Top 25 Best Master of Legal Studies Programs for 2019

A strong grounding in legal knowledge has an advantage in all sorts of industries, from the corporate world to nonprofit charities to government agencies. Being able to understand and articulate legal problems, guide a company’s operations around legal issues, and keep your organization out of trouble can make you a very in-demand manager or executive. You don’t need to pass the Bar to know a little bit about law, and you don’t need a Juris Doctorate to fulfill crucial legal functions in the business world.

The Master of Studies in Law is a relatively new degree path developed for exactly this purpose – to give non-lawyers a thorough education in the law. It’s also a great choice for paralegals. An MSL gives working professionals in all kinds of fields the ability to move up in their career, switch to new, more in-demand careers, and to make themselves indispensable to their employers. It even gives them what they need to become independent consultants, helping companies handle compliance issues and ride out any legal storms they encounter. It’s the next best thing to being a lawyer – and just as financially rewarding.

How We Ranked the Best Masters Degree in Law Programs

To rank the Top 25 Master of Legal Studies programs, Online Paralegal Programs began with accredited American colleges and universities offering some sort of master’s degree in law for non-lawyers, whether it was the Master of Legal Studies, Master of Studies in Law, Master of Science in Legal Studies, or any other variation on a Legal Studies degree. From there, on-campus programs were ranked according to 4 objective factors:

  • Cost (IPEDS data)
  • Reputation (U.S. News law rankings)
  • Alumni Salary (College Scorecard)
  • Graduation Rate (IPEDS data)

These four criteria tell students that their accredited MSL degree is not only reputable, but has a real impact on the job market and on their careers.

1. University of Iowa – College of Law

The University of Iowa offers a Master of Studies in Law (MSL) degree which introduces and extends a student’s understanding of the areas that define the legal system in the United States. Coursework for the master’s degree in law has been designed for those who do not wish to practice law specifically but need to have a comprehensive understanding of law as it relates to legal issues impacting their current career. This on-campus program from the University of Iowa has been accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA).

The University of Iowa is the flagship research institution of the state of Iowa. This institution of higher learning was established in 1847 and is the oldest university in Iowa and the 2nd largest. Its 1,800+-acre campus runs alongside the Iowa River and is home to nearly 33,000 students. U of I is recognized as a top university in the fields of law, fine arts, and healthcare.

Degree: Master of Studies in Law

2. Cornell University – Cornell Law School

Cornell University’s MS in Legal Studies (MSLS) is a nonprofessional degree program for either doctoral students or post-doctorate fellows who seek legal training that augments their education for a non-legal career. Cornell Law’s on-campus, 2-semester legal studies degree includes coursework in Civil Procedures, Contracts, Torts, Constitutional Law, Property, Criminal Law and lawyering. This coursework is essentially the same curriculum found in the first year of a Juris Master degree.

Cornell University was founded in 1865 and is one of the seven Ivy League Universities in the Northeast and New England. The Cornell Law School was founded twelve years later in 1887. Cornell’s law school boasts a student/faculty ratio of 8.5:1. The Cornell Law School has been fully accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). The Cornell Law School maintains a specific Code of Academic Integrity.

Degree: MS in Legal Studies

3. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – College of Law

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Law offers a Master of Studies in Law (MSL) degree. UIUC’s masters in legal studies available on-campus as coursework for students who have no plans to sit for the bar exam or to practice law. Full-time students complete the legal degree coursework in one year, part-time students complete the program in 2 years. A degree is earned when students complete 32-hours of coursework and a faculty-guided research paper.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was established in 1867 and holds the distinction of the flagship school within the University of Illinois’ system. UIUC is recognized as a land, sea and space-grant university. The 6,300+-acre is spread across the twin cities of Urbana and Champaign. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is home to the second largest university library in the country, behind Harvard University.

Degree: Master of Studies in Law

4. University of Maryland – Francis King Carey School of Law

The University of Maryland’s part-time, evening Masters in Legal Studies (MLS) degree program is designed to be completed in 4 semesters. Students studying in College Park have the opportunity to select from specialty areas of Health Care Law, Environmental Law, and Patent Law. UMD’s online MLS degree program offers two legal studies degree paths — The MS in Cybersecurity Law and an MS in Homeland Security & Crisis Management. This Master of Jurisprudence degree is a perfect fit for professionals who wish to gain a competitive edge in their chosen profession.

