The 2021 Guide to Online Master’s in Legal Studies (MLS)

A Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree, or Master of Studies in Law, is designed for professionals seeking to build their U.S. legal procedural skills and knowledge to tackle legal challenges and responsibilities in their fields. The advantage of an MLS is the degree is practice driven, focusing on the application of legal procedures and theory in the workplace environment.

With a Master of Legal Studies degree, graduates will develop professional-level legal training, which becomes increasingly important as more professions have legal-facing components to their operations, such as contracts, negotiations, work compliance, privacy, intellectual property and human resource management.

While an online MLS degree is not directly tied to a specific career path, and will not prepare you to practice law or pass the bar, it is helpful in positions with legal responsibilities.

Pepperdine University


Master of Legal Studies

The online Master of Legal Studies program from Pepperdine Caruso School of Law. No GRE or LSAT scores are required to apply.

  • No GRE or LSAT scores required to apply 
  • Complete in as few as 12 months 
  • Dispute resolution concentration available


Master of Legal Studies, Master of Studies in Law and Juris Master’s (JM) are similar degrees designed for non-law grads who are interested in learning more about the law but are not looking to become lawyers or attorneys. The master’s curriculum is similar to first-year Juris Doctorate students, exploring the social, economic and theoretical forces that shape the law. Juris Doctor (JD) is a degree earned to practice law as lawyers and attorneys. Master of Laws (LL.M.) and Master of Jurisprudence (MJ) are postgraduate degrees for professionals who already have a JD and would like to specialize in an area particular to their career interest.

There are many institutions that offer master’s in legal studies degrees online. Online programs may vary in providing self-paced classes or scheduled live classes online. Students would access the lectures, assignments and exams through an online platform and communicate with classmates and professors online.

Accredited legal studies programs maintain a high quality curriculum that meets the standards of accrediting agencies recognized by the Department of Education, such as the American Bar Association, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and Western Association of Schools and Colleges, among others.

Online MLS Program Admissions Requirements

Each MLS program has its own set of prerequisites, so you should contact your accredited institution for detailed information regarding its policies.

  1. Application: Fill out an initial application, which you can find on the website of the accredited institution of your choice. Paper or online forms are generally accepted.
  2. Bachelor’s degree: You should have a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent from an accredited institution before applying to an MLS program.
  3. Transcripts: Request transcripts before the application deadline, and upload one official copy of each transcript from any postsecondary schools you have attended.
  4. Experience: Include any relevant work experience in law or legal services.
  5. Personal statement: Write a personal statement, typically an essay. You may be required to submit multiple essays to fully express the intent and purpose of your application. Below are some common topics that should be mentioned in a statement.
    • Your main academic and personal interests
    • Experiences in school or work that have helped to prepare you for this course of study
    • Why you wish to study for the degree you’ve chosen
    • Why you wish to study at the university
    • Your plans after you earn your degree
  6. Resume/CV: Upload your most recent resume or curriculum vitae.
  7. Letters of recommendation: Submit letters of recommendation. The number required varies with each school. Be sure to request them well in advance of the deadline.
  8. Test scores (may be optional): Many schools do not require GRE, GMAT or LSAT Test scores, but do accept test score submissions. TOEFL/IELTS scores may be required for international students.

While LSAT or GRE test scores are required when applying for juris doctor programs, LSAT or GRE scores are not typically required for legal studies master’s programs.

The curriculum and number of credits required to complete a master’s program vary widely depending on your school and specialization. However, a typical MLS program may include courses in:

  • Civil Procedure consists of the procedures, principles and rules that courts in the United States use to resolve civil disputes.
  • Regulatory Compliance refers to how organizations and companies adhere to legal and ethical regulations.
  • Contracts Law introduces the study of issues that arise when entering and enforcing contracts.
  • Negotiation Theory examines the process of making deals or resolving disputes.
  • Administrative Law studies the procedures, rules and regulations of governmental agencies and their decision-making capabilities.
  • Risk Management involves identifying, analyzing and taking steps that minimize the exposures to loss faced by an organization or individual. 
  • Intellectual Property is the protection of any product of the human intellect from unauthorized use by others, commonly known as copyright and patents.
  • Privacy and Cybersecurity studies laws and practices that affect privacy and cybersecurity.
  • Human Rights looks at the legal procedures that surround what society determines is the right of every individual.
  • Environmental Law refers to the policies and regulations for protecting the environment.
  • Tax Law presents the general principles and policies of tax laws, administration and regulations.

Many schools offer various areas of specialization or self-designed specializations that cater to your career. Some MLS degree concentrations include human resources, health care, corporate compliance, criminal justice, entertainment and others. 

Master of legal studies in taxation programs equip students with the fundamental understanding of tax laws. This is a specialized non-law degree for professionals who work in fields related to tax laws such as accounting, finance or government.


Is an MLS Degree Worth It?

MLS is an advanced degree for non-lawyers to understand the fundamentals of the legal system. Because the law applies to every industry, an MLS degree is useful in many careers and can be earned in less time than a JD.

How Long Does it Take to Earn an Online Legal Studies Master’s Degree?

Depending on the student’s schedule, master’s in legal studies programs can take about one to two years to complete. Full-time students could complete a legal studies program in a year and part time students could take two or more years.

What Kind of Jobs Can You Get With an Online Legal Studies Master’s Degree?

Because there are legal issues in every industry, there is a wide range of career options depending on the field in which you choose to specialize. Paralegals and legal assistants provide support for lawyers and would require knowledge of the law and legal procedures. Compliance officers ensure that companies comply with legal and ethical regulations along with internal company policies. In addition to these common legal professional roles, there are also people in roles across various industries who can enhance their skills with an MLS degree, including: business and finance, politics, health care, cybersecurity, human resources, social work, and real estate. An MLS degree can also strengthen your ability to work toward managerial roles and other career advancement opportunities.

What is the Master’s in Legal Studies Salary and Career Outlook?

What makes a Master of Legal Studies degree unique is that the curriculum and education relates to a wide range of careers and industries, given that an MLS teaches students how to apply legal procedures and theory in the workplace, and have the tools to succeed in their positions.

In the context of practicing law, MLS graduates find careers as paralegals and legal professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, paralegals earn a median annual salary of approximately $51,740 , with a job outlook of 12% growth from 2018 to 2028. Other legal occupations are projected to grow 7% from 2018 to 2028. 

Why Earn an MLS Online?

Online educational programs provide students the flexibility to set their own schedule and pace. There is the added benefit of saving time and reducing the cost of commuting to school. Working professionals can maintain their job while pursuing a degree online.

Last Updated July 2020