Earning a master's degree in legal studies can help students gain marketable skills and knowledge of American law. Legal studies graduates often enter career fields such as corporate compliance, healthcare management, sports law, or human rights activism. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), mediators, arbitrators, and conciliators earn a median annual salary of $60,670. The BLS projects these occupations to grow 10% between 2016 and 2026, a rate that is faster than the national average for all occupations.
Unlike a juris doctorate, a degree that prepares students to take their state's bar exam, a master's in legal studies explores the overlap between the law and select professional fields. Graduates often apply legal theory, U.S. law, and legal thought to practical problems of corporations, hospitals, nonprofits, and individuals. A master's degree in legal studies is ideal for aspiring political activists, entrepreneurs, top executives, and compliance managers.
Should I Get a Master's in Legal Studies?
A master's in legal studies prepares learners for roles helping organizations and individuals maintain compliance with laws and regulations. Finance and healthcare companies, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies exist within highly regulated environments, and these employers hire individuals who understand relevant laws and legal theories. These organizations need professionals with good communication and leadership skills.
Recent bachelor's program graduates often pursue their master's in legal studies on campus. On-campus learning allows students to interact with professors in person and network at events such as career fairs. However, working professionals may choose an online program so they do not need to relocate or take time away from work and family obligations. Some online students have access to the same network of alumni and corporate contacts as on-campus students.
While earning a master's in legal studies, students evaluate legal thought, examine the sources of American legal traditions, research U.S. law, and learn to communicate with professionals in their concentration. Legal studies coursework typically emphasizes the Constitution, fundamentals of law, business law, and legal writing. While earning a master's degree, students can join clubs and associations in legal studies, which provide access to practical information and job search assistance. Most higher education institutions maintain a career services office to help students locate jobs, write resumes, and practice interview skills.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Legal Studies?
A master's degree in legal studies does not qualify graduates to become lawyers. Students earning a master's in legal studies gain research and analytical skills. Graduates often pursue careers as legal assistants, paralegal studies teachers, legal mediators, or compliance officers. A master's in legal studies can be valuable for professionals in enterprise-level businesses, corporations, public agencies, and nonprofits.
- Top Executives
An executive ensures an organization meets its goals. These professionals are often responsible for budgeting, forecasting, strategic planning, hiring department heads, and managing general activities. Some executives oversee an entire organization, while others manage a specific department. Many executives hold master's degrees in areas such as legal studies.
Median Annual Salary: $104,700
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
- Financial Examiners
Financial examiners ensure banks or other financial institutions comply with laws and regulations. These professionals review balance sheets, assess risks, analyze new regulations, and prepare reports. Financial examiners need at least a bachelor's degree, and higher-paying positions typically require a master's degree.
Median Annual Salary: $81,690
Projected Growth Rate: 10%
- Police and Detectives
Charged with protecting lives and property, police and detectives respond to emergency notifications, arrest suspects, gather evidence, and testify in court. Professionals may hold specialized positions, such as game warden. Others serve at the city, county, or state level. A master's degree can help police officers move into management or leadership roles.
Median Annual Salary: $62,960
Projected Growth Rate: 7%
- Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators
These professionals help resolve conflicts between parties outside the court system. They may assist divorcing couples, corporations, educational institutions, or financial entities. They interview interested parties, arrange meetings, draw up settlement agreements, and research and apply relevant law. A master's degree can provide the critical thinking and writing skills necessary for these positions.
Median Annual Salary: $60,670
Projected Growth Rate: 10%
- Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants support lawyers by conducting research, compiling files, and drafting legal documents. They may investigate cases, gather evidence, write reports, and help lawyers during trials. Paralegals can specialize in areas such as corporate law or litigation. A master's degree qualifies paralegals to lead associations, teach paralegal studies, and publish research.
Median Annual Salary: $50,410
Projected Growth Rate: 15%
Best States for Lawyers
Among the nation's most enduring and lucrative occupations, lawyers remain in high demand in every state in the U.S., especially in dense, urban areas. Lawyers use their skills to help clients navigate a complicated judicial system. Becoming a lawyer requires years of education and experience, and graduates must pass the state bar exam.
