We've all read a lease or contract and wondered what exactly it means, and many of us have signed it anyway. With a legal studies degree, you can confidently read and interpret contracts, laws, and regulations.

A legal studies degree can complement almost any career. A master's in legal studies is particularly helpful for human resources compliance employees, small business owners, nonprofit workers, and any professional who benefits from an understanding of legal regulations and contracts.

So what's the difference between a master's in legal studies program and law school? The primary difference is that a law degree requires three years of law school and successfully completing a state bar exam, while a master's in legal studies degree may take only one year to earn.

That means a legal studies degree is cheaper and less pressure, particularly if you earned a bachelor's degree in legal studies first. You won't be able to represent anyone in court, but you will be able to understand local, state, and federal laws thoroughly or know what resources to use when you need more information.

A master's in legal studies is a great option for mid-career professionals who want to move into an administrative role in their existing field or start their own business. Read on to find out whether it's the right option for you.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Legal Studies?

Students earning a master's in legal studies receive advanced training in the field. Several other personal and professional benefits often accompany a master's in legal studies, including specialization options and increased earning potential.

  • Specialization

    While earning a master's degree in legal studies, graduate students specialize their training. Learners take courses in an area such as conflict resolution, corporate compliance, healthcare law, or contract management. These specializations prepare students for specific legal careers.
  • Flexibility

    Most online legal studies programs emphasize flexibility. Many schools deliver online courses asynchronously, allowing students to arrange coursework around their work schedule and other responsibilities.
  • Career Advancement

    Graduate-level training can help professionals secure specialized roles in the legal field. Master's degree-holders often become compliance officers, regulatory affairs managers, and human resources managers.
  • Accessibility

    Online learning can make graduate studies more accessible. Degree-seekers can enroll in specialized programs in any state without relocating.
  • Increase Earning Potential

    Advanced education tends to correlate with higher salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professionals with a master's degree earn a median weekly salary of about $250 higher than bachelor's degree-holders in 2020

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Featured Online Master's in Legal Studies Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

Courses in Legal Studies

Master's in legal studies programs train learners to analyze laws and regulations, apply analyses in business contexts, and draft legal documents. Master's students take courses in the U.S. legal system, federal regulations, and legal research. They also study contract law, compliance, and criminal law.

Many programs offer elective options such as human resources law, intellectual property law, and sustainability. These courses help students earning a legal studies master's degree prepare for specialized career paths. While curricula vary by program, many master's in legal studies programs include the following courses.

  • American Legal System

    Students in this class learn about the U.S. legal system, including the relationship between the government and the law. Topics include the court system, civil rights, constitutional law, and the appellate courts. The course provides foundational knowledge that prepares degree-seekers for advanced law classes.
  • Legal Research and Writing

    This course helps learners strengthen their analytical, research, and writing skills. Degree-seekers explore case laws, statutes, administrative rulings, and legal analyses. Students prepare to analyze cases and rulings, evaluate statutes, and interpret administrative rulings. Learners also develop legal writing skills by creating opinions and case briefs. Coursework emphasizes computerized research skills and proper legal citations.
  • Contract Law

    Contract law governs public and private entities in multiple sectors. Master's students in this course explore the role of contracts in creating binding agreements. The class covers topics such as damages for breaching contracts and restitution. Graduates can use skills gained during this course to create contracts and analyze proposed contracts.
  • Federal Regulations

    This course examines the federal regulatory system and its relationship to various administrative agencies and the legal system. Students learn about the limits on administrative authority, routes for redress, and state administrative agencies. Learners strengthen their analytical skills by reviewing regulations and their applications.
  • Employment Law

    Employment law regulates the hiring process and the relationship between employers and employees. This class explores the legal and regulatory context for hiring and letting go workers, wage and hour laws, and workplace discrimination protections. Aspiring human resources professionals can benefit from this class

What to Expect From a Legal Studies Master's Degree

Most legal studies master's programs include courses covering the U.S. legal system, legal ethics, and legal research. From there, the content varies significantly. Legal studies programs are approximately 30 credits, which can be completed in 1-2 years depending on the exact number of credits and a student's enrollment status (part-time or full-time).

