Is a Master of Legal Studies Worth It?

A Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree provides options for people who are interested in furthering their education in law but don’t necessarily want to attend law school to become an attorney.

Legal matters are interwoven with business operations. Organizations must follow laws and regulations to legally operate, and MLS degree-holders have the expertise to help these organizations stay within the legal regulations of operation.

You may have always had an interest in law but aren’t sure if law school is for you. Maybe your current work has you collaborating with legal professionals, and you want to increase your knowledge so you can move into a new role or accept new duties.

If you’re wondering if an MLS is worth it, learn more about how a degree like a Master of Legal Studies can help you advance your career, plus MLS alternatives to consider.

How to Decide Whether an MLS Is Right for You

If you have your bachelor’s degree, regardless of what subject it’s in, you’re eligible to apply for an MLS degree or online MLS. Obtaining your MLS degree may provide you with opportunities to move into a new legal-focused career or advance your current career path. Here are some reasons why you might consider an MLS degree.

1. You have an interest in legal matters

If topics such as regulatory compliance, privacy, contracts, risk management, taxation, intellectual property, negotiations and human resources management appeal to you, an MLS degree can help you pursue work in those fields.

2. You want to advance your career with legal knowledge

MLS degree-holders work in industries including social work, health care, politics, business, finance, cybersecurity, real estate, education and social work. Knowing the intricacies of how to apply legal procedures and theories to workplaces like these can benefit these types of professionals in myriad ways.

3. You want to work in the legal field but aren’t sure about law school

You don’t have to go to law school to work in the legal field. It takes three years to complete a JD law degree, but the less costly MLS degree can be completed in as few as 16 months — saving you time and money. An MLS degree provides the path to a legal profession. If you are interested in becoming an arbitrator, mediator, conciliator, paralegal or legal assistant, an MLS degree can set you up for success.

Financial Return on Investment for a Master of Legal Studies

The financial return on investment that you can make with an MLS degree will depend on a variety of factors, including your current salary and how your future career path will evolve with an MLS degree. When factoring the financial return on investment you could get from an MLS degree, you’ll want to consider your current career advancement capabilities.

If the cost of tuition is a concern for you, but you think that an MLS will help you contribute more in your role, you may get financial assistance from your employer. If you feel stagnant, an MLS degree can help you accelerate your earnings.

How much could an MLS increase your salary on average?

On average, those with master’s degrees tend to earn higher wages compared to those with bachelor’s degrees, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. In 2018, the median usual weekly earnings for those with a master’s degree were $1,434, compared to $1,198 for those with a bachelor’s degree. Over 30 years, the difference in earnings equates to $368,160.

To determine how much money you can earn with an MLS degree, compare your current salary and your possible future earnings with that of the legal studies career you’re considering.

What Are the Benefits of a Master’s in Legal Studies?

There can be many advantages to getting an MLS degree, depending on where you are in your current career.

An MLS degree might expand the number of job possibilities you can pursue because with an MLS degree, you’ll be able to apply for relevant jobs that require master’s degrees.

If you prefer to stay at your current organization, an MLS degree can show your employer you’re invested in learning skills that will benefit you on the job. That could lead to career advancement in your industry.

An MLS degree also gives you an advantage to enter the legal field compared to those with only bachelor’s degrees. MLS degree-holders will generally require less legal training compared to those with bachelor’s degrees, which makes you a more attractive candidate.

5 Jobs You Can Do With a Master of Legal Studies

Legal studies can be applied to many positions. An MLS degree is particularly helpful for those who regularly deal with lawyers or legal matters at work.

The following are some legal-focused and non-legal-focused jobs you might consider with an online MLS degree.

1. Human resources manager

Human resources managers must have a thorough grasp of business operations and how regulations and laws affect organizations and their staff. HR deals with issues like equal employment opportunity, sexual harassment and employee benefits.

Human resources managers are also often involved in dispute resolution, which MLS students learn about. Median pay for human resources managers in 2018 was $113,300 per year.

2. Police officer/detective

Police officers serve and protect, ensuring the public abides by the law. Detectives collect evidence, gather facts and interview possible witnesses of potential crimes. These positions are intertwined with the law, so an MLS degree may be beneficial for career advancement.

According to the OOH, the 2018 median pay for police and detectives was $63,380 per year, with the top 10% earning more than $106,090.

3. Arbitrator

Arbitrators work as impartial third parties to hear and decide on disputes. The work of arbitrators looks similar to the work of lawyers in a court case. However, arbitrators handle legal proceedings outside the courtroom, in settings like offices and boardrooms.

The 2018 median annual pay for arbitrators, mediators and conciliators was $62,270, with projected percent change in employment from 2018-2028 growing at 8%, which is faster than average.

4. Medical and health services manager

Health care is a highly regulated industry. As such, medical and health services managers need to understand current health care laws and regulations to perform their duties effectively. Health services and medical managers may work in hospitals, doctors’ offices or outpatient facilities.

The median annual pay in 2018 for medical and health services managers was $99,730, with 18% projected job growth from 2018-2028.

5. Compliance officer

Compliance officers help businesses operate legally by staying up-to-date on federal, state and local laws and regulations. They assist with risk management, set standards for outside communications, lead internal procedure audits and enforce compliance guidelines.

According to the BLS, the 2018 mean annual wage for compliance officers was $72,520.

Master of Legal Studies Alternatives

If you’re thinking about advancing your education to pursue new career opportunities in legal or another field, but you’re not sure an MLS degree is right for you, here are some MLS alternatives.

1. JD Programs

A Juris Doctor (JD) program, also available as an online JD, can help you become an attorney. Law school graduates can get on the path to practice law in private or public settings, in courtrooms, at corporations and at other organizations.

2. MBA Programs

If your goals are more focused on business management, an on-campus or online Master of Business Administration (MBA) can help. While MLS degrees are focused on legal matters, MBA specialties can include business analytics, accounting and financial management.

3. Master’s in Library Science Programs

Some MLS degree-seekers are interested in library science because they want to work as law librarians. If you are interested in being a librarian, you might consider a master’s in library science degree. Librarians help students, teachers and the general public access research material and other books and media.

Explore Online MLS Degree Programs

An MLS degree can help you advance your career with legal knowledge. Online MLS degree programs enable students to learn and study with minimal life disruptions since there’s no need to relocate. Some MLS students continue to work full or part time as they get their degrees, making an online MLS program a flexible option for those who want to earn a master’s degree.

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