In 2013, the legal services industry employed more than one million workers with more than 100 different occupations. Paralegals are a popular career in the legal services field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15% growth rate for paralegal jobs, which is significantly higher than the national average. With the growing employment rate, range of career options, and higher pay bracket for individuals with a master's degree, entering into the legal services industry with a master's in legal studies can be immensely beneficial.
Choosing a Program
While most legal studies programs will cover the same foundational topics, there may be significant variation in program structure, graduation requirements, and elective or concentration courses. Some programs can be completed in one year, while others others take two years or longer to complete. Requirements for thesis projects and capstones differ depending on the college.
Some legal studies programs offer concentrations to students interested in a particular topic or area of law. A variety of concentrations are available to students pursuing a master's in legal studies online, including business and corporate law, taxation, sports law, criminal law, environmental and energy law, intellectual property law, human resources compliance, and healthcare compliance. Students are often able to tailor their concentration to the career they hope to pursue.
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Online Master's in Legal Studies Degree Program Ranking Guidelines
We selected the degree programs based on the quality of program and range of courses provided, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation.
The Best Online Master's in Legal Studies Programs
1University of Oklahoma - Norman
OU offers three unique master's in legal studies programs designed for working professionals. Each MLS program is delivered asynchronously and in an accelerated format. Students can earn their master's in legal studies online in 15 months. The programs are ideal for professionals who are not lawyers but who need legal knowledge to support their career activities.
The MLS in oil, gas, and energy law requires 32 credits and a one-week campus residency. OU has provided energy education for more than 100 years. Students have access to oil and gas companies and leaders in directional drilling, and program faculty are experts and practicing attorneys in oil, gas, and energy law.
Students earning the MLS in indigenous peoples law benefit from OU's location in the heart of the original Indian Territories. The 33-credit curriculum teaches students the complexities of federal Indian law while expanding their knowledge of contracts, negotiations, and other aspects of Native American self-governance, policy, regulation, and business practices.
Graduates of OU's MLS in healthcare law program work in areas of compliance, advocacy, contract negotiation, and real estate transaction. The 32-credit program requires a week-long capstone residency at the OU Health and Sciences Center in Oklahoma City.
In-state students receive discounted tuition rates. Applicants must submit official transcripts, a resume, and a personal statement. International students must submit TOEFL exam scores.
The University of Oklahoma is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
2University of Illinois at Springfield
The master's of arts in legal studies at UIS develops critical and analytical skills through coursework examining the legal system's role in society and public policy. The degree is ideal for students planning to pursue careers as investigators or resource persons and for those who want to enforce compliance with the law, work with legal forms and requirements, or understand how legal regulations affect businesses.
The online and on-campus programs follow the same rigorous, 40-credit curriculum. The fully online courses may be delivered synchronously or asynchronously, depending on the professor's preference. Students work with professors to tailor the online master's in legal studies program to their individual needs and interests. Required preliminary and core courses include legal research and citation, introduction to graduate legal studies, theories of justice, and public advocacy.
Students engage in clinical education and are encouraged to choose a focus area, such as law and public policy, human rights and social justice, or regulatory compliance. Students must complete a thesis project.
Applicants must have a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA, although exceptions may be made for applicants with significant professional experience or qualifying graduate work. Online applicants must also demonstrate good written communications skills.
The University of Illinois is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
3 Drexel University
Professionals who want to improve their career-related skills in specialized legal areas should consider Drexel's online master's of legal studies. Drexel is known for its interdisciplinary approach to applied education; faculty members use each student's professional knowledge and experiences as the foundation for their education.
Drexel's master's of legal studies program offers eight concentrations, some of which award graduate certificates. Available concentrations include criminal law, HR compliance, cybersecurity and information privacy compliance, and NCAA compliance sports law.
The online master's of legal studies requires 30 credits and culminates in a capstone project. Online students have access to 24/7 tech support and an online library, writing center, and career center. Graduates with the healthcare compliance concentration are eligible to sit for the healthcare compliance and compliance and ethics professional certification exams.
Drexel offers discounted tuition rates for alumni, military members, and employees and members of partner organizations. Applicants must submit official transcripts, a resume, a 500-word essay, and two letters of recommendation.
Drexel University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE).
4 Saint Leo University
Saint Leo, Florida
Saint Leo's online master's of science in criminal justice with a specialization in legal studies is designed for professionals who work within the court system, the government, and emergency agencies.
The program requires 36 credits and covers topics such as public policymaking in criminal justice, the impact of terrorism on homeland security, hostage negotiations, and courtroom psychology. Students are prepared to manage the aftermath of disasters and to decrease the impact of hazardous situations.
Saint Leo, one of the leading military colleges in the U.S., was the first Catholic school in Florida to offer online learning. Saint Leo provides an online learning toolkit to help prospective students understand the basics of online education.
Saint Leo accepts applications on a rolling basis. Applicants should have a bachelor's degree with a cumulative 3.0 GPA and must submit official transcripts. Applicants who do not meet the GPA requirement must submit a 500-word personal statement. Transfer students can bring up to six previous credits earned with a grade of B or better.
Saint Leo University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).
5 Arizona State University–ASU Online
In 2018, U.S. News ranked ASU as the most innovative school in the nation. The faculty who teach ASU's master's in legal studies online degree boast a combined 300 years of experience and are nationally recognized in the legal field.
