The 2021 Guide to Online Master’s In Taxation Law Programs

As Benjamin Franklin said, more or less, taxes are inevitable. Legal entities, individuals, and others have a responsibility to evaluate their own tax liability — and in some cases, collect taxes too. But it’s not always easy to accurately determine tax liability, due in part to complex and ever-changing tax laws.

That’s what makes an online master’s degree in tax law useful for those who envision a long-term career as a tax manager, financial advisor, chief financial officer of a business or nonprofit, or certified public accountant. You can apply your new skills to a specialized industry — or any industry at all.

Follow this guide to an online master’s in taxation law, to learn about different types of degree offerings, how you can pursue them online, and what you can do with them, once earned.

Do You Need to Be a Lawyer to Study Tax Law?

Not necessarily. There are options for both lawyers and non-lawyers looking to achieve higher education in taxation law. Pursuing a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) in Taxation is one way to specialize in tax law without having to go to law school to get your Juris Doctorate (JD) and become an attorney. If you are a lawyer or want to become one, there’s an option for you, too: a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Taxation.

LL.M. vs MLS

Here is a breakdown of these two legal degrees:

  • Master of Laws (LL.M.) – This a secondary degree for those who have their J.D. and have passed Bar Exam. An LL.M. allows lawyers to continue studies in a specialized area of law, gain specific subject expertise, and in the case of international lawyers, can qualify them to practice in certain U.S. states.
  • Master of Legal Studies (MLS) – This is a graduate degree for non-J.D. professionals in a variety of industries, from human resources to healthcare. This degree program does not require a J.D. for admission. It enables non-J.D. professionals to deepen their legal expertise in their current or desired field.

Why Obtain Your Master’s in Taxation Law Online?

Since most tax professionals or working lawyers seek to leverage an MLS in Taxation or an LL.M. in Taxation to advance in their career, putting said career on hold during your studies can be a tough decision to make and can be a disruption or delay to achieving your career goals. Obtaining your MLS or LL.M. in Taxation online can be a solution to that problem.

Online programs — many of them offering flexible start dates and course schedules — provide a unique learning experience during which students can continue to work full- or part-time. Live online sessions, externship opportunities, and other immersive offerings enable students to capitalize on the flexibility they need without sacrificing the live engagement, interaction, or rigor of more traditional classes.

MLS course offerings vary from school to school, but typically consist of around 24 to 30 total credits that can be completed over the course of a year. Core courses in an MLS in Taxation online program might include the following:

  • Federal Income Taxation – Survey of federal income taxation — including when and whose income is taxable, tax policies, and a breakdown of exclusions, deductions, credits, and more.
  • Corporate Taxation – Intensive study of the statutes, regulations, and case laws governing the taxation of corporations, across a variety of topics.
  • Federal Taxation of Partnerships – A comprehensive study of the rules for taxing partnerships under the Internal Revenue Code, and all of the issues that influence them.
  • Introduction to U.S. Law & Methods – Introduction to how law is found, made, and changed in the U.S.

Once core courses are completed, then, you can pick your elective courses. Sample elective courses include:

  • State and Local Taxation – Overview of individual and business taxation on both the state and local levels.
  • Federal Tax Procedure – Examination of the judicial procedures for resolving tax disputes in a range of circumstances.
  • Federal Estate and Gift Taxation – Overview of federal estate and gift taxation systems, and the relationship between the two.
  • Accounting for Tax Attorneys – Introduction to tax accounting and financial statements, disclosure processes, and analyses.
  • Taxation of Employee Benefit Programs – Covers the federal taxation of employee benefit programs and executive compensation, using an array of legal and policy sources.
  • International Taxation – An international lens on the study of contract law, with particular emphasis on distribution contracts.
  • Tax-Exempt Organizations – Analysis of tax-exempt organizations and all of the associated issues, scenarios, and questions an attorney may run into.
  • Tax Research Writing – Teaches advanced legal research and writing skills, focusing specifically on tax-related legal materials and resources.

Depending on the program, students also have the opportunity to gain experience outside of the classroom. Here are two common ways they do so:

  • Externship – Matches students with a law firm to gain real-world experience.
  • Supervised Research – Students meet regularly with a professor to develop a thesis on a relevant topic of their choice.

