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Students who complete a master’s degree in legal studies will learn more about the fields of law and business and the connections between the two, and a postgraduate diploma may help students earn senior-level positions that require their specialized legal knowledge. For example, graduates could choose a job as a compliance officer, = with a median annual wage of $71,690.

These online master’s programs typically require 30-60 credit hours, and full-time students can generally complete all coursework within two years (some accelerated programs even confer a degree within one year). According to U.S. News & World Report, the cost of this graduate degree ranges from $15,000 to $38,000, meaning that it may be either cheaper or more expensive than an undergraduate degree, the average cost of which is $26,000.

Choose your area of study

Most online master’s in legal studies programs have different areas of study in which students may choose to specialize. These areas of study include alternative dispute resolution, intellectual property, law and economics, compliance and legal risk management, and more.

Because most students in these programs have some experience working in the legal field, they may have ideas for what they wish to do with their careers after obtaining this advanced degree. By choosing a specialization specifically designed to prepare them for a particular future career, students can select a program that will help them thrive in their chosen field.

Research schools and programs

There are many different online master’s in legal studies programs available, so students need to decide on how they will narrow down this extensive list to a few prospective schools.

An essential factor to consider is accreditation: degrees from unaccredited schools may not be honored by reputable employers, and students won’t be able to get federal financial aid. Additionally, students should consider cost, as choosing a school within their budget can help graduates avoid accumulating significant student debt.

Finally, it is advisable to find online programs that offer education on a schedule that coordinates with your learning preferences and makes sense with any outside responsibilities you may have. Synchronous learning allows you to connect better with your instructors and fellow students. In contrast, asynchronous learning lets you study at your own pace and gives you maximum flexibility, making taking classes easier and balancing school, work, and home life easier.

Prepare for tests and applications

Students need to carefully review the application requirements for any online master’s in legal studies programs they decide to apply to. These requirements will specify whether students need to submit GRE or GMAT scores; if so, students will need to take time to study (up to three months) and time to receive results (up to 20 days) into account when considering application deadlines.

Additionally, the application should specify what other materials students may need to submit, including a cover letter, application essays, undergraduate transcripts, and letters of recommendation. As with the test scores, students should give thems themselves enough time to gather all documents well ahead of the application deadline.

If you are unsure of any of the information you find on a school’s website or have additional clarifying questions, be sure to contact the school’s admissions office and speak with a representative.

Select your program

With the list of prospective schools picked out, students must narrow everything down further to determine which online program(s) for a master’s in legal studies they will be applying to.

At this point, cost should be one of the primary considerations: if two schools seem equally strong academically, but one is more affordable than the other, it’s wise to choose to reduce or avoid student debt. Students may also wish to contact the different schools’ admissions departments and inquire about the job placement rate for graduates, as this can help them pick schools that best support a future career. Finally, students may wish to focus on schools that offer a robust support system for online learners, as this improves the chances of academic success by allowing students access to help when needed.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

The most reliable way to obtain student financial aid is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online each academic year. Filling out the form will qualify students for federal student loans, and the FAFSA may be a prerequisite to specific scholarships and grants. Institutional aid is harder for graduate students to get, but it’s always worth calling a school’s financial aid office to ask. In some cases, the school may be able to point students in the direction of other financial aid available through the state or through the university that most students don’t know about.

Best Online Master's in Legal Studies Degree Programs

Liberty University

University of Illinois Springfield

Drexel University

University of Dayton

ASU at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Nova Southeastern University

Webster University

Northeastern University School of Law

The Colleges of Law

Washington University School of Law

OU College of Law

Saint Leo University

Cornell University

Hamline University

Regent University

Champlain College

University of Arizona College of Law

Hofstra Law

West Virginia University

Northern Kentucky University

Pennsylvania Western University

Seton Hall University

Boston University School of Law

Hodges University

University of Cincinnati

Pepperdine University

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How We Rank Schools

Most of the programs on our list grant a Master of Legal Studies (MLS), although some programs offer a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS). The different degree types have their own approaches, so look carefully at their curricula to determine which is right for you.

We only ranked programs offered at regionally accredited institutions to ensure quality and flexibility. Additionally, some of the programs on the list are approved by the American Bar Association.

Our list includes programs offered online, on-campus, or as hybrid plans of study.

Once we narrowed our list of programs, we evaluated them on their reputation, course strength, cost, faculty, and flexibility. We then calculated the Intelligent Score for each on a scale of 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out our ranking methodology.

When taking an online master’s in legal studies class, students can expect classes that extensively explore legal and business matters. While the courses are not designed to help graduates become lawyers, they offer a wealth of legal information that can be very useful for those hoping to work in specialized fields (like becoming the compliance officer for a business) or those wishing to pursue their own entrepreneurial goals. Regardless of the exact area of study chosen, students can expect coursework that focuses on topics such as contracts, intellectual property, laws and legal procedures, and legal research and writing.

Most of these online graduate programs for legal studies have been designed to be completed within two years by full-time students, and accelerated programs may allow students to graduate in only one year. In most cases, these programs are fully remote and do not require students to complete any on-campus requirements, but it is always worth asking to be sure.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online master’s in legal studies degree program

  • US Law and Legal Analysis: This course is a beginner-friendly introduction to the United States legal system. Coursework focuses on teaching about the different kinds of legal reasoning and how it is used to determine court cases. Overall, the course is a mix of legal theory and application.
  • Criminal Law: Students will learn about burden proof — how it was first established, how it has changed, and how it must now be met. Additionally, students will learn more about the principles of punishment that guide the country’s legal decisions.
  • Intellectual Property: This course focuses on all aspects of intellectual property, and the subject matter is more relevant now than ever because so many people view themselves as “content creators.” In the class, students will learn all about copyrights, trademarks, and patents, as well as, the concepts linking these legal concepts together.
  • Tort Law: This course closely examines tort law, one of the most important legal fields governing day-to-day business. Students will learn how these laws serve as an essential shield for property and other interests that may constantly be threatened by physical and other forms of harm.