ASU's master's of legal studies provides a basic understanding of law, U.S. legal structures, and legal reasoning. The curriculum offers five concentrations: sports law, law and sustainability, HR and employment law, intellectual property law, and criminal law. Coursework helps students identify potential legal issues unique to each concentration, and the flexible program allows students to pair their study of law with other fields of interest.
Most students complete the 30 required credits in 18 months. Graduates pursue careers as chief executive officers, compliances officers, contract managers, patent officers, and sustainability managers.
The admissions process considers each applicant's academic potential and career ambitions, along with the law school's available space and resources. Applicants must have an undergraduate degree and must submit official transcripts, a resume, a personal statement, two letters of recommendation, and a writing sample.
Arizona State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Founded in 1898, NEU is a global research university located in the heart of Boston, with five satellite campuses in the U.S. and Canada. For professionals who work with attorneys and legal issues but who do not wish to become lawyers, NEU's master's of legal studies enhances students' understanding of law and how it impacts the regulatory terrain of specific disciplines.
Students earning NEU's master's of law degree online learn from law school faculty and industry experts. Professors customize courses with content relevant to specific professionals. Coursework emphasizes experiential and collaborative learning to help students understand the practical application of legal and regulatory principles and learn how to use the law to achieve organizational goals.
NEU's master's of legal studies program requires coursework in the law of information and records, law and strategy, negotiation and advocacy, regulation and compliance, and organizational management. All courses are delivered asynchronously, and part-time students typically complete the required 30 credits in 18 months.
Applicants should have a bachelor's degree and must submit official transcripts, a resume, a personal statement, and two letters of recommendation. International students should also submit TOEFL scores.
Northeastern University is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE).
7 West Virginia University
Morgantown, West Virginia
WVU offers an online master's of legal studies designed for professionals in occupations governed by laws and regulations, such as positions in human services, juvenile justice, and social work. The degree helps professionals understand the law and advance their careers.
The faculty who teach courses in the online master's of legal studies program boast numerous awards and achievements in their fields. Many of WVU's instructors have worked for national companies and organizations, such as Procter and Gamble, the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service, and the World Wildlife Fund.
The 36-credit curriculum includes coursework in law and the legal system, researching the law, administrative legal process, the legislative process, and alternative dispute resolution. Students can pursue approved electives through directed or independent study. The program culminates in a research paper completed during a capstone class. Most students earn the online master's of legal studies in two years. WVU's enrollment coaches prepare students for online learning.
Applicants must have a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA and must submit official transcripts, a resume or curriculum vitae, a personal statement, graduate aptitude test scores, and two letters of recommendation.
West Virginia University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Hodges offers a master's of science in legal studies that is ideal for professionals who regularly work with lawyers or legal issues. The program also prepares students to teach law and to advance to administrative positions.
The program is available in a fully online, accelerated format, which most students complete in about a year, or in a hybrid format. The 30-hour curriculum comprises 10 required courses, including a capstone course. Each of Hodges' law professors holds a JD.
Hodges' online master's degree in legal studies prepares students for careers as conflict resolution specialists, contract administrators, legal assistants, jury consultants, court advocates, and investigators.
During the admissions process, Hodges assigns each applicant an admissions coordinator. A committee evaluates each prospective student's application, personal essay, and most recent 60 hours of academic work, which should have been earned with at least a 2.75 GPA. Each applicant undergoes a 30-minute interview with the department chairperson, which may be completed virtually or in person.
Hodges University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).
Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Legal Studies
While the courses offered in legal studies programs vary from school to school, there are some similarities. Common courses for an online master's degree in legal studies include criminal procedure, applied research in legal studies, and ethics and the professional. These classes provide students with the skills needed to succeed in the legal services field. Some examples of courses that are offered to legal studies students are listed below.
- Legal Methods and Process: This course provides students with an introduction to the legal system. Students learn about the court system, types of the law, what different professionals in the legal field do, and how laws are created. This course prepares students for careers as paralegals, legal assistants, and other professionals in the legal services field.
- Legal Research, Analysis, and Writing: This course teaches learners to analyze cases, statutes, laws, journal articles, and administrative rulings. Students will learn to write case briefs, opinions, and memoranda, preparing them for careers in legal writing.
- Jurisprudence and Legal History: This course focuses on the development of legal principles throughout history. Students compare historical legal trends to current legal trends in order to understand how and why the law has developed.
Online Master's in Legal Studies Careers
When people think of legal occupations, they tend to think of lawyers and judges. However, there are a vast number of different careers in the legal services industry, including business-related roles, administrative roles, and human resources roles.
Top Executive: Top executives come up with policies and strategies to help their organization meet its goals. They also plan, coordinate, and direct all operational activities. Executives must have an understanding of current laws and policies in order to ensure their company is compliant with legal code.
- Median Annual Salary: $103,950
- Projected Growth Rate: 8%
Human Resources Manager: Human resources managers are in charge of recruiting, interviewing, and hiring new employees. They also handle worker complaints and lawsuits.
- Median Annual Salary: $106,910
- Projected Growth Rate: 9%
Probation Officer: Probation officers help with the rehabilitation of offenders by providing social services to individuals in custody, on probation, or on parole. They can also be assigned fieldwork in areas with high crime rates, making their jobs stressful and potentially dangerous.
- Median Annual Salary: $50,160
- Projected Growth Rate: 6%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics