Best Master of Legal Studies Online Degree Programs

Find out what you can expect from an online Master of Legal Studies (MLS), discover the career paths it opens up, and learn more about some of the best available programs this year.

Few people realize that the legal profession is broad and diverse enough to include a range of career paths that do not require law school. If you are interested in how the law interacts with business but do not see yourself as a practicing attorney, enrolling in a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) online program could be the perfect route for you.

Earning your master’s degree in legal studies online offers a lot of flexibility that could reduce overall costs. These programs also help deepen your skillset and advance your legal career using convenient and accessible tools. You probably have some questions, and our guide helps answer them. It highlights several top-ranked master’s degrees in legal studies online and looks at what you will learn during them. It also lists common job paths, discusses accreditation, and outlines completion timeframes for completion.

Our full ranking of online master’s degree in legal studies programs will arrive later this year, but we highlight three of the top-rated programs for 2021 below. The number of schools can seem overwhelming, so we vetted available programs using the most important criteria: flexibility, affordability, accreditation, and strength of programming. Kickstart your school search and discover which programs rise above the rest.

Arizona State University

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The purpose of American University’s online MS in Healthcare Management program is to prepare graduates for mid- and senior-level HCM positions, as well as to become independent healthcare consultants, analysts, and advisors. The 30-credit hour program is divided into four phases: Core, Electives, Field/Professional, and Capstone. In the Core phase, students work within a cohort to complete a set of core subject courses that provide them with a broad-based foundational knowledge in healthcare management. In the Electives phase, each student selects one specific course tailored to meet his or her particular career and industry goals. The Field/Professional phase is designed to provide real-world skills in a number of topics, including teamwork, communications, and technology. The curriculum culminates with a student-specific capstone leadership project that includes a multimedia presentation.

Students in the AU’s MS in Healthcare Management online program have access to a number of important support services, including the Career Directions Program in which they can participate in online career workshops and coaching opportunities. Students also have the option of visiting AU’s Washington, DC campus for a two-day program of professional development and networking activities.

American University

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Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law extends a 30-credit Master of Legal Studies online that develops professional foundations in U.S. law. Designed for students and working professionals not planning to pursue a full law degree, the program can be completed in under 12 months. It includes 10 classes, each lasting 7.5 weeks. All course material is entirely online using interactive learning tools that combine self-paced study with structured experiences.

The curriculum for this online Master of Legal Studies covers a range of legal applications, including tort and property law, criminal law, intellectual property, and administrative regulations. Students can also choose from 11 areas of concentration, including conflict resolution, contract management, sports law, sustainability, human resource law, and corporate regulation. Foundational coursework builds competency in U.S. legal structures, decision-making procedures, and methods of legal analysis.

Washington University in St. Louis

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Housed within its School of Law, Washington University in St. Louis’ online Master of Legal Studies holds acquiescence from the American Bar Association. It requires 24 credits and prepares students for work as paralegals, business executives, and human resource professionals. A skills-based curriculum builds proficiency in legal analysis and drafting legal documents. It includes two core courses and six electives covering topics like health law, corporate regulation, intellectual property, and civil procedures. Most full-time students graduate in one year or less.

Students receive all course material through online technologies accessible 24/7. The program also offers specializations in conflict resolution, business law, litigation, employment law, and regulatory compliance. The same expert faculty administering the school’s on-campus program facilitate all online learning. Interested online students can also participate in optional in-person learning each fall and spring. Qualified applicants must complete an online interview before admission.

Key Benefits of Earning Your Master’s Degree in Legal Studies Online

Pursuing a master’s degree in legal studies online offers several advantages. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that professionals with graduate-level credentials enjoy higher earnings and lower unemployment rates than those with bachelor’s degrees alone. Online MLS programs also allow you to develop expertise in areas that even practicing lawyers may not have. Below are a few additional benefits of earning an online master’s degree in legal studies.