The University of Maryland was established in 1856 and is now recognized as the flagship school of the University System of Maryland. UMD is recognized as a land grant, space-grant, and sea-grant university. UMD’s proximity to the District of Columbia has facilitated many federal government partnerships that include NASA, the NIH, the FDA, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Degree: Master of Science in Law – 2 concentrations

5. University of Minnesota Law School

The University of Minnesota Law School offers a unique Master of Science in Patent Law (MSPL) degree in an on-campus, 1-year format. Coursework of this legal studies degree prepares graduates to facilitate the process of bringing inventions to the marketplace. One-hundred percent of degree candidates of the University of Minnesota’s receive some form of scholarship. Students may attend the program on a full-time or a part-time basis. Coursework includes patent strategies, licensing agreement, and patent application. Included in the tuition is a student’s opportunity to attend a ‘patent-bar’ review course that readies graduates to sit for the Patent Bar exam.

The University of Minnesota was established in 1851 and is currently identified as the flagship school of the University System of Minnesota. The Center for Measuring University Performance recognizes the University of Minnesota as 14th among elite research institutions of higher learning across the United States.

Degree: MS in Patent Law

6. University of Southern California – Gould School of Law

The University of Southern California’s Master of Studies in Law (MSL) degree can be studied online or on-campus. The online MSL degree is completed entirely through a distance learning platform using a flexible format. The on-campus MSL degree provides the same quality education and objectives as its online option. Both online and on-campus are designed to prepare non-lawyer professionals to learn where the law intersects with their profession of choice. USC Gould School of Law, for 2019, has been recognized as the 19th best law schools in the nation, according to US News & World Report.

The University of Southern California was established in 1880 and is the oldest private research institution of higher learning in California. Its two urban campuses in LA are home to nearly 46,000 students. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, Nobel Laureates, 18 Astronauts, and many billionaires. A portion of USC’s campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Degree: Master of Studies in Law

7. University of Nebraska – Lincoln – Nebraska College of Law

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s on-campus Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree can be completed in only 33-credits. The MLS degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a joint effort of Graduate Studies and the School of Law. Degree candidates must hold a baccalaureate degree from an accredited school when submitting their application. Students may use the electronic application process to apply to attend this innovative program.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln was established in 1869 and currently holds the distinction as being Nebraska’s oldest university and the largest school within the University of Nebraska system. It was established under the 1862 Morrill Act, just two years after Nebraska was adopted as a state, by the state’s legislative bodies. The school is considered a ‘more selective’ school based on acceptance rates when compared to total applications received.

Degree: Master of Legal Studies

8. Ohio State University – Moritz College of Law

Ohio State University’s Master of Studies in Law (MSL) degree program is offered by an elite, nationally known law school. This on-campus program is flexible and allows degree candidates to learn alongside students studying for a doctor or master of jurisprudence degree. Graduates receive legal knowledge that strengthens their personal and professional skills.

Ohio State University was chartered in 1870 as a land-grant university. Its 1,660+-acre Columbus campus is home to more than 61,000 students — the third biggest campus in the United States. There are over 1,000 student programs and organizations on campus. Four buildings on the Ohio State University campus are listed as Historic Places on the National Register. Ohio State’s research library contains nearly 5 million volumes and is North America’s 18th largest research library.

Degree: Master in the Study of Law

9. Loyola Law School (Loyola Marymount University)

The Loyola Law School MS in Legal Studies that can be completed full-time in one year or part-time in two years. This Masters degree in Law prepares graduates with analytical legal skills that can be applied to many other businesses and industries. Loyola’s legal studies degree is available with five fields of focus: Sports Law, Criminal Justice, Entertainment & New Media Law, Business Law, and Cybersecurity & Data Privacy.

