The Best Online Master’s Programs in Legal Studies

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A master's in legal studies degree prepares students for a variety of professional roles working with the government and in other fields.

Many law schools offer master's programs in legal studies designed for nonlawyers seeking an advanced understanding of the laws, regulations, and legal procedures that impact businesses and organizations.

It's important to note that a legal studies degree does not qualify graduates to represent clients or practice as attorneys. Instead, graduates can apply their legal expertise to roles like realtor, human resources specialist, court employee, or small business owner.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that several careers suited for legal studies graduates will experience significant growth between 2018-2028. For instance, jobs for real estate brokers are projected to grow 7% and jobs for mediators are projected to grow 8%.

This guide ranks the best online master's in legal studies programs. We also cover important information for prospective students, including common courses and potential careers and salaries for graduates.

Top 10 Online Master's in Legal Studies Programs 2020

#1 University of Arizona Tucson, AZ
#2 Washington University in St Louis Saint Louis, MO
#3 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
#4 West Virginia University Morgantown, WV
#5 Pepperdine University Malibu, CA
#6 Regent University Virginia Beach, VA
#7 California University of Pennsylvania California, PA
#8 Webster University Saint Louis, MO
#9 Saint Leo University Saint Leo, FL
#10 University of Illinois at Springfield Springfield, IL

The Best Online Master’s in Legal Studies Programs

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4

West Virginia University 

Morgantown, WV

About this school

The 30-credit, online master of legal studies (MLS) degree from West Virginia University examines law, legal procedures, and legal terminology. Students learn to think critically and apply complex legal reasoning to a variety of situations and problems. Neither a paralegal program nor a law degree, the program suits professionals working in areas like criminal justice, social work, human relations, and national security.

Experienced faculty from the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences develop and teach the MLS curriculum. Core courses include researching the law, the legislative process, dispute resolution, and law and the legal system.

The program offers three areas of emphasis: justice systems, healthcare, and homeland security. Criminal justice professionals typically choose the justice systems emphasis. The healthcare emphasis explores topics like healthcare law, elder law, long-term care regulations, and state and federal regulatory requirements. Students working in immigration, transportation security, and military justice often pursue the homeland security emphasis.

Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 2.75 GPA. Applicants must submit transcripts, two reference letters, a personal statement, a resume, and standardized test scores.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
60%
Percent Receiving Loans
57%
5

Pepperdine University 

Malibu, CA

About this school

Accredited by the American Bar Association, the Caruso School of Law at Pepperdine University offers an online master of legal studies (MLS) program that helps non-lawyers develop legal expertise. Full-time students can graduate in 16 months.

The 30-credit degree includes core classes in legal writing, civil procedure and litigation, criminal law, and constitutional law. Students can explore specialized areas of the law through electives in areas like business law, intellectual property, and education law. The program also offers concentrations in human resources and dispute resolution. Students can take an additional 18-22 credits to earn a master of dispute resolution in addition to the MLS degree.

Students must complete two in-person weekend residencies on the Pepperdine campus. These experiences allow students to network with faculty members and classmates while completing a one-credit class that includes mock trials and legal case studies. Unlike traditional law school, the program does not require applicants to take the GRE or LSAT.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
93%
Percent Receiving Loans
48%
6

Regent University 

Virginia Beach, VA

About this school

Regent University offers an online master's in law studies program designed for individuals with a J.D.-equivalent law degree from outside the United States. Graduates with the master of laws (LL.M.) in American legal studies can sit for the Bar exam in some jurisdictions.

The 30-credit program helps students improve their English language proficiency while earning the degree. Students receive mentorship from experienced law professors from top schools like Yale, Duke, and Harvard. The curriculum includes 15-week courses like foundations of legal thought, the American legal system and writing, and foundations of law. Full-time students can graduate in one year.

Application requirements include unofficial undergraduate transcripts, two letters of recommendation, a current resume, and a copy of a government-issued ID. The program offers two start dates per year.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
59%
Percent Receiving Loans
93%
7

California University of Pennsylvania 

California, PA

About this school

The fully online master's in law studies degree from California University of Pennsylvania develops advanced critical thinking, legal research, and writing skills. Students learn to interpret legal materials, evaluate legal arguments, and explain how public policy impacts legislative policy and judicial rulings. Legal scholars and other experts with practical experience teach the program and provide students with networking and research opportunities.