  1. Career advancement

    One of the great aspects of online MLS programs is the opportunity to specialize. Areas of concentration like those listed later in this guide expand your professional profile by cultivating competency in new and emerging areas.

  2. Flexibility

    Earning an online master’s degree in legal studies is easier and more flexible than ever thanks to innovative and interactive learning tools. The delivery methods and pace of study are incredibly accommodating, especially for working professionals and those enrolling part-time.

  3. Affordability

    Online MLS programs tend to be less expensive than in-person alternatives in the long run. Financial aid is discussed fully later, and there are many affordable options to meet your needs.

What You’ll Learn in Online Master of Legal Studies Programs

The curricula for these Master of Legal Studies online programs introduces you to the concepts, processes, and research methods supporting the legal profession across industry sectors. Students receive a high-level survey of the U.S. legal system that includes its history, development, and impact on business. They also build core skills in critical thinking, qualitative analysis, and written and oral communication.

Most online MLS programs conclude with a capstone or thesis component designed to integrate gained skills and knowledge. For some, this is a comprehensive exam. Others take a research-based approach. Each program provides a different array of course offerings, but the classes below give a good idea of what is generally available.

Common Courses

  • Introduction to U.S. Law and Legal Analysis

    A core offering in most programs, this course provides a working overview of the U.S. legal system and examines the modes of reasoning and inquiry associated with it. Students learn to read and evaluate cases, legal statutes, and public policy documents. Additional topics include common law, constitutional and case law, trial procedures, and case briefings.

  • Legal Research Methods

    This class develops a knowledge base in legal research methods. It considers different applications of those methods and builds proficiency in the research tools and databases necessary for work in the legal profession. Students write case briefs, demonstrate competency of key legal concepts, and learn how to properly cite legal materials.

  • Policy, Regulation, and Process

    Aspiring professionals in this class receive instruction in the basic laws and regulatory processes affecting business and commerce in the U.S. The course details the legal consequences of those processes and looks at how regulatory policy has evolved. It also examines contemporary challenges to regulation and how recent policy measures interact with emerging concerns.

  • Contract Law Fundamentals

    This course offers a history of contract agreements with special attention given to its codification under statutory provisions like the Uniform Commercial Code. Students focus on contract formation and interpretation, enforcement, and warranty. They also look at common conditions and remedies for a breach of contract.

  • Public Advocacy

    Learners in this class rely on their written and oral communication skills to explore strategies of institutional advocacy in the public square. They assess available techniques and develop their own based on current events, research interests, and long-term professional goals. The course also considers provisions and statutes that protect public advocacy efforts under U.S. law.

Specialization Tracks

Most schools offering an online Master in Legal Studies degree also extend specialization opportunities. The areas of concentration like those listed below are a great way to focus your study and drill down even further in a subfield that interests you.

The legal profession is vast, wide-ranging, and touches virtually every industry. Building additional skills in your career area solidifies your qualifications and could give you a leg up on other job candidates.

  • Compliance and Risk Management

    This specialization prepares students for work in compliance enforcement and training. In addition to core coursework, it provides instruction in the regulations affecting a variety of sectors like banking, health care, government, and environmental protection. Courses likely include common law, corporate compliance, and risk management.

  • Human Resources

    Students in this specialization graduate with additional expertise in applying legal principles in worker training, employee law, and workplace regulation. They also develop competency in the laws and legal frameworks that impact hiring, recruitment, and use of independent contractors. Skills in analytical problem-solving and organizational management are also developed.

  • Dispute and Conflict Resolution

    This specialization focuses on the competencies needed to facilitate arbitration and dispute resolution. It cultivates additional skills in counseling, conciliation, and other non-litigation techniques often used to resolve conflict between stakeholders and other parties. Courses include advanced negotiation, workplace conflict, and professional interviewing.

