Best Online Master’s in Legal Studies Programs 2021

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Pursue a Master’s in Legal Studies

Legal studies programs feature liberal arts coursework and general legal classes. Learners also complete specialized coursework on law and policy within a specific field or industry. Curricula vary considerably based on the student’s concentration. Common specialization options include healthcare, business, environmental, and public interest law.

While juris doctor (JD) programs prepare students to take the bar exam and become lawyers, master’s in legal studies (MLS) programs can lead to more diverse career paths. Individuals with an MLS can work as judicial law clerks and legal assistants. Other graduates pursue careers as compliance officers, administrators, journalists, and researchers.

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This guide explores common benefits of attending an online MLS program, along with typical program requirements and common specializations.

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Top 10 Online Master’s in Legal Studies Programs


  • Can you practice law with a master's in legal studies?

    Master’s in legal studies programs help learners develop legal expertise they can apply to many careers. However, lawyers must hold a JD degree and pass the bar exam to practice.

  • Is an MLS or a JD degree better?

    A JD meets the education requirement for high-paying positions such as lawyer and judge. A master’s in legal studies takes less time to complete and can lead to roles such as human resources manager and operations manager.

  • How long is a master's in legal studies program?

    MLS programs typically take 1-2 years to complete, depending on the student’s enrollment status and program format. Some accelerated programs take only one year to finish.

  • Is legal studies the same as paralegal studies?

    Paralegal studies focuses on legal tasks professionals complete to support lawyers. Legal studies encompasses a variety of topics and skills.

Best Online Master’s in Legal Studies Programs 2021

Why Get a Degree in Legal Studies?

Earning a legal studies degree can lead to many personal and professional benefits. Graduates often access new career opportunities, greater job security, and higher earning potential. Degree-seekers may also obtain valuable professional contacts.

Diverse Career Options
Professionals working in industries such as healthcare and finance can pursue an MLS to expand their career options. Graduates often secure positions in compliance, financial examination, and human resources management.
Job Security
Master’s programs help students develop specialized expertise. Graduate degree-holders often present as more competitive job candidates and more valuable employees. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 10% job growth for legal assistants from 2019-2029, a rate much faster than the average for all occupations.
Higher Salary
Earning a master’s degree often leads to salary increases. Graduates may qualify to move up their company’s pay scale or earn a promotion.
Professional Networking
Online master’s programs often attract accomplished working professionals. Graduate students can make valuable professional connections with peers and professors.
Return on Investment
While most JD programs require at least three years to complete, students typically earn their MLS in 1-2 years. Master’s students often immediately apply new knowledge to their current positions.

How Much Does a Legal Studies Major Make?

Graduates of legal studies master’s programs often work as law librarians, court advocates, and legal assistants. According to the BLS, law librarians earn a median annual salary of $59,500, while legal assistants earn a median salary of $51,740 per year. Master’s in legal studies graduates can also enroll in JD programs and become lawyers. According to BLS data, these professionals earn a median salary of $122,960 per year.

MLS graduates can also work as compliance officers and human resources managers in highly regulated industries such as real estate, healthcare, and finance. According to the BLS, compliance officers and human resources managers earn median annual salaries of $69,050 and $116,720, respectively.

Master’s in Legal Studies Program Requirements

Applicants to MLS programs typically need a minimum 2.0-3.0 GPA and a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. Programs may also require minimum GRE scores, 3-5 years of relevant professional experience, and prerequisite coursework in professional ethics and the legal system.

Most master’s in legal studies programs require about 30 credits. Curricula generally cover diverse topics related to legal theory and practice. Required courses vary by school, program, and concentration. However, most programs feature core courses in law, the legal system, legal research, and legal writing. Most MLS programs also require an internship or research project.

Students interested in careers as lawyers or judges enroll in JD programs after graduation, while aspiring legal researchers and professors typically pursue a Ph.D. in law or legal studies.

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Master’s in Legal Studies Specializations

The best legal studies master’s programs typically encourage specialization through curriculum concentrations. The list below highlights common MLS concentration options. However, available concentrations vary by school.

This popular specialization is ideal for students who aspire to executive-level roles in fields such as real estate and asset management. This concentration typically requires courses on taxation, compliance, entrepreneurship, and negotiation.

This concentration explores energy law and regulation, land use, public natural resources law and policy, and comparative environmental law. Learners may also take classes in administrative law, local government law, and legislation and regulation.

Aspiring healthcare administrators and health policy professionals often specialize in health law. Concentration coursework examines laws and policies related to disability, patenting, information privacy, and food. Additional topics may include administrative law, antitrust law, and cannabis law and regulation.

This specialization explores issues, questions, and laws related to public interest advocacy. Coursework typically covers civil rights, election, immigration, and public benefits law. Learners may also explore legal topics related to disability, education, and employment.

Courses in a Legal Studies Master’s Program

Legal studies master’s programs typically require 30-36 credits of core and concentration coursework. Core classes often focus on criminal law, compliance, ethics, and legal research and writing. Most MLS programs also require an internship, capstone project, or master’s thesis. During their culminating experience, learners demonstrate legal research and writing skills.

Typically, the best legal studies master’s programs offer concentration options in areas such as international law, healthcare law, and intellectual property law. The following list features a few courses that commonly appear in master’s in legal studies programs.

This core course surveys elements, purposes, defenses, and sanctions of substantive criminal law. Learners explore various types of crimes, including homicide, sexual crimes, property crimes, and public order and morality crimes. Participants also learn about criminal liability principles, such as actus reus and mens rea, and they examine the constitutional limits of criminal law.

Students in this foundational course develop skills in legal research and writing methods. Learners also study the U.S. legal system and methods for addressing legal problems. Degree-seekers become familiar with common legal writing genres, including memoranda, presentations, and letters. This course usually serves as a prerequisite for advanced legal studies classes.

This course examines ways in which individuals and organizations can protect original creative work, such as writing, art, and computer software. Degree-seekers explore the impact of copyright law on publishers, businesses, and markets. Learners explore the skills and practices that copyright lawyers use to solve problems and serve clients.

Scholarships for Legal Studies

Many of the most affordable legal studies master’s programs offer financial aid to eligible students. Additionally, students pursuing a master’s in legal studies can apply for scholarships from schools, nonprofits, and law firms. Individuals can qualify for scholarships based on academic performance, financial need, and membership in special interest groups. The scholarships below represent a sampling of the awards available to learners in legal studies master’s programs.

  • Gloria Barron Wilderness Society Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports current graduate students who plan to pursue careers in U.S. wilderness protection. Students earning a degree in law, policy, or natural resource management at an accredited North American school may apply.

    Amount: $15,000

    Explore Here

  • Frédéric Bastiat Fellowship

    Who Can Apply: This fellowship program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University supports learners pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree related to law, public policy, political science, or economics. Applicants submit a cover letter, a resume or CV, and short essay answers.

    Amount: $5,000

    Explore Here

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