Appropriate for anyone with a serious interest in public policy and law, Cal U's legal studies master's degree offers concentrations in law and public policy, criminal justice, and homeland security. All students take classes in law and police process, domestic extremism in the United States, law and administrative agencies, and law and civil litigation. Graduates can pursue careers in paralegalism, criminal justice, government, and law enforcement.

Full-time students can graduate in one year. Cal U also offers an accelerated BA-to-MS option for current undergraduates that lets them earn up to 12 graduate credits while pursuing the bachelor's degree. Requirements for unconditional admission include a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA from an accredited institution.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
53%
Percent Receiving Loans
85%
8

Webster University 

Saint Louis, MO

About this school

Webster University's online master's in legal studies program develops advanced skills and knowledge in legal practice. The program also provides a foundational understanding of the legal environment in which organizations and individuals make decisions. Students gain critical-thinking, communication, decision-making, and legal reasoning skills.

The program is best suited to legal assistants, government employees, managers, and teachers. The program does not qualify students to sit for the Bar exam or to practice law. The 39-credit, fully online degree includes courses like ethics for the legal professional, methods of legal research and writing, American constitutional law, and Anglo-American legal history.

Webster accepts applications on a rolling basis. Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum cumulative 2.5 GPA. International students may need to demonstrate English language proficiency by submitting official test scores. Admitted students advance to candidacy status after completing 12 credits with a grade of 'B-' or better.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
59%
Percent Receiving Loans
68%
9

Saint Leo University 

Saint Leo, FL

About this school

The oldest Catholic postsecondary institution in Florida, Saint Leo University welcomes students of all faiths. The school offers 38 online master's programs, including an online criminal justice master's degree with a legal studies concentration.

Designed for practicing and aspiring criminal justice professionals, the program includes field experiences and interactive learning opportunities. The 36-credit curriculum includes five core criminal justice classes, three electives, and three legal studies courses. Students explore topics like forensic science, criminal advocacy, policymaking, and computerized databases.

Core courses include insights into criminal behaviors, ethical issues in criminal justice administration, and leadership applications in criminal justice. The legal studies specialization focuses on the judicial system and legal procedures. Distance learners receive access to career services, student advising, and student life activities.

Admission requirements for the master's in legal studies program include a bachelor's degree, a professional goal statement, and a qualifying GPA. Graduates can work in roles like loss prevention investigator, federal law enforcement, and criminal justice practitioner.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
51%
Percent Receiving Loans
82%
10

University of Illinois at Springfield 

Springfield, IL

About this school

The University of Illinois Springfield offers a master's in legal studies program designed for working professionals. The interdisciplinary liberal arts program combines synchronous and asynchronous courses and provides a comprehensive understanding of the legal system. The fully online program offers small class sizes and clinical education opportunities. Distance learners gain critical thinking, writing, and research skills.

Learners examine the role of law in American society while developing professional legal skills. The program suits students in professions that require knowledge of the legal system, including individuals who participate in judicial processes, enforce laws, and work with legal forms. The curriculum includes classes in comparative justice, LGBTQ law and politics, philosophy of law, and legal research and citation.

Admission requirements include a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, a personal statement, and a demonstrated ability to communicate effectively in writing.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
51%
Percent Receiving Loans
49%
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Ranking Methodology
Best Online Programs

Online Master's in Legal Studies Programs Ranking Guidelines

What Is an Online Master's in Legal Studies Degree?

An online master's in law studies is a relatively new graduate discipline offered by university law schools. In these programs, students gain a comprehensive understanding of the legal framework in which businesses and organizations operate, examining topics like legal research and writing, contracts, and civil procedure.

Legal studies graduates can apply their knowledge of the legal system to careers in fields like human resources management, compliance, and consulting.

Choosing an Online Program

Students should consider several factors when researching prospective online master of legal studies programs, including tuition costs, on-campus requirements, and course delivery format.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Legal Studies Program?

A master's in legal studies typically begins with introductory courses, followed by core courses on topics like compliance, legal writing, and litigation. Students may also take electives or pursue concentrations in areas such as business law, dispute resolution, or human resources law.