  • Contract Management

    Students choosing this track learn how to draw up, enforce, and manage contracts based on mutual agreements between two parties. It supports further mastery of contract law, including terms of breach, exit, and other legal provisions. Students analyze influential contracts alongside common disputes that arise due to ambiguities and loopholes.

  • Intellectual Property

    A specialization in intellectual property offers the knowledge required to understand and analyze legal issues stemming from patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. It qualifies students for work as patent agents and includes instruction in antitrust law, cyber law, unfair competition, and intellectual property transactions.

Accreditation for Online Master of Legal Studies Programs

Before applying, make sure the school you plan to attend is properly accredited. Accreditation acts as quality assurance and verifies the rigor of schools and online Master of Legal Studies programs. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) establish guidelines and recognize independent agencies that provide institutional accreditation.

Institutional accreditation comes in two forms: regional and national. Nonprofit schools generally receive regional accreditation. Technical, vocational, and for-profit institutions normally obtain national accreditation.

Programs within institutionally accredited schools sometimes receive an additional credential called programmatic accreditation. Programmatic accreditation is not a substitute for institutional accreditation but can provide additional, field-specific backing. Not all online MLS programs have programmatic accreditation, but those that do receive it from the American Bar Association.

What You Can Do with a Master’s Degree in Legal Studies

Most businesses and organizations need legal professionals with additional expertise beyond that of a practicing attorney. Graduates with an online Master of Legal Studies use their skills in a variety of ways by providing operational support and analytical insights that ensure the integrity and liability of employers.

The careers detailed below rank among the most popular for professionals in this field. Each job listed logs median earnings much higher than the national average, and most are projected to grow.

Compliance Officer

These legal studies professionals ensure that their organizations remain compliant with the laws and regulations applicable to their industry. They assess products and services in light of those concerns and often develop risk management strategies. They work with other high-level executives to conduct internal investigations of compliance issues when they arise.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$45,000

$71,000 $112,000

Source: PayScale, 2021

Arbitrator/Mediator

Sometimes called conciliators or contract negotiators, arbitrators and mediators resolve legal issues outside the court system. They facilitate productive dialogue between disputing parties to reach a mutual agreement, and they do so by interviewing claimants, scheduling appointments, clarifying issues, and performing conflict resolution.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$37,420

$63,930

$123,730

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Financial Manager

Financial managers oversee and maintain the financial health of clients and organizations. They develop reports, manage investment activities, and prepare financial statements. Many use their legal studies expertise to assure that employers remain compliant with current laws and regulations. They may also work closely with analysts to examine market trends and forecast new areas for revenue.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$68,370 $129,890 $208,000

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Legal Assistant

Paralegals and legal assistants support practicing attorneys and large law firms. They conduct case research, including previous judgments and legal precedent, and gather evidence to help support upcoming cases. They often write reports for lawyers and draft contracts, formal statements, and other legal documentation.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$32,160

$51,740

$82,500

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Human Resources Manager

Human resources managers coordinate and direct all the administrative functions required of their employers. Common tasks include staffing and talent acquisition, employee management, onboarding, and workforce development. Many professionals in this area act as in-house mediators. They resolve disputes, defuse conflict, and implement disciplinary measures when needed.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$68,300

$116,720

$205,720

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s Degrees in Legal Studies

As the table below indicates, tuition rates for online MLS programs vary quite a bit. Factors to consider include the type of school and a student’s enrollment and residency status. Private schools are generally more expensive, but public institutions sometimes charge higher rates for out-of-state residents.

A number of financial aid opportunities can help offset the costs. Many schools with an online Master of Legal Studies extend need or merit-based scholarships to students. Some even offer research fellowships. Relevant businesses and other organizations sometimes award private scholarships to students as well.

How Affordable Your Online Master’s in Legal Studies Could Be

As the table below indicates, tuition rates for online MLS programs vary quite a bit. Factors to consider include the type of school and a student’s enrollment and residency status. Private schools are generally more expensive, but public institutions sometimes charge higher rates for out-of-state residents.