Online MLS in Taxation Admissions Requirements

Like course offerings, admissions requirements will depend on the online tax MLS program you choose to apply to, but do keep in mind that no J.D. is necessary to pursue an MLS in Taxation. Schools may ask for the following:

  • Online application – The full application must be completed for you to be considered.
  • Application fee or waiver – The nonrefundable application fee must be submitted with the application. If you qualify for a waiver, send a formal request to your admissions counselor with supporting documentation.
  • Statement of purpose – A personal statement that answers the given question in a clear, honest, and compelling way.
  • Resume or CV – An updated resume or curriculum vitae (CV) that contains all relevant academic and professional experience, accomplishments, and skills.
  • Official transcripts – An official transcript from every institution attended — including community college or abroad programs — is necessary to complete the application.
  • Interview – An interview scheduled by your admissions counselor and conducted using video conferencing software may be among the application requirements for admission consideration.

Online Master of Laws in Taxation Curriculum

If you do hold a J.D. and are interested in pursuing an LL.M. in Taxation online, you can expect to complete around the same number of credits that MLS in Taxation students do. Course offerings, particularly foundational ones, will also be similar to those from an MLS program. So, you can expect to take classes focusing on corporate income tax law, federal income taxation, and basic principles of finance, for example.

Certain programs feature program highlights such as workshops and externships in taxation, too.

Online LL.M. in Taxation Admissions Requirements

Typically, all of the materials listed above that are required for the MLS, are also required for admission to the online LL.M. in Taxation program. In addition those requirements, you should have a J.D. from an ABA-accredited law school.

Online MLS with Tax Concentration for Accountants and Other Financial Professionals

A career in tax law can manifest in a variety of industries and organizations. With your newfound legal knowledge and tax expertise, some of jobs you can consider are:

  • Tax Consultant
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Merger & Acquisition Consultant
  • Tax Specialist Government Contractor
  • International Tax Professional
  • State and Local Tax Professional
  • Financial Product Advisor
  • Financial Entrepreneur
  • Financial Technology (Fintech) Professional

You could also choose to work as a chief compliance officer at a firm or aim for a management analyst position where your studies will come in handy. Human resource managers can also benefit from an education in tax law since tax bills almost always affect their employees – from health insurance concerns to employee benefits. All of these roles — spanning across the legal, financial, business, and government fields — are viable tax law career paths for professionals with an MLS in Taxation.

Tax MLS Online Degree Salary and Job Outlook

With an MLS in Taxation and a strong foundation of knowledge to advance in your current career (or explore a new one), you may be able to gain potential for a salary increase. But remember that master’s of legal studies in taxation salary can vary by employer, location, industry, and of course job title.

As discussed in the section above, there can be many potential roles for those with knowledge of tax practices, with possible careers in the fields of compliance and human resources. The mean annual salary for compliance officers in 2018 was $72,520, and $123,880 for operations managers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That same year, the BLS reported that the median salary for human resources managers was $113,300.

To see median annual salaries for other roles in the field of legal services — including financial analysts, accountants and auditors, tax preparers, and more, take a look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of legal service occupations.

Online Tax LL.M. for Lawyers

As a lawyer with an online tax LL.M. or online master’s in tax law, your training can help equip you with specialized knowledge. When you specialize in tax law, you may see similar or greater salary success, compared to professionals obtaining MLS degrees. Why? Depending on hiring needs, some employers may prioritize candidates with specialized education, a willingness to take on great responsibilities, and a specialized skill set that can be used to help their businesses grow and excel.

Tax LL.M. Online Degree Salary and Job Outlook

As of 2018, there are 823,900 lawyers practicing across the country. By 2028, the U.S. will add some 50,000 lawyers. When considering the full range of law-related qualifications, it’s not surprising that salaries range significantly. The median annual pay for lawyers in 2018 was $120,910, according to the BLS, but the lowest 10% of lawyers earned less than $58,220. The highest 10% however, earned more than $208,000. An LL.M. may help move you towards the higher end of the spectrum.

The bottom line? Whether you’re a working professional in the legal services industry, a practicing lawyer, or are simply looking for a career change, pursuing an MLS or LL.M. degree online may be a good fit for you.