Prospective lawyers face competition in the workforce. Generally, lawyers who can adapt to various industries, including federal, finance, and healthcare law, fair well. Those willing to relocate to high-need areas should see the highest job growth and most lucrative opportunities over the next decade. Lawyers working in state, local, and federal governments in the District of Columbia, California, and New York typically earn the highest salaries and experience the most job diversity.
The following list outlines the nation's best states for lawyers, based on the highest earnings for this occupation relative to the cost of living and value of a law education in each state.
We ranked the top 25 best states for lawyers by researching the occupational employment statistics for lawyers by state through the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additionally, we referenced a guide to the costs of living in each state. We consulted these sources to determine which states offer lawyers the highest employment rates and earnings. Our list also considers law school graduation and bar passage rates.
How to Choose a Master's in Legal Studies Program
A master's in legal studies requires a significant financial and time investment. Students typically earn the degree in one to two years and must finance tuition, books, and transportation. Before making such a big investment, students should carefully research each prospective program. Factors to consider include degree completion time, undergraduate prerequisites, concentration options, and transfer policy. Students should also review each program's curriculum and practicum or capstone requirements.
For most students, cost is a major consideration when choosing a program. Students should compare their budget to the total cost of earning the degree. Distance learners, such as those in online LLM (master of laws) programs, often work while earning their degree and avoid costs associated with campus housing and transportation. On-campus students, on the other hand, can save money by choosing a school in an area with a low cost of living. On-campus learners should also consider whether the school is located near major employers.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Legal Studies Programs
Earning a degree from an accredited school ensures employers and other institutions will recognize the degree. Accreditation demonstrates a school or program meets established standards of quality. Institutions can hold regional or national accreditation. Regional accreditation is more highly regarded and ensures earned credits will transfer. While a school can hold institutional accreditation, specific departments may have programmatic accreditation.
When a university's law school offers LLM programs or other types of master's degrees in legal studies, the programmatic accrediting body is the American Bar Association (ABA). ABA accreditation demonstrates that the program meets or exceeds recognized standards of excellence in the legal field. ABA approval is critical for students pursuing a juris doctorate, since some states only permit graduates of ABA-approved schools to sit for the bar exam. For master's students, ABA accreditation is beneficial but not required.
Master's in Legal Studies Program Admissions
Graduate school admissions requirements vary by institution. More prestigious schools typically have more stringent requirements. Schools may have set application deadlines or may accept applications on a rolling basis. Most students apply to at least three schools, but before applying to a large number of schools, applicants should consider application fees and the cost of acquiring official transcripts, along with the time required to complete writing samples.
Applicants considering several institutions can rank them by factors such as cost, program length, reputation, and scholarship opportunities. Some master's in legal studies programs prepare students to sit for professional certification exams immediately after graduation, which may increase the immediate value of the degree. Online and on-campus application processes are typically similar.
- Bachelor's Degree: Most master's in legal studies programs accept students with bachelor's degrees in any field. A pre-law background may be helpful but is rarely required.
- Professional Experience: Students usually submit a resume of no more than three pages. A resume should include employment history, leadership positions, and community service experience. Schools rarely require applicants to have a legal background.
- Minimum GPA: A high undergraduate GPA demonstrates the applicant has the ability to succeed in graduate studies. Most master's programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA. Admissions committees also consider each applicant's previous courses and academic ranking.
- Application: Most applicants require about 30 minutes to complete an online graduate school application. Students who need assistance completing the form should contact the university.
- Transcripts: Applicants must submit transcripts from all previous institutions, including a transcript showing that the conferral of a bachelor's degree. The cost of obtaining official transcripts varies by school.
- Letters of Recommendation: Applicants typically submit two to three letters of recommendation. Recommenders should be undergraduate professors, professional managers, or other nonfamily members who can attest to the applicant's ability to pursue graduate education.