The Loyola Law School was established in 1920 and is the law school affiliated with Loyola Marymount University. Loyola Marymount’s student population of nearly 10,000 students creates one of the largest Roman Catholic institutions of higher learning on the US west coast. Frank Gehry designed Loyola Law School’s 150-acre campus. The National Law Journal recently recognized The Loyola Law School as a top go-to law school for those seeking to become a partner.

Degree: MS in Legal Studies – 5 concentrations

10. George Washington University – GW Law

George Washington University’s Master of Studies in Law (MSL) degree program is designed to meet the needs of non-lawyer professionals. Degree candidates learn how the law intersects with their chosen industry or business. GW’s law school offers nine (24-credit hours) areas of focus: Business, Cybersecurity, Environmental Studies, Criminal Law, Intellectual Property, Healthcare, First Amendment issues, Government Procurement, and general law.

George Washington University was founded in 1821 by an act of the US Congress. The concept of a national university in the nation’s capital was the brainchild of its namesake, mentioned in his first State of the Union address and in his last will and testament. GW hosts the Institute for International Economic Policy. GW’s law school is the oldest law school in the District of Columbia and recognized among the most elite law schools in the country.

Degree: Master of Studies in Law – 9 concentrations

11. University of Colorado Boulder – Colorado Law

The University of Colorado Boulder offers a master of jurisprudence degree in two fundamental areas of focus: the MSL degree in Human Rights, or the MSL degree in Ethics and Compliance. The Human Rights track is an advanced study in human rights laws internationally that applies to many professions. The Ethics and Compliance track follows a 28-credit hour, one-year study program for full-time students.

The University of Colorado Boulder was established in 1876 and is currently the flagship university of the University of Colorado system. It was chartered by the state’s territorial legislature, which added an amendment to fund the institution of higher learning in Colorado. The University of Colorado law school is home to the Wise Law Library; a regional federal government archival location. CU Boulder’s law school is proud that a school graduate became a US Supreme Court Judge — Wiley Blount Rutledge.

Degree: Master of Studies in Law – 2 concentrations

12. Fordham University School of Law

Fordham University’s Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree, from the School of Law, offers a juris master degree program that follows two academic tracks: The Corporate Compliance pathway and the Fashion Law pathway. These on-campus programs require the completion of 30 credit hours of approved courses. Students on the Corporate Compliance complete courses that address crisis management, risk assessment, financial crime, and social responsibility, among others. Fashion pathway students delve into the areas of licensing, retail, gender normatively, ethics, and intellectual property, among others.

Fordham University is a Catholic university in New York City founded in 1841 by the New York’s Catholic Diocese. Fordham holds the distinction of being the only Jesuit institution of higher learning in New York City and the 3rd oldest university in the state. Graduates of Fordham University include senators, representatives, governors, and ambassadors.

Degree: Master of Legal Studies (2 concentrations)

13. University of Arizona – Rogers College of Law

The University of Arizona’s Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree program is available both on-campus and online. U of A’s Juris master degree program is available in nine distinct concentrations. A partial list includes Tax Law, Mining Law, Intellectual Property, Human Rights law, Health Law, and Environmental Law, among others. Students are encouraged to modify their curriculum to meet their professional needs.

The University of Arizona is a research institution established in 1885 as the first institution of higher learning in the Arizona Territory. It was chartered as a land-grant school by the state’s legislature. This institution of higher learning consists of 19 schools plus the Rogers College of Law and The Arizona College of Medicine. U of A’s law school is recognized by US News and World Report as one of the best law schools in the country.

Degree: Master of Legal Studies

14. University of Dayton – School of Law

The University of Dayton’s Master of Studies in Law (MSL) degree requires 30 hours of credit courses. This program is available on a part-time basis, with associate dean approval. If approved, the program must be completed in four years. The legal studies degree program requires four core instructional classes, a writing class, and additional electives that are pre approved.

Students will choose between a beginning with a foundation in the legal system within the US, or a foundation in business law. Students are able to select from optional courses or a specialization in intellectual property law, contracting, criminal law, and cyber law. Students will look deeper at government agencies and the processes by which they carry out regulations. Students will gain a basic understanding of the authority that an administrative agency has, how they implement their authority, and any legal controls that are put upon the agency. Students will analyze the issues that surround civil litigation.

