What Can You Do With a Master’s in Legal Studies: Why Studying Law Isn’t Just for Lawyers Anymore

The law is many things, but simple isn’t one of them. The majority of the population is beholden to attorneys to unravel, decipher, analyze, and effectively decode the law.

But in the many professions outside the field of law where routine work frequently intersects with state and federal regulations, a lack of legal knowledge can actually stand in the way of job performance and career advancement… mid-level managers and executives, healthcare administrators, human resources professionals, CPAs and other accounting professionals, contract specialists, entrepreneurs and investors, non-profit directors, professors, engineers, patent agents, government employees, and of course, paralegals. And the list goes on.

In many cases a greater mastery of relevant legal code and processes is exactly the specialized knowledge a mid-career professional needs to be able to perform their job with greater independence and finesse or to reorient their role in an area with a more specialized legal focus.

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What company needs another MBA or HRM? … An employee with an undergraduate degree, experience in their field, and a master’s-level education specific to the legal aspects of the field – now that’s a powerhouse.

From public policy to healthcare compliance to risk management to foreign trade – you name it, companies and other organizations need specialists, managers and leaders that understand how the legal system shapes and impacts their business and industry.

Professionals and executives with a fundamental understanding of the U.S. legal system are able to enhance their professional credibility with colleagues, clients, employers, and partners, navigate the nation’s heavily regulated professional environment, and propel their careers in a positive—and sometimes completely new—direction.

The Master of Legal Studies (MLS) – which may also go by the names Master of Science in Law (MSL), Master of Studies in Law, or Master in the Study of Law – can be specialized with a course concentration in virtually any area of law, making it the degree of choice for mid-career professionals serious about developing knowledge deeply relevant to their field, not just stacking up academic credentials.

The MLS is not a precursor to practicing the law, but instead a primer in U.S. law and an in-depth examination of the ways law and industry intersect.

What is the Goal of the MLS?

The Master of Legal Studies (MLS) arms mid-level professionals with the knowledge needed to analyze and interpret legal concepts. While some MLS programs provide students with a general course of study in the U.S. legal system, many offer students the opportunity to explore the relationship between the law and their specific discipline, profession, or area of interest.

The MLS allows students to become familiar with contemporary legal issues in the U.S. and abroad and get a deeper understanding the practical implications of the law and the legal process in their respective industry or profession.

The MLS is unique from the JD, which is the degree that aspiring attorneys and other practitioners of law pursue, but the two degrees still share quite a bit in common. Both degrees provide a thorough introduction to the law and the practice of the law. In fact, it is common for students of the MLS to take many of the same courses that first-year JD students take.

Who Should Pursue the MLS?

The MLS delivers a graduate course of study for non-lawyers who want to achieve a practical application of the law.

And while most students who complete an MLS are mid-career professionals, a background in the law isn’t required. In fact, for any students, this is their first foray into anything legal.

From college professors to healthcare professionals to business executives, the MLS is for any mid-career professional with a bachelor’s degree that wants to either enhance their existing career, reorient their career with their current employer, or even for those who want to pursue a new career in an entirely different field.

The MLS is suited for any number of professional classifications in all sectors…

  • Professionals who work with lawyers and/or legal issues, like CPAs, auditors, and contract administrators
  • Professionals in government or industry whose job requires a working knowledge of legal concepts and procedures in any number of areas, from corporate healthcare compliance to child welfare to environmental regulation
  • Professionals who want to re-orient their career with niche legal expertise, whether within their existing role or by taking on a new role with their existing employer

It is also suited for the intellectually curious; those who want to learn for the sake of learning!

What are the Admission Requirements for the MLS?

The minimum educational requirement for admission into an MLS is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in any field.

It’s even quite common for students of MLS programs to already hold a graduate degree in their field—everything from MBAs to MHAs to HRMs to MPHs to MPAs. This means that the schools offering MLS programs often accept a certain number of graduate transfer credits from qualified candidates.

Because candidates of MLS programs come from a wide range of backgrounds and careers and therefore have a diverse skillset, most admission committees for MLS programs take a more holistic approach to reviewing applications, taking a number of factors taken into consideration. This means it isn’t uncommon fro MLS program candidates to sit for a face-to-face or video interview with the admissions committee and submit a personal essay or statement of purpose that details the reasons behind wanting to earn an MLS and how it will enhance their career.

