2024 Best Online Master of Legal Studies [MLS Degree Guide]

By Joy Cromwelle
Updated on February 9, 2024
Ready to start your journey?
Explore the best online Master of Legal Studies MLS degree programs for non-lawyers. Discover the benefits, concentrations, and career outcomes in this guide.

If you want to learn more about the law and how it relates to your field of work, you could earn a Master of Legal Studies.

Best Online Master of Legal Studies

This law-focused program is ideal for people who don’t plan to become lawyers. Instead, they may want to study the legal system, regulatory compliance, contract law, and conflict resolution to enhance their work in a related field.

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If that describes your goals, read on to discover what an online master’s degree in legal studies could offer.

Online Master of Legal Studies Programs

paralegal studying a case

A career in the legal field doesn’t have to mean going to law school and becoming an attorney. With a masters degree in legal studies, you could become an expert in matters of law that are relevant to your field of work.

Topics covered in this degree program often include:

  • Contracts
  • Criminal law
  • Dispute resolution
  • Family law
  • Legal writing
  • Legal research
  • Professional ethics
  • Property law
  • Torts
  • US Constitution

The required classes can often be taken online. Some colleges offer 100% online programs. In many cases, online courses last just 7 or 8 weeks each. An accelerated schedule like that can help you quickly complete a master’s in legal studies online program.

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A concentration track may shape your studies and equip you for work in a particular field. Concentration examples include:

  • Healthcare regulations
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Criminal law
  • Environmental compliance
  • Sports management
  • Family law

Alternatively, you may be able to shape your studies through the elective courses that you choose. Your degree program may end with a capstone project. This project is an opportunity to showcase your learning and demonstrate your readiness to apply it to real-world situations. Not all schools require a final project, and some include it as an option for interested students.

As a reminder, a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) is not a licensure track. After earning this degree, you are not able to take the bar exam and become a licensed attorney. That career path requires earning a Juris Doctor (JD) instead. Also, the MLS program should not be confused with a traditional or online master’s in law, which is a master’s degree program for those with a JD.

Even still, this master’s degree can be quite useful. For instance, it helps some professionals start careers as legal assistants or paralegals. An MLS could also prepare you to work in mediation or compliance in a variety of industries, including human resources, finance, or education. Some people also pursue this field to enhance their work in law enforcement or corrections.

Common Online Master’s in Legal Studies Concentrations

Policewoman conducting criminal investigations

Because a degree in legal studies is relevant to so many different fields, you may want to specialize your studies by following a concentration track. Common concentrations include:

  • Dispute Management. If you want to work as a mediator or an arbitrator, you could choose a concentration pathway with course topics like theories of conflict, contract law, and divorce mediation.
  • Healthcare Regulations. Studying privacy laws, insurance requirements, and other healthcare-specific topics could prepare you to work in the regulatory compliance department of a healthcare organization.
  • Postsecondary Education. As you study compliance for higher education, you may learn about financial aid, accreditation, and Title IX.
  • Sustainability and Environmental Studies. Courses on land use, energy policy, and natural resources can train you to apply your legal knowledge to the conservation realm.
  • Criminal Justice. For a job in law enforcement, the court system, or the correctional system, you might take classes on criminal investigations and evidence procedures.

Some colleges allow students to pursue multiple concentrations during their time in school.

Legal Studies Careers & Salaries

Legal Studies Careers & Salaries

A Master of Science in Legal Studies can apply to many different fields. While it won’t help you become a lawyer, there are a variety of other legal jobs you could pursue with this degree.

Paralegals and legal assistants are often experts in legal studies. An associate degree is often sufficient training for entering this field, but a master’s degree could help equip you for leadership roles. Other careers to consider in the legal field include being an arbitrator, a mediator, or a conciliator. All of those roles involve helping to settle conflicts and disputes. Some employers require a graduate degree for those jobs.

Some law enforcement professionals also earn degrees in legal studies. Working with titles—for example, as a title examiner—is another way to make use of your legal training. Your education could also be useful in the insurance field for a job related to claims adjustment or appraisal.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, legal occupations have a median annual salary of $82,430.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Chief Executives $179,520
Human Resources Managers $126,230
Postsecondary Education Administrators $96,910
Postsecondary Teachers $79,640
Compliance Officers $71,650
Police and Detectives $66,020
Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, and Investigators $64,710
Paralegals and Legal Assistants $56,230
Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators $49,410
Title Examiners, Abstractors, and Searchers $47,310

A master of legal studies is a versatile degree, and the above list represents only a fraction of the directions you might be able to go with your education. Many people with this degree work in the business sector. Being a regulatory compliance officer or manager could be a top option.

