An online master's in legal studies provides a thorough understanding of the U.S. legal system, but it's not intended for students who plans on passing the bar and becoming an attorney. A master's in legal studies is designed for learners who desire a better understanding of the law to acquire work in the court system, reporting, education, business, law enforcement, and other legal positions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), people in affiliated jobs, like paralegals, court reporters, and arbitrators, receive compensation above the national average of $37,040. The BLS projects as many as 64,000 new hires in legal positions between 2014-2024, a growth rate that's 5% higher than the national average.
Choosing a Program
DO I NEED PREVIOUS WORK EXPERIENCE TO GET IN?
Most online master's in legal studies programs do not require any previous work experience. Standardized tests like the LSAT and GRE are also not typically required. Generally, all you need is a bachelor's degree and an interest in law.
HOW DO I FIND THE RIGHT ONLINE PROGRAM FOR ME?
The best online master's degrees in legal studies will fit your schedule and prepare you for your desired career. To figure out what you need out a of a program, it's important to ask yourself a few questions. Do you want a part-time program? What size school would you prefer? Have you already decided on a career path? Some schools only offer their program in a full-time format, and the career you desire might require a specific certification that is not commonly offered.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES TO EARNING MY LEGAL STUDIES DEGREE ONLINE?
Many students who want to add a master's in legal studies to their resume are already working, and online education is the most flexible way to earn an advanced degree while remaining employed. Most programs have part-time options that will fit your schedule. Many schools also offer self-paced learning, which can drastically reduce the time it takes to earn your degree.
WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE MASTER'S IN LEGAL STUDIES PROGRAMS?
|1||Harvard University Cambridge, MA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 13%||
Harvard, the nation’s oldest institution of higher education, was founded in 1636 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Graduates of the university can be found in more than 200 countries. The university’s online learning programs are delivered through edX, an innovative online learning management system developed by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Harvard's online master’s in legal studies consists of nine courses and a thesis. Students must complete three courses as part of the admissions process: research methods and scholarly writing, a legal studies course, and a legal studies or elective course. While much of the legal studies degree can be completed online, students are required to complete three courses on campus. Students have up to five years to complete the degree. Online courses offered by Harvard have three categories of student involvement, and the various levels of assessment and interaction required of students depends on the course’s content and targeted learning outcomes.
|2||Washington University in St Louis Saint Louis, MO||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 4%||
Washington University in St. Louis offers a 24-credit, one-year online master’s degree in legal studies. The program prepares graduates to enter the workforce with a strong background in the areas of human resources, healthcare, or paralegal studies. The online platform utilizes live classes with video conferencing to allow for class discussions. Students access legal precedents, statutes, and law journals through subscriptions to Westlaw and LexisNexis and complete a variety of legal research and writing assignments. Optional on-campus weekend events allow students to meet their classmates, observe court hearings, meet with judges, and earn a one-hour elective for attendance. The university offers these weekends each spring and fall.
This private university in St. Louis, Missouri, serves more than 12,000 full-time students through over 300 academic programs. The school maintains regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. The American Bar Association, which does not accredit any legal education program other than a juris doctorate, granted the school acquiescence to provide a master's of legal studies.
|3||Northeastern University Boston, MA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 10%||
Northeastern, one of Boston’s most prestigious universities, provides an academic experience that emphasizes experiential learning and research-based curricula. The university offers a variety of online learning programs, including an online master’s degree in legal studies. The program is designed for individuals who work closely with the law and/or desire a greater understanding of legal procedures. The degree does not prepare students to practice law. The program’s courses are customizable to reflect the professional interests of its students. Experiential learning is made possible through the university’s advanced technology programs that virtually connect peers and faculty. The master of legal studies online is a 30 credit program, and students will complete foundation, core, and at least three elective courses. Electives include health care regulation and compliance and financial transactions. Students enrolled part-time can complete the program in less than two-years, and the estimated tuition for the program is $28,350.
