Located in College Station, Texas A&M offers an online master of laws in three online-only concentrations: international tax curriculum, risk management, and wealth management. Candidates in the international tax track may also choose a master of jurisprudence degree track.

    Students take just one or two courses per session. Students begin with courses such as an introduction to the U.S. legal system and ethics in decision-making before moving on to concentration track courses. The tracks require around 24 credits, while the master of jurisprudence in international tax degree requires 30. Students may also take capstone courses for greater experience in research and hands-on problem-solving.

    Applicants must possess a law degree from a school accredited by the American Bar Association to qualify for admission. The school does not specify a minimum GPA or work experience requirements.

    Texas A&M is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  4. Pepperdine University

    Malibu, CA

    Located in Malibu, California, Pepperdine offers an online master of legal studies with a full-time or part-time track. Students complete courses online with two in-person weekend residencies on Pepperdine's campus required. Students may also choose to pursue optional certificates in dispute resolution, human resources, or litigation.

    The 32-credit program includes foundation courses such as contracts, legal writing, constitutional law, and civil procedure and litigation. Students take 18 credits of electives designed to further focus their degree in areas such as intellectual property, business organizations, and education law. Motivated students may also apply for the dual-degree master of dispute resolution program and earn both degrees in less time than applying separately.

    Pepperdine accepts applications on a rolling basis with three yearly start dates. Students must hold a bachelor's degree to qualify for admission. The school does not require LSAT or GRE scores.

    Pepperdine is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

  5. The George Washington University

    Washington, DC

    Based in Washington, D.C., GW offers an online master of studies in law for government procurement law. Students study weekly through online synchronous course sessions with no residency requirements and can begin the program in either fall or spring.

    Students begin with a government contracts overview course in their first term. Students then choose a thesis or non-thesis track and take courses such as the formation of government contracts, comparative public procurement, government contracts moot court, and government procurement of intellectual property. Non-thesis track students must also take four-credit selected topics in government procurement acquisition policy-making to complete the program.

    Students must hold a bachelor's degree and a JD from an accredited institution to begin the application process. Students do not need to submit LSAT or GRE scores to apply. GW is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

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