Because the master's in legal studies program caters to mid-career professionals, many reputable schools offer part-time and online options for this degree. Some schools with online programs include the University of Southern California, Drexel University, and Vanderbilt University.

Degree, Concentration, and Format Options

Some schools offer a master of legal studies while others confer a master of law. Some programs offer a juris master or a master of jurisprudence. Because this degree is designed to enhance your bachelor's degree and/or your professional experience, the title you receive upon graduation is less important than the specific knowledge you gain.

To begin, several programs mentioned here do not require a GRE or LSAT for admissions purposes, such as:

Unlike with a law degree, there isn't an empirical advantage to in-person legal studies courses. It's not like you need to practice giving a closing argument at a trial!

It's important to know how you learn best. If you think in-person learning meets your needs, you'll need to look for a legal studies program near you. Programs at USC, Drexel, and Northeastern offer hybrid or in-person enrollment.

When selecting a program, you'll want to consider the concentration you want to pursue, as well. Most schools offer a general legal studies path. Common concentrations for legal studies programs include:

How Much Does an Online Master’s In Legal Studies Cost?

Like any degree, costs vary among legal studies programs. Typically, graduate programs are priced per credit.

Factors that influence the cost of a program include in-person classes, private or public universities, and more. An online master's in legal studies can cost as low as $10,000 for tuition and fees or as high as $60,000 at an Ivy League university.

Student loans are always an option to help you finance a degree. Don't hesitate to call the program's financial aid office and inquire about fellowships, internships, or other opportunities that can offset the cost of your degree.

Legal Studies Jobs and Salaries

Because the law affects everyone and every industry, legal studies is applicable across fields. Of course, some professionals benefit from this degree more than others. For example, a crane operator would not benefit from a master's in legal studies. However, the owner of a construction company would benefit greatly from an understanding of general business law.

Management Analyst

Management analysts can work in any industry. A successful management analyst will have years of experience and success in their field. In this role, you can work independently as you help companies improve efficiency.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Outlook (2022-32): +10%
  • Median Annual Salary (2022): $95,290

Medical and Health Services Manager

Medical or health services managers work in most hospitals or in-patient facilities. These professionals take on administrative and business duties related to the operations of the facility. However, a background in healthcare is often preferred.

Legal studies may prove helpful in this role for an understanding of HIPAA, employment law, medical regulations, and more.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Outlook (2022-32): +28%
  • Median] Annual Salary (2022): $104,830

Human Resources Specialist

Human resource specialists oversee one area of the HR process such as training, recruitment, benefits, or payroll. A legal studies background can clearly benefit an HR specialist working on employee benefits and payroll, as these components involve local, state, and federal requirements.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Outlook (2022-32): +6%
  • Median Annual Salary (2022): $64,240

Top Online Master's in Legal Studies Programs

We have compiled a list of nonprofit and for-profit institutions that offer this degree program. Use the table below to compare student population size and graduation rate.

Legal Studies Master's Programs
School Student Population Size Graduation Rate
Florida State University 44,597 83%
Texas A&M University 74,829 82%
Arizona State University 65,492 66%
University of Illinois at Springfield 4,198 60%
University of Southern California 49,318 91%
Samford University 11,516 76%
West Virginia University 50,948 61%
Wake Forest University 8,963 88%
Washington University in St. Louis 16,973 94%
Source: NCES

Frequently Asked Questions About Legal Studies Master's

Is a master's in legal studies worth it?

If you're looking to advance your existing career, a master's in legal studies could be the perfect choice. This degree can help professionals in human resources, regulatory compliance, and nonprofit management advance their careers.

Is a master's of legal studies the same as a law degree?

No. A law degree prepares you to practice law in court, while a legal studies degree enhances your understanding of the law in a theoretical sense.

How much does a legal studies master's program cost?

The tuition and fees for an online legal studies master's program can start at around $10,000. Prices go up from there.

Can you get a legal studies master's degree online?

Yes, several reputable colleges and universities offer online master's in legal studies, including Texas A&M, University of California Los Angeles, and Vanderbilt University.

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