|4||University of Illinois at Springfield Springfield, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 67%||
University of Illinois offers a variety of flexible online degrees, including one of the best online master’s in legal studies. Online students gain valuable knowledge in the areas of legal theory and law’s role in society. The degree can be earned completely online, and courses are delivered through Blackboard. The online program allows students to complete coursework asynchronously through discussion forums and synchronously through real-time technology, such as Skype. The degree is 36 credits, and students interested in the program must complete a preliminary course in legal research and citation. This course is waived for students who have completed an equivalent. Students complete 20 credits in core courses and 16 credits in law-related electives. Courses include theories of justice, public advocacy, and courts and policymaking. The school requires online learners to demonstrate effective written communication skills. A 3.0 GPA must be maintained throughout the program.
|5||The Santa Barbara and Ventura Colleges of Law at Santa Barbara Santa Barbara, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 3%||
The Santa Barbara and Ventura Colleges of Law offers students a graduate program in legal studies through its online LLM degrees. The curriculum develops critical thinking, fundamental legal research, and writing abilities with classes led by experienced legal professionals. Students may complete the 30-credit program in as little as 18 months, with part-time attendance and flexible scheduling available. The school's partnership with The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers students the opportunity to complete a master's degree in forensic or industrial/organizational psychology.
The eight-week accelerated classes include fundamental work in legal research and understanding the American legal system. Learners may seek a concentration in frontiers in law or regulatory compliance/legal risk management. A capstone course allows students to apply what they've learned to practical problems. A residency program, offered during the first spring term each year, provides an opportunity to meet with faculty and legal practitioners while completing an elective course, though the residency program is not required.
Santa Barbara and Ventura Colleges of Law opened in 1969 to serve individuals seeking a law degree who could not attend a traditional, full-time program. The school offers night and online learning options and holds accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.
|6||Webster University Saint Louis, MO||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 45%||
Students benefit from the experience and mentorship of professional legal practitioners in the Webster University online LLM programs. The St. Louis, Missouri, university offers students the opportunity to earn a paralegal certificate while completing the 39-credit master of legal studies degree. Courses cover the fundamentals of legal studies, including professional ethics, legal research and writing, and civil and criminal actions. The 24-credit certificate program utilizes many of the same courses. Webster University uses an accelerated class format, allowing students to complete classes in eight or nine-week terms.
The private, nonprofit university maintains accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission.
Students hail from all parts of the world, offering a global perspective. Online programs provide students the flexibility of asynchronous classes as part-time or full-time students. The WorldClassRoom allows faculty to incorporate a variety of learning materials into lessons and provides opportunities for student discussion and collaboration.
|7||Albany Law School Albany, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 8%||
Albany Law School, an independent school of law in upstate New York, offers a master's in legal studies online. The 30-credit degree requires students to complete general courses in legal research and writing, with a specialization in the emerging fields of cybersecurity and data privacy. Students can complete the degree in two years, taking two classes each fall and spring semester and one each summer. Albany Law School accepts up to six graduate transfer credits from accredited institutions, provided students earned no less than a B in the course.
The asynchronous online learning platform allows students the flexibility of scheduling classes around work or family commitments, though students should be aware that these courses are not self-paced. An online orientation prepares students for the rigor of online learning and the technical aspects of the program. Albany Law School accepts new students in the spring and fall semesters, and the admissions process does not require students to take the Graduate Record Exam.
|8||University of Oklahoma - Norman Norman, OK||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 36%||
Oklahoma-Norman, founded in 1890, serves more than 20,000 students and offers numerous degrees, including a master’s degree in legal studies online. The program provides students with a strong foundation in American law and legal procedures, and students can choose from three concentrations, including the newly launched health care law overview. The health care law concentration is designed for professionals in the healthcare industry, and the curriculum emphasizes healthcare-related advocacy, compliance, and contracts. It requires students to earn 32 credits and can be completed in 15-months. Students can choose an emphasis in energy and natural resources or indigenous peoples law. The indigenous peoples law concentration is 33 credit hours and can be completed entirely online within a year by full-time students. Students enrolled in the energy and natural resources concentration are required to complete a one-week residency at UO’s campus.