A number of financial aid opportunities can help offset the costs. Many schools with an online Master of Legal Studies extend need or merit-based scholarships to students. Some even offer research fellowships. Relevant businesses and other organizations sometimes award private scholarships to students as well.

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Est. Total Tuition Cost

Northeastern University

30

$1,094/credit

$32,820

University of Arizona

30

$650/credit

$19,500

California University of Pennsylvania

30

$516/credit (in-state)

$774/credit (out-of-state)

$15,480 (in-state)

$23,220 (out-of-state)

Q&A with a Legal Studies Program Administrator

Grant Aldrich is the founder and CEO of Online Degree, an educational platform with tuition-free courses. He has over 18 years of experience leading companies from founding to exit with a specific focus on partnership development, marketing, PR, sales, and overall strategy and growth.

Q. When it comes to studying the legal profession, most people probably think of law school or becoming a practicing attorney. Earning a Master of Legal Studies online offers a different approach. How does this opportunity differ from a traditional path, and why would someone want to pursue it?

A: Earning a master’s degree in legal studies allows people to work in a career that intersects with the law. They have many more opportunities than strictly being lawyers or judges; for example, they can work in human resources, government positions, or legal patenting.

Q. Given your experience and expertise, where do you think professionals with this degree will be most needed in the future? Are there any industries or job sectors that new students and recent graduates should keep an eye on?

A: As companies shift over to long-term remote work, this opens a new legal grey area. Regarding virtual onboarding, hiring, and recruiting, companies must avoid certain legal pitfalls. These companies will need legal experts in remote hiring laws, which could be learned with an online Master of Legal Studies.

Some tangential careers can be enriched with an MLS. For example, someone could be a journalist or freelance writer specializing in legal matters and human resources. Having expert knowledge about legal issues could significantly further one’s career.

Q. Online education has a lot of perks and ultimately increases access to learning opportunities for those who need extra flexibility and accommodation. But those perks come with their own unique challenges and demands. What advice would you offer to prospective students interested in online MLS programs?

A: Students interested in an online MLS should be aware of the time commitment required to succeed. They might have to make certain sacrifices, such as waking up early to start studying. They should also understand that a large component of the degree will be self-study, such as reading and listening to pre-recorded lectures. People who undertake this degree need to have a high level of independence and self-discipline.

FAQs About Earning Your Master’s Degree in Legal Studies Online

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in legal studies?

Always consult with individual online MLS programs and admission departments to gain a better understanding of criteria, requirements, and deadlines. That said, most schools follow a similar process and usually ask for an application package that includes:

  • An application form with biographical information
  • A professional resume or CV outlining qualifications and relevant professional experience
  • Official academic transcripts verifying successful reception of an accredited bachelor’s degree with a competitive GPA
  • Letters of recommendation from previous mentors or supervisors who can speak to an individual’s abilities
  • A written statement of purpose detailing background and intent to study
  • Recent GRE, LSAT, or GMAT scores (optional in some cases)

Some schools also want to interview qualified candidates. These interviews usually take place via video conference or over the phone.

How long will it take to finish my master’s in legal studies online?

The online Master of Legal Studies programs highlighted at the beginning of this guide gives a good sense of how long your studies will take, and each program projects that full-time students can complete their studies in one year. Several factors impact your path to completion, though. For example, part-time students and working professionals can expect to take longer but usually finish in a few years. If you carry qualified transfer credit, that may reduce your timeframe.

Can I earn a master’s in legal studies 100% online?

Most schools administering a Master of Legal Studies extend fully online options. Unlike other fields requiring in-person capstones or practicum components, these programs deliver all material and learning experiences using innovative and interactive tools optimized for flexibility and accommodation.

For those interested in face-to-face opportunities, many online MLS programs offer on-campus sessions to enhance online learning. These optional programs usually happen once a term across a single weekend.