A master of legal studies is a degree uniquely designed for students who require an advanced understanding of the law but who do not intend to become practicing lawyers. The master of legal studies, or juris master, is distinct from a law school degree, or juris doctor. While law school is a necessary path for those intending to join the bar or judiciary, a master of legal studies is an ideal advanced degree for those who require a working knowledge of the law as a consequence of their profession, such as human resources managers, safety compliance officers, and contract negotiators.
If you’re just getting started in the field, check out our look at the legal studies major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in legal studies. Alternatively, if you’re interested in a career in corrections or law enforcement, you may want to earn an undergraduate degree in criminal justice before continuing into a legal studies master’s degree.
If you’re ready to earn a legal studies master’s degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Legal Studies.
Or read on to find out what you can expect as a master of legal studies.
The primary reason to pursue a master’s degree in legal studies is to gain a practical understanding of law and jurisprudence, especially as they connect to your specific field. As a human resources professional, you may require an expansive understanding of corporate ethics, employment and labor law, anti-discrimination laws, and more. As a real estate developer, you may need a comprehensive understanding of environmental law, zoning law, and land use regulations. As a sports or entertainment agent, your success may depend on your keen understanding of contract law.
A master’s degree in law is a valuable way to enhance your skills and improve your value in a wide range of fields. And if you are actually considering becoming a practicing attorney, earning a master’s degree in legal studies first could provide you with some academic advantages as you face down the challenge of law school.
Many master’s of legal studies degrees programs do not require an entrance exam. However, this requirement varies from one program to the next. The LSAT (Law School Admission Test) is typically required for entry into a law school program, whereas most master of legal studies programs will not require the LSAT.
Some master’s programs will require you to complete a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for entry. If the GRE is needed, some programs may require you to meet a certain scoring threshold while others may merely require that you complete the exam. These requirements will vary from one legal studies master’s program to the next.
For testing tips, check out our Guide to the GRE.
If no GRE is required, the primary requirement for gaining eligibility into a legal studies master’s program is completion of a bachelor’s degree from a properly accredited undergraduate school. While programmatic accreditation is not specifically required in this field, most regionally-accredited graduate schools will require that your bachelor’s degree be granted by a regionally-accredited college or university.
Some colleges may offer bundled bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, where you could earn your advanced degree in one continuous five-year program. This option could save you time and money if you already know that you’ll be pursuing your advanced degree. However, the accelerated pace of such a program may make this a challenging way to earn both degrees. Find out if your school offers this bundling option and ask about eligibility requirements. But be sure you’re up to the added challenge!
For any additional questions about eligibility, refer to your intended program and learn more about application requirements and any additional requirements such as work experience, academic performance thresholds, and referrals.
If you’re still working on building your qualifications, check out our look at the law major, or alternatively, the criminal justice major, to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in your area of focus.
As noted above, a legal studies master’s degree is distinct from a juris doctor. While a master of legal studies can provide you with a focused curriculum in a specific area of law relevant to your profession, this degree will neither teach nor qualify you to practice law as an attorney or as a member of the judiciary. A master’s degree would not qualify you to take the bar exam. Therefore, the degree you choose will depend a great deal on your career goals. The advanced degrees below include master’s degrees that you can earn through a traditional graduate school experience and doctoral degrees in both the practice of law and service on the judiciary, which can only be earned in law school:
Because the master’s degree in legal studies is meant to supplement your professional skills and knowledge, the specialization you choose will be quite consequential. This will give you the chance to focus on a specific dimension of law, preferably the dimension most directly related to your profession. Popular specializations include:
Your specialization will determine many of the courses you’ll take as a law major. But there are also several courses that are designed to provide an introductory and working knowledge of the law for professionals in various sectors, and are therefore common to most master of legal studies programs. Common advanced legal studies courses include:
The answer to this question depends upon your profession. If a working knowledge of the law is relevant to your field, a master’s degree in legal studies should significantly improve both your earnings and your qualifications for a wide range of leadership and consulting roles. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that, as of 2019, the median usual weekly earnings for bachelor’s degrees in all fields was $1,248, whereas the weekly earnings for masters during this same time was $1,497. This wage premium should be noted for those in fields like business, human resources, contract negotiation, healthcare compliance, and other areas where a masters could provide a direct path to internal advancement and greater earnings. Those who go on to earn a JD and practice law, it bears noting, will enjoy yet greater wage premiums than their non-practicing counterparts with an MLS.
If you plan to practice law, you must first earn a juris doctor degree from a law school. However, if your goal is to improve your qualifications for certain administrative, leadership, or consultation roles, earning a master’s degree in legal studies could help you advance within your current profession. Your legal studies advanced degree can improve career prospects and earnings in a number of areas, including these top jobs:
Curious how far you could go with a master’s degree in legal studies? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!***
Now that you know how to earn a masters in legal studies, check out The Most Influential Schools in Legal Studies:
Check out the full list here and get started on your path to an advanced legal studies degree.
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