Degree: Master of Studies in Law

15. Texas A&M International University – School of Law

Texas A&M International University offers a juris master degree from the Fort Worth-based TAMU School of Law. Their Master of Jurisprudence program is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and can be taken on campus or online. This degree program is for students who want more in depth legal training and a fundamental understanding of the law, but do no wish to practice it. Students graduating from this program will not be able to sit for the bar exam in any state.

Students will gain a broad foundation of legal issues that could pertain to their current careers. They will be able to have better and more effective communication with lawyers. Students all must take a course on the legal system in the US, as well as a course to help refine their writing skills. At the conclusion of this program, students must have a thesis or capstone. Students also have an advisor with whom they meet regularly to guide them through their education.

Degree: Master of Jurisprudence

16. Roger Williams University – School of Law

Roger Williams University’s Master of Studies in Law (MSL) degree program is located on-campus in Bristol, RI. RWU’s Master of Studies in Law is intended to give those who are in a mid-level career a foundation in legal reasoning and law. This degree will not allow students to practice law or sit for the bar exam. This degree program gives a broad and functional understanding of the legal system and the laws that support it. Students are able to pick a track that works for their current field.

At the end of the program, students will be better able to respond in legal debates with relevant factual laws. Students can choose to study Maritime Law which provides laws governing vessels operating on the oceans. Corporate Law teaches students about the legal rights of various types of businesses and companies. Civil Litigation gives students a foundation in litigation and trial including the basics of evidence and civil proceedings. Constitutional Law focuses solely on the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Criminal Law is centered around the courtroom experience. Cybersecurity Law focuses on data and safeguarding sensitive and private information.

Degree: Master of Studies in Law

17. University of San Diego – School of Law

University of San Diego has a legal studies degree for students who are professionals in non legal fields but studying law would equip them to be better able to preform job functions. The Master of Legal Studies (MSL) degree allows students to create a course of study that is flexible for their schedules, and the course work is geared towards subject matter that benefits them in their current careers.

Students will benefit from courses in civil procedures, constitutional law, criminal law, and contracts. Students will be able to select a concentration that appeals most to them or is in line with their current employment. They can focus on business and corporate law which gives a foundation in the laws that control businesses actions. Criminal law focuses on the legal system and the laws that govern the lives of the public. Environmental law focuses on laws that govern the way people interact with the environment.

Degree: Master of Legal Studies

18. Western New England University – School of Law

Western New England University’s Master of Science in Law degree can be taken part-time, on the Springfield, MA campus, in as many years as it takes the student to complete the program. The Master of Science in Law is intended for students who feel that a foundational understanding of the law would be helpful in their current career. Western New England has a flexible program for students to take classes when it fits best in the students schedule.

The Business Law concentration focuses on a variety of corporate and organizational topics. The Criminal Law concentration focuses on evidence and criminal proceedings in white collar crime and juvenile justice. Estate Planning focuses on the merge of tax and business law for the aging population. Gender and sexuality studies focuses on gender identity and sexual orientation and how the law is impacted and continually changing in reference to gender and sexuality. This allows students to concentrate on domestic violence and sports law and culture. International and comparative law focuses on national issues, including human rights, international security and private law. Public interest law focuses children representation, criminal defense, individuals living in low income situations. Real estate law focuses on items like titles, commercial bankruptcy, and taxation.

Degree: Master of Science in Law

19. Northwestern University – Pritzker School of Law

Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Law (MSL) degree can be taken full time, or part-time on campus, as well as part-time online. The program at Northwestern provides flexibility for students to take courses when it’s convenient for them and allows them to focus on the places where law, technology, and business merge. Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law was established in 1859 as the first law school in Chicago, and its influence over the justice system of the Windy City and nationwide remains strong.

In business law and entrepreneurship, students focus on the law around business formation and transactions. Students develop entrepreneurship skills such as communications and sound decision-making. Students learn the pros and cons of mergers and acquisitions, commercial finance, and business strategy. In intellectual property and patent design, students focus on inventions and patenting them, creation and management of patent portfolios, how to be eligible for a patent, and global intellectual property laws. In regulatory analysis and strategy, students focus on US and global regulation structure and learn to think critically and strategize about compliance and regulation.