|9||Arizona State University - Tempe Tempe, AZ||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 95%||
Arizona State is the nation’s largest institution of higher education and offers more than 100 degrees fully online, including a master’s degree in legal studies. The program is 30 credits and applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree. Admission to the program does not require completion of a graduate entrance exam. Students can choose from six concentrations: corporate and health care compliance, criminal law, sustainability law, sports law and business, intellectual property law, and HR and employment law. The program is designed for non-lawyers and provides professionals with a broad knowledge base in American legal structure and procedures. The curriculum prepares graduates for rewarding careers. The master of legal studies online is flexible and convenient. ASU provides its online students with access to technological services, and immediate support is available through the university’s service center.
|10||Pepperdine University Malibu, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 21%||
Pepperdine Law offers professionals across industries the opportunity to expand their legal knowledge through its online Master of Legal Studies (MLS) program. Students will gain a comprehensive understanding of the U.S. legal system, allowing them to develop a foundation in the law without becoming a lawyer. Students can complete the 32-credit program in as few as 16 months.
The Pepperdine Law online MLS program features live classes led by the same renowned University faculty who teach on campus. Classes meet weekly, and students complete course work between sessions. Online materials may include discussions, videos, or multimedia presentations. Two weekend residencies bring students to Pepperdine’s campus in Malibu, California, to participate in mock mediations and trials and network with faculty and classmates.
The online MLS program offers students an optional concentration in dispute resolution with courses delivered by Pepperdine Law’s Straus Institute—ranked number one in the country for dispute resolution by U.S. News & World Report. For students interested in specializing in dispute resolution or conflict mediation, Pepperdine Law also offers an online Master of Dispute Resolution program.
Pepperdine University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
|11||University of Arizona Tucson, AZ||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 25%||
The University of Arizona's online master of legal studies degree provides a foundation in legal analysis and the American justice system. This program allows students to choose one of ten concentrations or design a focus based on individual career goals. Concentrations include risk management, international trade, intellectual property, tax law, criminal law, family law, or mining law. Interdisciplinary coursework can develop skills in dispute resolution, health law and policy, or immigration. Students may complete the 30-credit degree in one year, though part-time students have four years to complete the requirements. The distinguished faculty includes legal practitioners and academic scholars.
The University of Arizona, in Tucson, offers more than 150 degrees through its online learning platform. Many classes utilize an accelerated eight-week format and asynchronous courses. The school maintains regional accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission and serves more than 43,000 students through its online and on-campus programs.
|12||Texas A & M International University Laredo, TX||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 41%||
Students may earn a master of law degree online from Texas A&M University's School of Law. The school offers a master's of law for students who already hold a juris doctorate, or a master's of jurisprudence for students who are not lawyers, with concentrations in wealth management or risk management. Neither degree qualifies a graduate to practice law, but the curriculum covers specialized areas of law that can be essential for lawyers or professionals, such as chief financial officers, financial advisors, or compliance. Non-lawyer students may need to take an introductory course. Students can complete the degrees in five to seven terms as a part-time student with asynchronous and interactive classes.
Texas A&M International University maintains regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The program has approval from the American Bar Association (ABA) to offer degrees, though the ABA does not accredit any degree but the juris doctorate.
|13||Drexel University Philadelphia, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 46%||
The master of legal studies online degree provided by Philadelphia’s Drexel University is a specialized, 30-credit program that can be completed entirely online. The same Kline School of Law faculty lead the online courses.
In addition to the standard core coursework, the program offers a range of concentrations, which includes criminal law, cybersecurity and information privacy compliance, entrepreneurship and law, financial regulatory compliance, and healthcare compliance.. Distance learners can complete two concentrations.
New students are admitted during the fall, spring, and summer semesters. Aside from providing affordable tuition rates, the school offers special discounts to alumni, members of the military, and any member of a partner organization.
|14||West Virginia University Morgantown, WV||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 34%||
West Virginia University offers an online master’s degree in legal studies. This program is not designed for individuals who aspire to work as paralegals or lawyers.
WVU’s curriculum comprises 36 credits - 21 of which are required; the other 15 are electives. The majority of degree seekers finish the program in two years. Some of the required coursework includes studies in the legislative process, the administrative legal process, and alternative dispute resolution. A research capstone is also required.
All distance learners pay the per-credit tuition rate. Prospective distance students who want to know more can attend one of the regularly scheduled online information sessions for free.
|15||Regent University Virginia Beach, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 92%||
Regent University's master's in legal studies program provides a customized degree for professionals seeking a foundation in legal knowledge. Students have the option of completing the 30-credit master of arts in general legal studies entirely online or by selecting on-campus and hybrid alternatives.