With some schools, the application process can be somewhat competitive, in which case letters of reference would also carry some weight. Many programs require references from former professors, academic advisors, mentors, and employers who can provide a meaningful assessment of the candidate’s character and ability to complete graduate-level studies.

While standardized test scores (LSAT, GRE, etc.) are generally not required, current resumes or curriculum vitae are. This allows the admissions committee to view all of the candidate’s professional and academic experiences, including volunteer work and honors and awards.

What are the Required Courses in an MLS Program?

MLS programs are unique in that they allow you to design your degree to fit your professional goals and interests. However, you must also complete a number of required courses, such as:

  • Introduction to U.S. Law and the Legal System
  • Legal Research and Writing for Non-Lawyers
  • Introduction to Legal Reasoning
  • Procedure
  • Ethics/Professional Responsibility

Understand the law …

For example, these programs usually begin with a broad introduction to the legal system in the U.S. This course explores how law is found, made, and changed in the U.S. As such, it touches on various sources of law, statutes, and regulations, including common law, constitutional law, case law, and interpreting enacted laws.

Communicate in legal language …

An introductory legal research and writing course is also one of the first courses you will encounter in an MLS program. This course covers effective writing styles and formats for effective communication with government regulatory bodies, lawyers and other legal professionals.

Think in terms of the law …

A legal reasoning course helps students understand how to think like lawyers, which is accomplished through reading and analyzing cases and statutes. The goal of this course is to help students understand how the law is used to predict answers to legal questions.

You can also expect to study procedure (civil, criminal, and administrative), the American common law system (torts, contracts, property), and constitutional law.

A course on ethics often rounds on the core of an MLS, a must-have for understanding the nuances of the legal system and the many ethical dilemmas that exist. Students become familiar with everything from attorney-client relationships to conflicts of interest to confidentiality to the duties of courts.

How Long Does it take to Complete an MLS?

Most MLS programs take between 12-16 months to complete for full-time students, although most programs allow for part-time study, provided they complete the course of study in four years.

Most programs consist of between 24-34 credits, 12-15 of which are focused on your desired concentration.

How Much Does an MLS Cost?

You can expect to pay around $2,000 per credit for a quality campus based or online MLS program. With most programs consisting of about 24 credits, you should expect it to run about $50,000 for the entire program.

This isn’t money you would need to come out of pocket for upfront, of course. You would typically be expected to pay for one semester at a time for any portion not covered by loans or financial aid.

Of course, financial aid is available to qualifying students through FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), and most quality schools will have financial aid representatives available to help you navigate your financial aid and loan options.

From public administrators to financial advisors, everyone is encouraging students to think differently about tuition costs and incurring debt for an advanced education. College isn’t about an opportunity for exploring areas of interest or for personal enrichment anymore. If you enjoyed the opportunity to do that with some elective courses in your undergraduate studies, consider yourself lucky.

An advanced degree is an investment, plain and simple, and should be looked at in terms of the return it can offer. These programs aren’t cheap because they offer an appreciable return through career advancement and real dollars.

The value of MLS programs isn’t lost on employers either, and many are willing to invest in employees who will bring that legal knowledge back in-house to make the company smarter, more nimble and more capable of achieving market dominance.

Can I Complete an MLS Program Online?

Because the MLS is largely directed at working professionals, these programs tend to offer highly flexible formats, including distance-based study. And most campus-based programs include evening and weekend courses.

Many times, online MLS programs feature interactive, virtual classrooms consisting of live courses, dedicated students support services, and plenty of opportunities for students to interact and connect with their peers and professors.

Do I Have the Opportunity to Choose a Concentration/Specialization?

Yes! In fact, while you can certainly complete a general MLS program, the majority of students choose to focus their degree on an area of interest or one that relates to their profession or the industry in which they work. Most MLS programs require the completion of between 4-5 courses (12-15 credits) related to the student’s chosen specialty.

You will find that most MLS programs have several possible concentrations/specializations from which to choose. A number of schools also allow students to design their own specialization, which involves working with an academic advisor and customizing their degree so that it best fits their professional and personal goals.