- Test Scores: Master's in legal studies programs do not typically require applicants to submit law school admission test scores. Some institutions require graduate record exam scores.
- Application Fee: Application fees typically cost $50 to $100. This fee covers the cost of processing a student's admission packet. Some schools waive this fee for students who demonstrate financial need.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Legal Studies Program?
Some schools offer a standard graduate program in legal studies that is designed to help nonlawyers attain a broad, comprehensive knowledge of the law and the legal system. Other institutions offer concentrations in specific areas of law. Concentrations may also cover legal implications in fields such as banking, healthcare, or sports.
|Sports Law||Sports law focuses on business, ethical, and legal issues that arise in the world of sports. Students learn about regulations governing branding, finance, and revenue in the sports industry. Courses cover topics such as intellectual property issues in sports and entertainment law.||Athletic director, NCAA compliance director, general manager in a pro sports association|
|Human Rights||Students in this concentration explore concepts related to human rights protection in regional, national, and international contexts. The curriculum focuses on theoretical concepts of justice, human rights, and oppression. Students take courses in areas such as bioethics, international religious freedom, international trafficking, and human rights research.||International advocacy director, consultant|
|Corporate and Healthcare Compliance||Complex and highly regulated industries such as finance, banking, and healthcare must comply with certain laws. Students in this concentration learn about regulatory environments, investigation, risk assessment, and data security. Courses often cover intellectual property law, hospital law, and pharmaceutical device compliance.||Financial compliance officer, healthcare compliance officer|
|Criminal Law||This concentration prepares students for positions in fields such as criminal law and juvenile justice. Coursework emphasizes constitutional criminal procedure, juvenile law, human rights, and legislation. Learners may study topics such as immigration law and restorative justice in the U.S. legal system.||FBI agent, probation officer, justice of the peace|
|Indigenous Peoples Law||This concentration provides in-depth knowledge of Native American law, self-governance, policy, contracts, compliance, and business practices. Courses often cover the history of federal Indian law and policy, criminal justice in Indian country, tribal courts, and the Indian Child Welfare Act.||Project manager, political activist, tribal government official|
Courses in a Master's in Legal Studies Program
Master's in legal studies programs typically require fundamental courses in legal theory, U.S. law, and the Constitution. Students may also pursue concentrations or electives related to their career aspirations. Although curricula vary by school, the courses below are common to most master's in legal studies programs.
- Foundations of Legal Thought
This course covers the theoretical, historical, and philosophical foundations of legal principles. Students examine concepts such as the role of lawyers in justice provision and jurisprudential thinking. The course explores how law and criminal justice intersect and provides an overview of modern theories of justice.
- Criminal Procedure
This course surveys the Constitution's effects on criminal procedure. Within this context, students explore the rights of accused persons and the impact of criminal procedures on the justice system. The course covers concepts such as arrest, search, seizure, probable cause, stop-and-frisk, and temporary detention.
- American Legal System and Writing
Students read case studies, research relevant topics, and analyze current issues in the American legal system. Students learn how to use a law library, conduct online research, and examine analog court cases. Learners write legal documents such as case briefs, complaints, and statutes.
- Criminal Law
This course covers general principles of criminal law, including the foundations of common law doctrine, the history of criminal law, and modern statutory requirements. Students also examine the psychology of criminality and the effectiveness of criminal law.
- Constitutional Law and Policy
Students examine the U.S. Constitution's history, theoretical foundations, limitations, and structure. Learners consider the powers, rights, and limitations of the federal government, state governments, and local governments.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Legal Studies?
Full-time students typically earn their master's in legal studies in one to two years. Most master's in legal studies programs require 30-40 credits, and completion time varies based on program format and the student's enrollment status. Online students can often choose accelerated options to graduate more quickly. Taking more credits per semester can also shorten a program's length, while students who take classes part time may require longer to earn the degree. Typically, shorter programs cost less overall. Students pursuing master's degrees in legal studies choose from options such LLM degrees and MLS degrees. Learners may also consider a master's in public administration or a master of arts in law. Different degrees have different requirements and completion times.
