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 2019-2029. For instance, jobs for real estate brokers are projected to grow 2% and jobs for mediators are projected to grow 8%.

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

Top 10 Online Master's in Legal Studies Programs 2021
#1 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
#2 Florida State University Tallahassee, FL
#3 Washington University in St Louis Saint Louis, MO
#4 Texas A & M University-College Station College Station, TX
#5 Wake Forest University Winston-Salem, NC
#6 George Washington University Washington, DC
#7 Pepperdine University Malibu, CA
#8 Arizona State University-Skysong Scottsdale, AZ
#9 Samford University Birmingham, AL
#10 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA

Featured Online Schools

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.

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.

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.

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

4%

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

10%

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%

The Best Online Master’s in Legal Studies Programs

University of Southern California View School Profile Los Angeles, CA 92% 29% 18% University of Southern California is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC).

USC taught just 53 students when it first opened in 1880. Today, USC offers its master of studies in law degree in a 100% online format with weekly live discussions. Sample courses include legal research, constitutional law, and litigation in U.S. courts.

Students must complete 21 credits to graduate. Applicants should already have a bachelor's degree and a GPA of at least 3.0. Applicants must submit a personal statement, resume, and transcripts.

Florida State University View School Profile $$ Tallahassee, FL 83% 38% 42% Florida State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SASCOC).

Founded in 1851, FSU currently teaches more than 41,000 students through 297 degree programs.

FSU offers an online juris master degree program taught through asynchronous courses. Students can choose to concentrate in financial regulation and compliance, legal risk management and HR compliance, and health care regulation.

Students must complete 30 credits to graduate. Applicants must already have a bachelor's degree. They need to submit transcripts, a personal statement, and a resume.

Washington University in St Louis View School Profile Saint Louis, MO 95% 18% 4% Washington University in St. Louis is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Founded in 1853, Washington University quickly expanded to meet the growing needs of midwestern immigrants. Today, it boasts over 3,200 professors.

Washington University offers an online master of legal studies program that students can complete in about one year. Available concentrations include business law, conflict resolution, and regulatory compliance.

Students must complete 24 credits to graduate. Applicants must already have a bachelor's degree. The application process requires a statement of purpose, a resume, transcripts, and an online interview.

Texas A & M University-College Station View School Profile $$$ College Station, TX 82% 32% 8% Texas A&M University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SASCOC).

Texas A&M's first classes began in 1876, and today over 69,000 students learn through this institution.

Texas A&M students can earn their master of jurisprudence in general legal studies through online courses. Texas A&M also offers several other concentrations online, including cybersecurity law and management, wealth management, and risk management.

Students must complete 30 credits to graduate and typically complete the program in 1-2 years.

Applicants must already have a bachelor's degree. The application process requires a resume, a statement of interest, two references, and transcripts.

Wake Forest University View School Profile Winston-Salem, NC 89% 24% 6% Wake Forest University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SASCOC).

Founded in 1834, Wake Forest currently teaches more than 8,000 students.

Wake Forest offers a 100% online and asynchronous master of studies in law program. Wake Forest offers three tracks: business law and compliance, health law and policy, and human resources. Required courses include business law and literacy, the unauthorized practice of law, and legal foundations.

Students must complete 30 credits to graduate and may earn their degree in as little as 21 months.

Applicants must have a bachelor's degree and work experience in a related field.

George Washington University View School Profile Washington, DC 82% 36% 24% The George Washington University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

Founded in 1821, GWU offered its first law program in 1865.

GW offers an online master of studies in law for government procurement law program for non-lawyers. Faculty teach courses synchronously once per week. Sample courses include the formation of government contracts, anti-corruption and compliance, and government contracts advocacy.

Students must complete 24 credits to graduate. Applicants must already have a bachelor's degree and at least three years of work experience related to this field of study.

Pepperdine University View School Profile Malibu, CA 83% 38% 11% Pepperdine University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC).

Opening in 1937, Pepperdine originally taught just 167 students.