The private Christian university in Virginia Beach, Virginia, offers more than 120 online degrees. The curriculum approaches topics with a Christian perspective, including constitutional law and the American tort system. While the degree does not authorize students to practice law, it provides in-depth legal knowledge to help students succeed in business or other fields. The master of laws degree, also available online, requires students to have already earned a juris doctorate.
Online students enjoy the flexibility of asynchronous classes, the support of academic advisors, and access to all library resources and academic tutoring.
The school maintains accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Legal Studies Program?
Make sure you've found a program that suits your needs. While they'll all have similarities, each online legal studies master's program will have qualities that separate it from the others. Many have areas of concentration, and some focus on different aspects of the field than others.
CONCENTRATIONS OFFERED FOR AN ONLINE MASTER'S DEGREE IN LEGAL STUDIES
|Concentration||Description||Careers this concentration prepares for|
|Criminal Justice||The criminal justice concentration is designed for members of the law enforcement community, giving them the tools they need for career advancement. Courses like fact investigation and law and the use of force help officers understand the legal system, allowing them to anticipate evidentiary needs and better prepare for court appearances.||The criminal justice concentration is ideal for students interested in law enforcement careers.|
|Environment and Natural Resource Law||Environment and natural resource law explores issues in conservation and development. Students take courses like land-use controls, climate change, and environmental law to gain a better understanding of the intersection between the legal system and nature.||This specialization is ideal for students who desire careers in conservation law, outdoor organizations, and business compliance.|
|Human Resources and Employment Law||Personnel management is a complex business. It covers topics in finance, healthcare, insurance, and union contracts. An online MLS in HR prepares students for the regulatory framework that governs hiring, firing, promotion, training, and oversight of employees.||This is a good option for anyone interested in working in state or federal government or in corporate human resources departments.|
CURRICULUM FOR AN ONLINE MASTER'S DEGREE IN LEGAL STUDIES
Though each program is unique, most online master's in legal studies tend to include many of the same classes. A sample curriculum might include:
- Introduction to Legal Studies: Usually taken during the first semester, this is a general overview of the U.S. legal system and how the law works. Students learn how to read legal documents and do research, and they gain a basic understanding of contracts, licensing, and legal behavior.
- Regulation and Compliance: This course explores how the law affects individuals, organizations, and business, and how to stay within the limits of the law. Statutes relating to the environment, safety, health, consumer protection, and employment are all covered.
- Contracts: Students learn the ins and outs of contracts, including how to read and write them. The course also covers what's binding, what's non-binding, and how best to protect interests.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET AN ONLINE MASTER'S IN LEGAL STUDIES?
The length of online master's in legal studies programs vary, but most require you to earn 30-32 credits. Full-time students will finish quicker than part-time learners, and people in accelerated programs, taking eight-week classes six times per year, will move faster than those following the traditional college semester schedule. Students who study asynchronously can often complete their studies more efficiently than those who take real-time, interactive classes. Those in cohort-based programs, where everyone progresses together, tend to take longer than students pursuing an individually-paced online masters in legal studies. Some schools require residencies, which can also add to program length.
CERTIFICATIONS AND LICENSES A MASTER'S IN LEGAL STUDIES PREPARES FOR
- Paralegal certification: The best online master's degree in legal studies programs prepare graduates for paralegal certification exams given by the National Association of Legal Assistants and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. Certification typically requires 18-45 hours of classwork.
- Healthcare compliance: Specialized certification in healthcare compliance is a requirement at many companies that deal with compliance issues. Accredited by the Compliance Certification Board, this certification requires a certain amount of classroom time, about 15 credits, as well as work experience, which is usually covered in MLS programs with healthcare concentrations.
Accreditation for Online Master's in Legal Studies Degrees
Accreditation is an important consideration when selecting an online master's in legal studies program. It ensures that your education has met strict standards. The most common forms of accreditation are national and regional. The majority of colleges and universities fall into the latter category – the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) estimates that 85 percent of schools are regionally accredited. Regional accreditation tends to be more respectable. This is simply because national accreditation has traditionally been for technical and vocational schools. But one isn't necessarily better than the other. Just make sure a recognized agency accredits the program that interests you.