Career outlook

The career outlook for individuals with an online master’s degree in legal studies is promising, reflecting the increasing demand for professionals with a deep understanding of legal principles and practices. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in legal occupations is projected to grow robustly from 2022 to 2032, driven by factors such as the need for legal expertise in various industries and the evolving legal landscape. For example, the need for arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators is expected to increase by five percent, faster than average. Professionals in this field earn a median salary of $64,030.

Career paths

Graduates with an online master’s in legal studies have a diverse range of career paths to explore, extending beyond traditional legal roles. Here are some common career paths for individuals with advanced education in legal studies:

  • Legal analyst — assesses legal issues by researching relevant laws and providing insights to support decision-making.
  • Contracts manager — oversees the creation, review, and management of contracts for businesses and organizations.
  • Compliance analyst — evaluates and ensures compliance with laws and regulations.
  • Intellectual property specialist — focuses on the protection and management of intellectual property.
  • Policy analyst — analyzes and researches legal and policy issues for government agencies, think tanks, or advocacy organizations.

Legal Consultant

Earning Potential: $60,000-$100,000
Education Required: Master’s degree in legal studies or a related field

A legal consultant provides specialized advice on legal matters to businesses, government agencies, or individuals. They offer expertise in areas such as compliance, risk management, or contract law. Legal consultants analyze complex legal issues, provide strategic guidance, and ensure that clients navigate legal challenges effectively. They may conduct legal research, review contracts, and develop policies to align with current laws and regulations. By leveraging their in-depth knowledge, legal consultants play a crucial role in helping clients make informed decisions, mitigate risks, and achieve legal compliance within their respective industries.

Corporate Compliance Officer

Earning Potential: $70,000-$110,000
Education Required: Master’s degree in legal studies, business law, or a related field

A corporate compliance officer ensures an organization’s adherence to laws and regulations, mitigating legal risks. They develop and implement compliance programs, conduct internal audits, and provide guidance on legal matters. Corporate compliance officers analyze business practices, policies, and procedures to ensure alignment with legal requirements. They collaborate with various departments to educate employees on compliance standards and investigate any potential breaches. By staying abreast of evolving laws, these professionals contribute to the ethical and lawful conduct of the organization, fostering a culture of integrity and minimizing legal liabilities.

Legal Researcher

Earning Potential: $50,000-$80,000 annually
Education Required: Master’s degree in legal studies or a related field

A legal researcher is responsible for analyzing legal issues. Working in law firms, government agencies, or corporate legal departments, they meticulously review case law, statutes, and precedents. Legal researchers provide attorneys with essential information for crafting legal arguments, supporting litigation, or facilitating decision-making. They navigate legal databases, synthesize complex information, and stay updated on legal developments. Their work is integral to building strong legal cases, ensuring accuracy in legal documentation, and contributing to the success of legal proceedings by uncovering relevant legal precedents and insights.

How do I apply to an online master's in legal studies degree program?

To apply to an online program for a master’s degree in legal studies, students must navigate the university website and find either a direct link to the application or a link to a third-party application portal. The application page will specify additional documentation students must submit along with the application, likely including GRE or GMAT scores, undergraduate transcripts, application essays, and letters of recommendation.

Students who still have questions about application requirements or just want to verify an application is complete should contact the admissions department for the school in question.

How much does an online master's in legal studies degree program cost?

According to U.S. News & World Report, the cost of an online master’s in legal studies degree ranges from $15,000 to $38,000. There is an extensive cost range because some schools (particularly elite private schools) will always be more expensive than others (like public schools). Additionally, the number of credit hours required may affect the cost, as will expenses for books, technological requirements for online learning, and other fees.

In all cases, the online degree is generally cheaper than an in-person degree from the same institution because the student doesn’t have to pay for things like parking passes, campus student fees, or the cost of relocating to a college town.

How long does it take to earn an online master's in legal studies degree?

Generally, an online master’s in legal studies program can be completed in two years by full-time students.

Those who enroll in an accelerated program can complete coursework in as little as one year. Most universities offer flexible scheduling for these degree programs, and this can be very beneficial for part-time students who are balancing school with other responsibilities, such as a job and a family. Ultimately, students need to pick a program and program schedule that best suits their needs and positions them for academic success.

Is an online master's in legal studies worth it?

Earning an online master’s degree in legal studies provides several advantages. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for legal occupations is significantly higher for those with advanced degrees. A master’s-educated policy analyst, for example, earns a median salary of $85,471, according to The versatility of an online program allows individuals to enhance their legal expertise while accommodating work or other commitments.

Typically, an online program equips graduates with a deep understanding of legal principles, critical thinking skills, and research capabilities. This knowledge is applicable across various industries, opening doors to roles such as legal consultant, compliance officer, or legal researcher. Additionally, an online master’s program offers networking opportunities, connecting students with legal professionals and experts in the field.

For individuals seeking to advance their legal careers, specialize in a specific area of law, or transition to roles requiring legal expertise in non-traditional settings, an online master’s in legal studies offers a flexible and valuable pathway.

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