Pepperdine offers an online master of legal studies program. Sample courses include criminal law and procedure, contracts, and negotiation theory and practice.

Full-time students typically complete the required 32 credits for graduation in just 16 months, while part-time students may take as long as 28 months.

Applicants must submit transcripts showing completion of a bachelor's degree, plus a statement of purpose, a letter of recommendation, and a resume. Pepperdine's application process also involves a video interview.

Arizona State University-Skysong View School Profile $$ Scottsdale, AZ 14% 55% 97% Arizona State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Over 500,000 people have graduated from ASU.

ASU offers an online master of legal studies program. Students can choose to focus on one of 11 subject areas, including Indian gaming, tribal self-governance, and sports law and business.

Students must complete 30 credits to graduate and can do so in as little as one year.

Applicants must submit transcripts showing completion of a bachelor's degree, as well as a resume. ASU may also ask for a writing sample and letters of recommendation.

Samford University View School Profile Birmingham, AL 76% 33% 31% Samford University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SASCOC).

A Christian college, Samford University began as Howard College in 1841.

Samford offers a fully online master of studies in law degree with four concentrations, including financial services regulatory compliance, health law and compliance, and legal operations. Required core courses include legal writing and communication skills, principles of business law, and public policy legislation and regulation.

Students must complete 34 credits to graduate. Applicants must submit transcripts showing completion of a bachelor's degree. Samford strongly recommends submitting GRE or GMAT scores if an applicant's transcripts do not show a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0.

Liberty University View School Profile Lynchburg, VA 50% 60% 90% Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SASCOC).

An evangelical Christian college, Liberty first developed its distance learning program in 1985.

Liberty offers a 100% online juris master program. Students can choose a general curriculum or focus on one of four specializations, including health law, American legal studies, and international legal studies. Each course lasts eight weeks, and students typically finish within 1 year.

Students must complete 30 credits to graduate. Applicants must already have a bachelor's degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0.

University of Illinois at Springfield View School Profile $$ Springfield, IL 51% 46% 68% University of Illinois Springfield is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

The 746-acre UIS campus joined the University of Illinois System in 1995.

UIS offers a 100% online master of arts in legal studies program. Faculty decide whether to teach in a synchronous or asynchronous format.

Students must complete 36-40 credits to graduate. Core courses include theories of justice, public advocacy, and legal research and citation.

Students must already have a bachelor's degree. UIS prefers applicants with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0.

Hodges University View School Profile Naples, FL 22% 56% 92% Hodges University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SASCOC).

Hodges teaches just over 100 graduate students out of a total enrollment of 760.

Hodges offers a 100% online juris master program. The 10-course curriculum includes topics like ethics and law, intellectual property, and anti-discrimination law.

Students must complete 30 credits to graduate.

Applicants should expect to submit transcripts and an essay.

West Virginia University View School Profile $$ Morgantown, WV 60% 50% 29% West Virginia University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Composed of three campuses, the WVU system teaches nearly 30,000 students.

WVU teaches its master of legal studies program online. Students can choose to focus on one of three areas of emphasis: healthcare, justice systems, and homeland security.

Students must complete 30 credits across 10 courses to graduate.

Applicants must have a bachelor's degree and a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.75. Applicants must submit transcripts, two letters of reference, a personal statement, a resume, and GRE, GMAT, or LSAT test scores.

Hamline University View School Profile Saint Paul, MN 63% 68% 15% Hamline University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Founded in 1854, HU's first classes took place above the general store in Red Wing.

HU offers a fully online master in the study of law degree program. Synchronous courses occur once per week during the evenings. Students can choose from five concentrations, including social justice, conflict resolution, and litigation support.

Students must complete 34 credits to graduate. Upon completion of the program, students will also have earned their paralegal certificate.

Applicants must submit a resume, personal statement, and transcripts showing completion of a bachelor's degree with at least a 3.0 GPA.

Drexel University View School Profile Philadelphia, PA 74% 50% 12% Drexel University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

Founded in 1891, Drexel follows a cooperative model of learning.