Degree: Master of Science in Law

20. University of the Pacific – McGeorge School of Law

University of the Pacific offers a Master of Science in Law to students currently employed and interested in learning the fundamentals of legal reasoning. The Master of Science in Law is offered on campus in Sacramento, CA, while providing flexibility to the students, so they can fit this program into their busy work and personal lives. The rigorous curriculum can be customized to each student’s needs. This program blends real world experience with skills based enhanced learning.

Students concentrate on areas such as government law and policy where they obtain a solid foundation in regulations, legal writing and analysis, statutes, and political strategy. Health care focuses on legal reasoning as it relates to health care compliance, HIPAA, mental health awareness, and public health law. Human resources focuses on discrimination in the workplace, handling conflicts, safety in the workplace, and the relationships between employers and employees and the laws that govern them. Water and environmental law focuses on the laws surrounding the environment and water usage. Students also learn the importance of agriculture and the issues that developers face.

Degree: Master of Science in Law

21. Washburn University – School of Law

Washburn University offers a Master of Studies in Law (MSL) degree to students who are currently employed and are interested in a fundamental knowledge of the law. Students will receive a foundation with an introduction to law class. They also gain a foundation in civil proceedings, constitutional law, contracts, the criminal law system and property law. Courses are held on Washburn’s Topeka, KS, campus.

Students will take a deeper look at litigation. They will study areas topics such as discovery, motions in trial, trial judgments and pre trial adjudication. Students learn about adversarial litigation and how to properly handle conflicts. Students learn the art of negotiation and how to resolve disputes without having to go to court. Students will study the constitution and analyze issues like equality, nationalism, localism, and expressive freedom. Students will gain a foundation in liberties on an individual level, changing the constitution, and how to compare constitutional systems.

Degree: Master of Studies in Law

22. Lewis and Clark College – Lewis & Clark Law School

Lewis and Clark College’s Master of Studies in Environmental Law is a unique program for students who want to study law pertaining to the environment but do not want to be practicing lawyers. The Master of Studies in Environmental, Natural Resources, and Energy Law is geared towards those who are interested in the regulations protecting the environment. Students gain a foundation in environmental law in the US, and benefit from LCC’s connections in Portland, OR – a center for environmentalism and sustainability.

Students take an in depth look at the National Environmental Policy Act and gain a basic awareness of acts that protect clean water and air, and endangered species. Students also learn the federal law around hazardous waste and the international laws about the environment. Students benefit from the structure of law making and application by agencies of the executive branch. They also learn how much control the federal courts, Congress, and the President really have. Students discover how making the laws and adjudicating them are used as tools by agencies.

Degree: Master of Studies in Environmental Law

23. University of Akron – School of Law

The University of Akron’s Master of Studies in Law is taught by professors that have been counsel to US Senate and House Committees, lawyers for Federal Agencies, and renowned authors. Students will build a strong base of knowledge on legal doctrine and principles. They must take a course in the American Legal System as well as contracts, torts, criminal law and civil proceedings. Students also gain a basic understanding of intellectual property. Students also learn the fundamentals of patent law, licensing, trade secrets, and prosecution as it relates to patents. They will learn the value of law as it relates to health care and human resources. They will gain an understanding of elder care law and bioethics.

While the University of Akron is a public university primarily known for its world-class STEM degrees and research, Akron is also home to a highly-ranked School of Law. Akron Law began in 1921 as an independent law school, and is one of the most trusted legal institutions in the region. Because of UA’s focus on STEM, the UA Law School is one of the nation’s top institutions for patent law and intellectual property law.

Degree: Master of Studies in Law

24. University of Denver – Sturm College of Law

The University of Denver offers a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree for students who feel their current position would benefit from a strong foundation in the law, our legal system and sound reasoning. The Master of Legal Studies provides an opportunity for students to network with lawyers and professional organizations. UD’s Sturm College of Law is one of the top-ranked law schools in the nation, and is notable as one of the only sustainable facilities in the nation housing a law school – the nation’s first LEED-certified law school.