Legal Studies Curriculum

  • Regulation and Compliance: This course introduces students to the lawmaking process and the ways that administrative agencies interpret and apply laws. Coursework may also examine corporate compliance programs, including challenges faced by companies, key compliance roles, and various compliance-related processes.
  • Mediation: This course explores mediation theories and practices. Students develop proficiency as mediators through simulations and other experiential exercises that address legal, ethical, and public policy issues.
  • Contract Drafting: This course develops the skills needed to evaluate and draft legally binding contract documents. Students examine the various components of a contract and how they work together. Coursework emphasizes meeting the needs and goals of clients.

Law Professional Organizations

Professional organizations provide opportunities for career development, networking, and professional support. In the legal field, these organizations also work to promote ethical practice, accountability, and fair representation. Members commonly receive access to job postings, webinars, journals, and conferences.

American Bar Association

The ABA works to advance the rule of law across the U.S. by providing resources for legal professionals, law school accreditation, and public service programs. Members have access to networking opportunities, webinars, job postings, and podcasts. Student members do not pay membership dues.

American Association for Justice

AAJ seeks to promote a fair and effective justice system by providing information and professional support to trial attorneys nationwide. AAJ advocates for the civil justice system, promotes accountability, and enhances legal practice. Members gain access to networking opportunities, research tools, and exclusive third-party discounts.

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Through initiatives focused on lawyer assistance, first amendment defense, and state clemency, NACDL identifies and reforms flaws and inequalities in the criminal justice system. Members gain access to networking opportunities, The Champion journal, and litigation assistance.

Careers in Law

While an online master's in legal studies degree does not qualify individuals to practice as lawyers, graduates can pursue law school to gain the credentials necessary to work as attorneys. They can also work in areas like compliance, consulting, and administration. We cover several common careers for graduates below.

Lawyers

Lawyers advise and represent individual clients, businesses, and government agencies during legal disputes. Lawyers may specialize in a certain type of law, such as environmental, intellectual property, family, or tax law. Common job duties include conducting research and analysis, communicating with clients, and filing legal documents.

Lawyers typically need a juris doctor degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. To practice, lawyers must also pass licensure exams, meet state requirements, and participate in continuing education. This career requires keen analytical, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills.

Median Annual Salary

$122,960

Projected Growth Rate

6%

Paralegals

Paralegals help support the work of lawyers by maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents. Job duties vary by legal field, but these professionals often investigate cases, write reports, gather evidence, and communicate with clients.

Entry-level positions require at least an associate degree in paralegal studies, but many employers prefer to hire graduates with a bachelor's degree. Paralegals need strong communication, organization, and research skills.

Median Annual Salary

$51,740

Projected Growth Rate

12%

Compliance Officers

Compliance officers examine, evaluate, and investigate an organization's conformity with laws and regulations. These professionals work in industries like finance, taxation, occupational health and safety, construction and building, and agriculture. Common job duties include examining permits, licenses, and applications; issuing written notices of code violations; and maintaining inspection records.

Most compliance officers hold at least a bachelor's degree, but many employers prefer candidates with a master's degree in a relevant discipline, such as accounting, finance, or legal studies. These professionals need strong leadership, ethical decision-making, writing, and public speaking skills.

Median Annual Salary

$72,520

Projected Growth Rate

8%

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Master's in Legal Studies Program?

In general, an online master's in law studies takes approximately one year of full-time study to complete.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Legal Studies?

Master of legal studies programs give nonlawyers a thorough understanding of American law and the legal system. Graduates commonly work in industries like consulting, compliance, and management/administration.

How Much Do You Make as a Lawyer?

According to the BLS, lawyers earn a median salary of $122,960. However, earnings vary significantly by law field, geographic location, and employer.

What Is a Lawyer?

Lawyers are trained professionals who advise clients and represent individuals, businesses, and government agencies in legal disputes. Most lawyers work in private and corporate legal offices.

What Is a Master's in Legal Studies?

A master's in legal studies is a relatively new degree aimed at professionals who need working knowledge of the law but are not seeking to become attorneys or lawyers themselves.

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