Depending on their area of expertise, professionals might also get a management role in HR, sustainability, finance, or information security. In a healthcare organization, medical services management could be a possibility. Eventually, experienced workers might join their company’s executive team. Chief sustainability officer is one potential title.

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An MLS degree also has use in the education sector. Some go on to teach college classes, particularly at community colleges. Others use their regulatory knowledge to head up postsecondary education institutions.

Master of Studies in Law Curriculum & Courses

Students taking Master of Studies in Law

Many MLS online programs require students to complete enough courses to earn between 30 and 45 graduate credit hours. Here are some course examples:

  • Conflict and Resolution: During this class, you might explore the nature of conflict, social psychology, and mediation strategies.
  • Constitutional Law: Since the US Constitution is the fundamental law of the land, it will be important to understand its contents, the separation of powers it establishes, and the rights it guarantees.
  • Contract Law: This course will teach you about legal agreements and the principles that govern their use.
  • Criminal Law: As you learn about crime, criminal justice, and corrections, you may explore sample cases that demonstrate the principles you’re studying.
  • Family Law: A course on alimony, custody agreements, divorce decrees, and other family law topics could prepare you for a career in family mediation.
  • History of Law: You may have a course dedicated to the development of the American legal system.
  • Professional Ethics: During this course, you’ll focus on conducting yourself in a professional manner and maintaining integrity in your work.
  • Property Law: This class may address real estate and landlord-tenant issues, or it may cover patents and other topics related to intellectual property.
  • Research in the Legal Field: Not only will you learn how to look up laws, regulations, and past legal rulings, but you’ll also learn how to prepare legal writings.
  • US Legal System: This course will give you an overview of the American legal system, the structure of government, and the role of criminal and civil proceedings.

A school’s curriculum may vary widely from one concentration to the next, so your choice of specialization can have a large influence on the courses you take.

Online MLS Admissions Requirements

Woman preparing for MLS Requirements

To get into a legal studies master’s online program, you’ll first complete the application process. Materials used to determine your suitability for the degree program may include:

  • GRE score (not required at all colleges)
  • Official bachelor’s degree transcripts
  • Minimum college GPA (often 3.0)
  • Reference letter from someone who knows you academically or professionally
  • Writing sample, such as an academic paper or an essay question

Each school sets its own requirements, so you may also compile other materials not listed above.

Legal Studies Master Programs Accreditation

University offering Legal Studies Master Programs

Regional accreditation denotes that a college meets the accepted standards for a quality education. As you search for the right school for your legal studies degree, it’s beneficial for regional accreditation to be one of the top qualifications you look for.

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Accreditation is valued and respected among schools, and it can make all the difference when attempting to transfer credits elsewhere or applying to doctoral programs. Regional accreditation may also help with your job search. Employers often prefer candidates who have earned their degrees from accredited colleges. Choosing an accredited college is a wise investment that could reap rewards time and again.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Financial Aid for Legal Studies Master Programs

Financial aid can help bring the costs for a master in legal studies online degree within reach. Students who qualify may receive loans from the state or federal government so that they can pay for school over time. Government interest rates are usually lower than private loan rates.

Generally, grants are available for graduate students only in a limited number of cases. The college you attend may provide scholarship money to reduce your tuition bill. You might also receive scholarships or fellowships from professional associations or other organizations.

If you earn a master’s degree, your company might also benefit. You might look into whether they’d be willing to help fund your education. You can learn more about your financial aid eligibility by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

What Is an MLS Degree?

A Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree is a college graduate program that focuses on laws and regulations. It provides an avenue to advanced knowledge of legal matters for those who aren’t interested in becoming lawyers.

Topics in an MLS program may include contracts, torts, and property law. You can take classes that cover subjects like legal research and writing, conflict mediation, family law, and the US legal system. There are often a variety of concentration options for this graduate degree. They may include studies in environmental law and human rights law.

What Can You Do With a Masters in Legal Studies Degree?

Police Officer talking on the two-way radio

Potential jobs in legal studies include paralegal, legal assistant, mediator, conciliator, and claims appraiser. What you can do with an MLS degree depends, in part, on your focus area.

Those who pursue a concentration in criminal justice, for instance, might qualify for advancement in a police department. A concentration in healthcare compliance could help graduates prepare to be effective medical services managers.

In fact, compliance is a key sector for people with legal studies degrees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most compliance offers earn between $38,950 and $117,500 annually.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master of Legal Studies Online?

It usually takes 1 to 2 years to earn a master’s degree in legal studies if you enroll full-time. Some colleges make it clear that a one-year program is possible, but a two-year program is often more realistic for working professionals. Whichever length you’d prefer, an online program might offer some advantages.

Online programs often organize the academic year in multiple short terms so that classes last just 6 weeks to 8 weeks each. Following this type of format could help you finish quicker if you enroll both full-time and year-round. Programs that require a thesis or a capstone project will often take longer than those without such a requirement.

What’s the Difference Between a Master’s Degree in Legal Studies vs. JD?

A master’s degree in legal studies isn’t the only type of graduate law degree. A Juris Doctor (JD) is another. These two degrees can lead to very different career paths.

Legal Studies Juris Doctor
  • Typically takes 1 to 2 years
  • A flexible degree with relevance to many fields
  • Potential career paths: compliance officer, legal assistant, title examiner
  • Typically takes 3 to 5 years
  • A degree specifically designed for becoming a licensed lawyer
  • Potential career paths: lawyer, judge

Coursework from a legal studies degree doesn’t usually transfer into JD programs.

Is a Master of Legal Studies Worth It?

Detectives investigating a case

Yes, a Master of Legal Studies is worth it for many students. This degree can give you a legal foundation without requiring you to go to law school. Understanding law and regulations could be highly valuable and applicable to a number of professional roles.

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Some of the jobs related to legal studies are currently in high demand. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for mediators, arbitrators, and conciliators are growing at a 10% rate. Positions for paralegals and legal assistants are increasing at a 12% rate.

Universities Offering Online Masters in Legal Studies Degree Program

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

American University

American University campus

American University’s Master of Legal Studies program is designed to prepare students for a variety of roles in the legal system and other industries where knowledge of the law is essential. All courses can be completed online. The curriculum covers topics like government contracting, human resource compliance, cybersecurity governance and law, and healthcare law.

American University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University campus

Arizona State University offers an online program for a Master of Legal Studies. It is designed for students who do not wish to practice law but are interested in acquiring a broad understanding of the theoretical and practical applications of the law. The curriculum consists of 30 credit hours, with classes that are 7.5 weeks long.

Arizona State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Cornell University

Cornell University campus

Cornell University’s Master of Science in Legal Studies program is designed with business professionals in mind. It aims to provide them with in-depth knowledge of the law as it pertains to their fields of interest. Courses cover key topics like compliance, risk management, contracts and business agreements, finance, and human resources.

Cornell University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Drexel University

Drexel University campus

Drexel University offers a Master of Legal Studies program that is housed entirely online. Students can adjust their curriculum to their personal goals by choosing from a variety of concentrations. Options include Criminal Law, Cybersecurity and Information Privacy Compliance, Health Care Compliance, Higher Education, Human Resources, Pharmaceutical Regulation, and more.

Drexel University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Liberty University

Liberty University campus

At Liberty University, students may choose between a Master of Law in International Legal Studies or several Juris Master degrees in law with focuses like Health Law or Compliance. This allows students to select the option most closely related to their current or future professional fields. All programs within Liberty’s School of Law are offered online.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Northeastern University

Northeastern University campus

Northeastern University offers a Master of Legal Studies. The program aims to provide non-lawyer professionals with an understanding of the way the law impacts their field and help them develop the skills to navigate it successfully. Students can choose to attend this fully online program full-time or part-time, and most students complete their requirements in 2 years or less.

Northeastern University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

Northern Kentucky University

Northern Kentucky University campus

Northern Kentucky University offers a Master of Legal Studies. It is designed for students who want to know more about the legal system’s role in industries like marketing, human resources, or information privacy. This 30 credit degree program is held entirely online and can potentially be completed in just 10 months of full-time attendance.

Northern Kentucky University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Pennsylvania Western University

Pennsylvania Western University campus

Pennsylvania Western University offers a Master of Science in Legal Studies. The program caters to students’ specific career goals by offering concentrations in Law and Public Policy, Criminal Justice, and Homeland Security. All three specialties are held in an online format and consist of 30 required credit hours.

Pennsylvania Western University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University campus

At Pepperdine University, the Master’s in Legal Studies online program can potentially be completed in just 16 months. The program’s core curriculum includes courses in legal writing, criminal law, contracts, civil procedure, litigation, and criminal law. Students can complement this curriculum with electives in intellectual property, business organizations, health law, or education law.

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

Purdue University

Purdue University campus

Purdue University offers a Master’s in Legal Studies. It is designed for students seeking a better understanding of the legal system and its reasoning and history to strengthen their existing professional skills. This 55 credit, online program can potentially be completed in just 1 year of full-time attendance, which typically requires a commitment of 15 hours each week.

Purdue University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Regent University

Regent University campus

Regent University offers a Master of Arts in Law—General Legal Studies. The program aims to provide students with marketable legal knowledge in their field without needing to complete a full Juris Doctor degree. The program is housed online. The curriculum covers constitutional law, legal issues in contract, property, criminal law, and legal research skills.

Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University campus

Saint Leo University offers a Master of Science in Criminal Justice with a specialty in Legal Studies. The program aims to equip law enforcement, first responders, government workers, and criminal justice administrators with the skills needed to address global risks and disasters. The degree consists of 30 credits that can be completed either online or on campus.

Saint Leo University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Seton Hall University

Seton Hall University campus

Seton Hall University offers a fully online program for a Master of Legal Studies. It is designed for professionals who want to develop their problem-solving skills and legal knowledge without attending law school. The curriculum covers contracts, legal procedures, employment law, business law, and liability.

Seton Hall University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

University of Arizona

University of Arizona campus

At the University of Arizona, the online Master of Legal Studies program offers a wide array of specialties to complement the program’s core legal study courses. Options include Risk Management, Health Law, Intellectual Property, and Environmental Law. Students can customize their schedules by opting to take classes part-time or full-time.

The University of Arizona is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of Cincinnati

University of Cincinnati campus

The University of Cincinnati offers a Master of Legal Studies. The program is designed to be an alternative for students who want to gain additional legal knowledge but do not want to pursue a Juris Doctor or practice law. The program consists of 30 credit hours that are completed in asynchronous, online courses to help ensure flexibility for even the busiest students.

UC is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of Illinois – Springfield

University of Illinois Springfield campus

The University of Illinois—Springfield offers a Master of Arts in Legal Studies. The program was developed with working professionals in mind. The curriculum covers practical knowledge that applies across a spectrum of careers. Most students can complete the program’s 36 required credits in 24 months. Classes may be attended fully online, fully in-person, or in a hybrid learning format.

UIS is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of Oklahoma – Norman

University of Oklahoma - Norman campus

At the University of Oklahoma—Norman, the Master of Legal Studies program provides legal education across several sectors. It offers specialties in Energy and Natural Resources Law, Indigenous Peoples Law, International Business Law, and Healthcare Law. All four specialties in the program can be completed 100% online.

The University of Oklahoma – Norman is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Washington University

Washington University campus

Washington University offers a Master of Legal Studies. The program is designed for students currently working as paralegals, social workers, government employees, compliance specialists, human resource coordinators, or business executives. This 24 credit program is offered online and can potentially be completed in just 1 year of full-time study.

Washington University in St. Louis is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Webster University

Webster University campus

Webster University offers a Master of Arts in Legal Studies. The program aims to deepen students’ critical thinking skills, understanding of the law, and ability to navigate successfully through professional settings. In this online, 39 credit program, students study concepts like legal history, jurisprudence, research, legal ethics, and constitutional law.

Webster University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

West Virginia University

West Virginia University campus

West Virginia University offers a Master of Legal Studies. The program is designed for students who don’t intend to practice law but would benefit from an increased understanding of the legal system and its impacts in their field. The program is housed entirely online and offers concentrations in Healthcare, Justice Systems, and Homeland Security.

West Virginia University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Getting Your Masters in Legal Studies Online

Woman completing her Masters in Legal Studies online

Law can be a rewarding topic of study. If you’re interested in a graduate degree in this field but don’t want to become a lawyer, you can consider earning a Master of Science in Legal Studies. Typical coursework covers property law, contracts, constitutional law, mediation, and more.

You can even earn this master’s degree online from an accredited university. Often, no campus visits are required. No matter where you live, your computer can deliver the education that you need.

Studying at an accredited online college could make a lasting difference in your legal career. Why not start checking out online legal studies programs today?

Ready to start your journey?
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy at Liberty University and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management from Amberton University, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration from Columbia College. With over 20 years of experience navigating online degrees and courses, Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.