Students develop critical thinking skills about the governing laws and their impacts on organizations. They begin to understand the legal and regulatory parameters in which they operate. Students will gain a better understanding of administrative law and have civil procedures work. They get a deeper look at the legal profession as well as criminal and constitutional law.

Degree: Master of Legal Studies

25. University of California, Hastings College of the Law

University of California – Hastings, located in San Francisco, California, offers a Master of Studies in Law with 15 concentrations. This program provides students the ability to get a fundamental grasp of the law and the US legal system. They will develop skills in negotiating, reasoning and writing. This program gives students more robust skills in critical thinking and sound reasoning. Students are better able to analyze issues with a legal perspective. They will have foundational knowledge of the law to better enable themselves to function in a legal environment. They will receive a basic understanding of criminal law, civil proceedings, contracts, and the constitution.

Hastings was one of the first law schools established in the West, and the first in the University of California System, dating back to 1878. Today, it is an independent part of the UC system, frequently ranked among the top law schools in the nation. Notably, Hastings is also known as one of the most diverse law schools in the US, and is well-known for its commitment to social justice and public interest.

Degree: Master of Studies in Law – 15 concentrations

Is a Master of Studies in Law the Same as a Master of Legal Studies?

With so many graduate degrees offered by colleges and universities, it is easy to become confused by the terms used to identify each degree. Students are typically bewildered by the differences in a Master of Science in Legal Studies, a Master of Legal Studies will offer the same type of job opportunities as a Master of Studies in Law. The good news is a master’s degree in law is essentially the same no matter what the name is. The key difference between the degrees is that students typically follow a different career path based on the selected concentration (such as corporate law or environmental law).

With a Masters in Legal Studies or similar degree, the graduate is most likely not going to pursue a career path to become a lawyer. Instead, they want to add legal expertise to their current occupation. Any type of legal or criminal justice job is appropriate for Masters in Legal Studies degree holders. Job examples include legal writers and compliance officers. In a number of cases, individuals with established careers choose to pursue a Master’s in Legal Studies degree as a way to market themselves as legal experts in their field.

With a master’s degree in law, graduates are also not on the path of becoming attorneys. Much like Masters in legal studies, Master of Science in law students may take classes with first-year Juris Doctor (JD) students before getting into topics related to legal studies.

Additional degrees that are the same as a Master’s of legal studies include Master of Studies in law, Master of Jurisprudence, and Juris Master.

What is the Advantage of a Master’s Degree in Law Over a JD?

As students decide what type of degree will work best for their future legal career, they will likely compare Master of Legal Studies vs JD. Juris Doctor refers to the doctoral degree needed to become an attorney. Although a Master of Legal Studies degree does not ready students for the bar exam, the graduate degree program does prepare students for a law-related career. The Master of Legal Studies graduate will have a deep understanding of the law and how it applies to different areas of industry.

One key advantage to consider between the master of legal studies vs JD is the time commitment required. JD students need approximately four years to complete their required course load. For a Masters in Law, students will most likely complete the program within two years while still working full-time, or even as little as one year. Unlike JD degrees, Masters in Legal Studies programs offer more scheduling flexibility and can be completed online.

Less preparation is required for a Masters in Law too. In many cases, the LSAT is not required to apply to a legal studies master’s, unlike nearly every JD program. Graduate students are not required to spend hours and hours each week studying for their bar exams, either. It’s also a great next step for paralegals, since the legal background in writing and research make the MLS a natural step.

What Do You Learn in a Legal Studies Degree Program?

Masters in legal studies programs will have a similar first-year course load as JD programs. First-year classes may include American Law, Legal Methods, Legal Ethics, and Legal Principles. After introductory law courses, Master of Jurisprudence classes will focus on topics that don’t relate to attorneys. For instance, a required MLS course may be Legal Research and Writing for Non-Lawyers. Additional things students learn in Juris Master classes include understanding the way the legal system works and how to use the law to solve problems. Class work will touch on constitutional laws, statutes, torts, case law, legal writing, and labor laws.

A legal studies degree is also likely to offer a concentration in areas such as human resources, intellectual property, international law, healthcare law, and environmental law. MLS degree programs will be tailored to focus on topics related to the student’s selected concentration.

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