How Much Is a Master's in Legal Studies?
Tuition rates for a master's in legal studies vary by school and depend on factors such as the number of required credits, the price per credit, and the student's residency status. Public institutions, which often provide discounted tuition rates for in-state students, are typically less expensive than private or for-profit schools.
Many factors beyond tuition rates affect the total cost of a degree. Students may qualify for tuition reductions, scholarships, or credit for prior learning. Generous transfer policies can also reduce the total cost. On-campus students should consider costs associated with housing and campus fees, while online students may need to pay a technology fee or purchase new devices. Distance learners typically save money on housing and transportation costs and can often earn an income while studying. Prospective students should consider all education-related expenses when comparing programs.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Legal Studies Prepares For
- Certified Compliance Specialist
The International Association of Financial Management offers this designation for qualified professionals. Candidates must either have three years of relevant experience or hold a bachelor's or master's degree in finance, business, economics, or law. Candidates must complete five modules of coursework and pass an exam.
- Certified Regulatory Compliance Manager
This certification from the American Bankers Association allows professionals to demonstrate their knowledge of financial regulatory compliance. To take the national exam, candidates must have three years of experience and must complete an approved training program. Certified professionals must complete 60 qualifying continuing education credits every three years.
- Certified in Healthcare Compliance
The Compliance Certification Board offers this certification to help professionals demonstrate knowledge and expertise in healthcare compliance. Certified professionals often help hospitals and healthcare agencies mitigate compliance-related risks. Candidates must complete 20 approved continuing education units and pass an exam. Ten continuing education units must be from live seminars attended within the last year.
- Professional Paralegal
NALS, an association of legal assistants and paralegals, awards this credential to paralegals who pass a one-day, four-part exam. The exam covers topics including written communication, legal knowledge and skills, ethics and judgment skills, and substantive law. NALS offers the exam in the spring and fall of each year.
- Advanced Certified Paralegal
The National Association of Legal Assistance has awarded this credential to about 3,500 paralegals since 2006. This certification focuses on educational attainment rather than testing. The association offers 20-hour online courses in areas such as criminal litigation to help candidates qualify for the certificate.
Resources for Legal Studies Graduate Students
This academically focused publication includes articles related to human rights law and policy. Topics address global and national issues.
Owned and operated by a prominent paralegal, this website includes resources for practicing legal assistants. Readers can access organizing tips, a blog, a list of resources, and interviews with prominent paralegals.
The American Association for Paralegal Education publishes this biannual, peer-reviewed publication. The Legal Educator provides current industry information for paralegals and other legal professionals.
This publication from the Boston University School of Law and the American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics, covers topics related to the legal and ethical aspects of medical practice.
Founded in 1897, the Yale Law Journal is a leader in legal academia and research. Published eight times per year, the journal is available online and in print.
Professional Organizations in Legal Studies
Professional organizations in the legal field often provide certification opportunities, insurance discounts, continuing education courses, and online academic resources. These professional associations often host national conferences where attendees can learn and network. Many associations maintain online job boards that aid members in their job search. Organizations may also provide membership directories that help students find potential mentors or employers.
NACM offers a 40-hour mediator certification course that prepares members to take the certified mediator exam. Certified mediators can become mediator trainers through NACM, and the organization requires no continuing education credits to maintain certification.
This organization offers a certification for family mediators. Members have access to webinars, conferences, a searchable membership database, and discounted insurance. Members include mediators, educators, researchers, and students.
NALA provides professional development programs, networking opportunities, continuing education, and voluntary certification. More than 18,000 paralegals are affiliated with the NALA or one of its chapters.
Founded in 1878, the ABA has more than 400,000 members. The association provides resources for lawyers and legal professionals, including a variety of journals and periodicals.
An international organization dedicated to providing employment resources for paralegals and other law firm employees, the NPA offers an online career center for members. Pre-student and student memberships are available.