Just some of the concentrations/specializations offered as part of MLS programs include:

  • Compliance and Legal Risk Management
  • Criminal Law and Policy
  • Family and Juvenile Law
  • Tax Law and Policy
  • Human Rights
  • Regulatory law
  • Dispute Resolution
  • Business Law
  • Civil Litigation
  • Intellectual Property
  • International Trade
  • International Law and Human Rights
  • Immigration

How Would an MLS Benefit Me as a Business Executive?

Business executives able to combine their business acumen with industry-specific legal knowledge make the most capable leaders.

Take a course in international business transactions and learn about the dynamics of planning, negotiating, and executing cross-border transactions. Learn about intellectual property rights, including copyright registration, domain name selection, patents, and trademarks. And gain a unique understanding of the law of business associations with a deeper understanding of corporate governance.

From the Sarbanes-Oxley Act concerning accounting controls to anti-trust laws that ensure fair competition to environmental regulations that govern different industries, CEOs and other corporate executives routinely navigate a legal maze.

Choosing a business structure alone requires having a deep understanding of tax law. But it doesn’t stop there. Business licenses, tax registration, the process of incorporation, and the employer-employee relationship, which includes everything from employment contracts, discrimination, health and safety regulations, and breach of contract issues, are standard legal concerns for nearly all businesses.

Other important legal issues businesses and the executives that oversee their operations face include contracts, intellectual property, and trade agreements.

In addition to a broad, yet comprehensive, study of the U.S. legal system, an MLS program can provide the business executive with an in-depth examination in the relevance of the law as it applies to their specific industry, whether it’s marketing or oil and gas exploration. Whether you’re interested in gaining insight into commercial law, corporate law environmental law, labor and employment law, international business law, or tax law, an MLS will prepare you to handle the fundamentals.

How Would an MLS Benefit Me as an HR Manager?

An MLS with a concentration in HR or employment law prepares HR managers to reduce risk and liability for the companies they work for.

There may be no other business professional who must deal with as many legal issues as HR managers. Human resources law, also known as labor and employment law, encompasses a wide array of laws and regulations related to a company’s human resources—its employees. HR managers who have a solid understanding of applicable laws can better oversee and manage duties related to hiring and firing employees, employee benefits and wages, workplace safety, privacy, and the prevention of discrimination and harassment.

To understand the value of a law degree to an HR manager, consider this:

HR managers must be familiar with the nuances of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Affordable Care Act. They must also ensure company and employee adherence to local, state, and federal employment laws and the many statutory and regulatory authorities that oversee company personnel. If that isn’t enough, their professional obligations extend to union negotiations, non-competition and confidentiality agreements, compliance audits, affirmative action policies, government contracts, HR policies and procedures, substance abuse and drug testing laws, and unemployment compensation.

An MLS with HR-related courses will allow you to better understand, and therefore, better navigate the complexities of employee pay and benefits, including everything from retirement plans to employee leave policies. It will allow you to gain in-depth knowledge into federal wage and hour standards covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and become an expert in the legal rights and obligations of employers, employees, and unions under the National Labor Relations Act. You may also want to focus your MLS on laws surrounding prohibiting workplace discrimination under state and federal statutes, legal issues that deal with privacy in the workplace, or the ins and outs of corporate investigations and audits.

How Would an MLS Benefit Me as a Healthcare Manager or Administrator?

From HIPAA laws to Anti-Kickback and Stark Laws to issues concerning liability and malpractice, healthcare administrators need to understand how to maintain compliance in one of the most highly regulated industries in the U.S.

An MLS with a focus on healthcare law allows HR administrators to broaden their skillset to include the complex field of healthcare law and its ethical applications. This includes operations, regulatory, and transactional issues, along with the legal aspect of leadership and administration within hospitals, hospital networks, and healthcare systems.

In addition to healthcare law, you may find value in studying a number of other related issues, such as administrative law, medical malpractice, contract law, and public health law.

Just some of the legal issues healthcare administrators must navigate include contracting issues, labor and employment issues, medical network contract negotiations, Medicare and Medicaid compliance and billing, clinical research operations and compliance, and HIPAA compliance, training and litigation.

Courses in an MLS program helps healthcare organization leaders understand the complex healthcare environment and how to operate within the legal framework. Some of the topics covered include the current healthcare model and the policies behind it, regulatory requirements regarding healthcare privacy, the provider-patient relationship and informed consent, and the business of healthcare, which covers issues unique to healthcare organizations.