Students enrolled in Drexel's online master of legal studies program may choose a generalized curriculum or up to two concentrations, including criminal law, health care compliance, and human resources compliance.

Students must complete 30 credits to graduate.

Applicants must have a bachelor's degree and should have a minimum GPA of 3.0. Applicants must submit transcripts, a letter of recommendation, an essay, and a resume.

Regent University View School Profile Virginia Beach, VA 59% 80% 91% Regent University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SASCOC).

Regent teaches over 11,000 students from a Christian perspective.

Regent offers an online master of arts in law program with 14 possible concentrations, including general legal studies, healthcare law, immigration law, and national security.

Students must complete 30 credits to graduate. Applicants must submit transcripts showing the completion of a bachelor's degree.

Nova Southeastern University View School Profile Fort Lauderdale, FL 50% 51% 47% Nova Southeastern University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SASCOC).

Founded in 1964 as the "MIT of the South," NSU first offered an off-campus course in 1972.

NSU offers an online master of science in law degree program with four possible tracks: education law, employment law, health law, and law and policy. Students can finish their degree in just one year.

Students must complete at least 24 credits to graduate. Applicants must already have a bachelor's degree. NSU requires two years of work experience for those wishing to concentrate in employment law or health law.

Thomas Jefferson School of Law View School Profile San Diego, CA 19% Thomas Jefferson School of Law is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC).

Founded in 1969, Thomas Jefferson has its roots in part-time education for busy working adults. Thomas Jefferson has offered its master of science in law degree program online since 2008.

Students can choose one of three exclusively online concentrations: taxation, financial services and wealth management, or financial compliance and risk management. Faculty teach courses in eight weeks and through an asynchronous format.

Students must complete 30 units to graduate. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree and should expect to pass a background check.

Trinity Law School View School Profile Santa Ana, CA 50% Trinity International University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Founded in 1980, TIU combines academics with a Christian worldview.

Trinity's online master of legal studies program offers eight optional specialized tracks, including human rights, bioethics, and criminal justice. Courses last for seven weeks.

Students must complete 30 units to graduate. Applicants must have earned a bachelor's degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5. Applicants must submit transcripts and letters of recommendation.

The Santa Barbara and Ventura Colleges of Law at Ventura View School Profile Ventura, CA 40% The Santa Barbara and Ventura Colleges of Law is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC).

Founded in 1969, the Colleges of Law enrolled just 36 students in its first semester.

The Colleges of Law offer an online master of legal studies program that students typically complete in 1.5 years. Sample courses include litigation and its alternative, administrative process, and research and advocacy.

Students must complete 30 credits to graduate. Applicants must already have a bachelor's degree and a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.3. Applicants should submit transcripts, a letter of recommendation, and a personal statement.

Online Master's in Legal Studies Programs Ranking Guidelines

The motto of TheBestSchools.org is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:

The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.

To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):

1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]

  • Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
  • Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
  • Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
  • Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
  • Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
  • Considers range of electives within that discipline
  • Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline

2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]

  • Considers education background of the faculty
  • Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
  • Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
  • Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
  • Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources

3. Reputation [weight = 20%]

  • Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
    • Faculty
    • Curriculum
    • “Freshness” of academic knowledge
    • Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
    • Suitability of graduates for the workplace

4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]

  • Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
  • Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants

5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]

  • Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
  • Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business

6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]

  • Considers the following of the online classes:
    • Types of online technology used to deliver content
    • Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
    • Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
    • Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
  • Considers the following of instructors:
    • Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
    • Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
    • Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
    • Ratio to number of students in a class
  • Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees

Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.

To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:

  • Accreditation
  • Public or private status
  • Acceptance rate
  • Retention rate
  • Graduation rate
  • ACT/SAT requirements
  • Cost in-state / out of state
  • Undergrad, grad, or both offered
  • Region
  • State
  • City

Get the best rankings here AND get them to suit your personal needs. That’s TheBestSchools.org advantage!

If you have any questions about our ranking methodology, please contact us.

Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!

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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