One sure sign of quality for online legal studies master's programs is accreditation by the American Bar Association, which accredits about 200 law schools, many of which have legal studies programs.
The DOE oversees the process of accreditation in post-secondary schools. The department doesn't accredit schools itself, but reviews the agencies that do. The DOE ensures that standards are upheld by accreditors and that they have the best interests of students in mind. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation, an independent national association of 3,000 degree-granting institutions in the United States, plays a similar role. CHEA advocates for academic quality assurance by studying issues that affect accreditation, researching accrediting agencies, and by reporting its findings to the DOE, the U.S. Congress, and the general public. The DOE has a database of all accredited schools on its website.
Employment Outlook for Master's in Legal Studies Graduates
MASTER'S IN LEGAL STUDIES CAREERS
- Paralegal: Paralegals assist attorneys by writing documents, doing research, and evaluating cases. The job varies by the type of law that the firm practices. Many paralegals enter the profession with an associate or bachelor's degree, so a master's would distinguish you from the rest and help you stand out as a candidate for advancement.
- Human Resources Manager: The HR manager oversees personnel within a company or government agency. Responsibilities include recruiting, hiring, and firing employees and benefits administration. They often work closely with upper-level management. A master's degree in legal studies, especially one with a specialization in HR, could potentially put you on a management track.
- Law Enforcement Officer: Police officers enforce the law and protect people and property. They might patrol the streets, investigate crimes, or manage from behind a desk. Most departments require cops to have a college degree of some sort, so a master's in legal studies would put you at the head of the pack when it comes to promotion and advancement opportunities.
- Judicial Law Clerk: Law clerks assist judges by preparing legal documents, doing research, conducting settlement conferences, and attending trials. A master's in legal studies would prepare you for a career as a trial-level clerk.
- Compliance Officer: Compliance officers work in the public and private sectors ensuring that organizational practices conform to the regulatory framework that governs their industry. Local government clerks and officials within the Securities and Exchange Commission have similar job responsibilities.
|Position||Median Annual Salary||Projected Growth Rate|
|Human Resources Manager||$106,910||9%|
|Law Enforcement Officer||$61,600||4%|
|Judicial Law Clerk||$42,450||N/A|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
The salaries of graduates holding a master's in legal studies vary by the industry in which they work and by years of experience. The next table features data from PayScale regarding expected salaries for degree holders at different stages of their respective careers.
Master's in Legal Studies Salaries by Experience
|Overall Median Salary||Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (1-4 years)||Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-9 years)||Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)|
Professional organizations offer educational and networking opportunities. The National Association of Legal Assistants, one of the leading paralegal organizations, sponsors many continuing education and professional development seminars. Professional organizations provide their members with the latest news from the field.
- NALA: The National Association of Legal Assistants is the leading organization for paralegals, providing educational opportunities, hosting webinars, and sponsoring certification programs.
- National Association of Police Organizations: NAPO represents thousands of law enforcement officers, offering education, networking opportunities, and advocacy.
- Society for Human Resource Management:: SHRO is the world's largest HR professional society. They host conferences, provide the latest information on best practices, and have forums for the exchange of ideas.
Financing Your Online Master's in Legal Studies Program
Students have a variety of options to finance an online master's in legal studies, including scholarships, loans, grants, and work-study programs. Filling out the FAFSA will give you an idea of what is available to you. Check locally for scholarship opportunities and inquire at work to see if you qualify for any help there. Several organizations in the law field sponsor scholarships, including the American Association of Law Librarians, which offers up to $5,000 to help future law librarians; the ABA Legal Opportunity Fund, which was set up to help minority students enter the field of law; and the Earl Warren Scholarship Program, which grants funds to students in legal studies who show a commitment to social justice.
Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.
Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.
Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We've curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.
Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.
Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.
- Best Online Master's in Legal Studies Programs of 2017
Rank School Location 1 Harvard University Cambridge, MA 2 Northeastern University Boston, MA 3 University of Illinois at Springfield Springfield, IL 4 University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus Norman, OK 5 Arizona State University-Tempe Tempe, AZ