Best Master's Degrees in Legal Studies

Nov 05, 2021

What Is a Master's in Legal Studies Degree?

A Master's in Legal Studies is ideally suited for students who intend to work in areas that require a good understanding of the US legal system and the laws that govern it. The master's program will teach students how to interpret and apply laws and regulations to their specialist area, the implications of laws on various aspects of business, current legal issues in the US, and how to research and find solutions to legal problems. The legal environment is ever-evolving, so one of the key benefits of completing this master's degree is that students will develop the critical thinking skills necessary to understand and apply the law to their specific area of interest.

Legal studies offer a range of possibilities for both lawyers and non-lawyers. This qualification has applications in a wide range of areas, meaning it will provide graduates with the foundation necessary to pursue many careers. While some careers, such as arbitrators, mediators, and paralegals, have roots in the legal system, the qualification also has applications to managers, executives, compliance officers, law enforcement officers, insurance investigators, and financial officers.

Growth within industries like health and manufacturing, the development of new technology and its application in a business setting, and the evolution of public policy across a range of industries mean that demand for professionals with a background in legal studies is constant. Professionals with a qualification of this nature, therefore, are likely to gain a competitive edge in the job market.

The Best Masters Degree Programs in Legal Studies

School Tuition* Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
1 Georgetown University $51790 14% 95% 55% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
2 Stanford University $53151 4% 94% 70% Yes Yes AP Credits
3 University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus $8577 80% 70% 96% Yes Yes AP Credits
4 University of California-Los Angeles $12953 12% 92% 61% Yes Yes AP Credits
5 Yale University $43300 6% 97% 64% Yes Yes AP Credits
6 George Washington University $31824 41% 82% 77% Yes Yes AP Credits
7 Washington University in St Louis $54750 14% 95% 51% Yes Yes AP Credits
8 Cornell University $30022 11% 95% 62% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
9 Arizona State University-Tempe $12608 86% 63% 96% Yes Yes AP Credits
10 University of Iowa $11666 83% 72% 85% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
11 University of San Francisco $25810 64% 75% 91% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
12 Ohio State University-Main Campus $12425 54% 86% 79% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
13 University of Illinois at Springfield $11206 77% 54% 96% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
14 University of Arizona $13271 85% 65% 91% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits
15 University of Georgia $11168 45% 87% 97% Yes Yes AP Credits
16 University of Chicago $61548 6% 95% 57% Yes Yes AP Credits
17 University of Denver $51639 59% 77% 90% Yes Yes AP Credits
18 University of Toledo $15809 96% 50% 95% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit our ranking methodology page.

*Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Legal Studies

A number of schools offer legal studies at an undergraduate level. While the undergraduate degree is often used to gain admission to graduate law school, it is also used as a basis for entry to the master's program. Given the relationship between history and the law, an undergraduate degree in history is not uncommon among students in the master's program. Other common undergraduate degrees include health services administration, business and finance, human resource management, and other social sciences.

The degree's applicability to the fields of law enforcement, criminal justice, and criminology mean that these also common undergraduate degrees among legal studies master's students.

Admissions Requirements for Legal Studies Master's Programs

The Master's in Legal Studies' admission requirements vary between schools; however, there are several standard features. The main requirement is that students have completed an undergraduate degree. Most institutions do not dictate the type of undergraduate degree required. The relevance of a student's GPA varies, with most schools accepting students with a GPA between 2.0 and 3.0. The more competitive programs may look for a GPA over 3.0, while some online programs do not consider a student's GPA.

Although there is no prerequisite undergraduate degree, some schools may require students to have completed certain classes. These include an introduction to the legal system, risk management, and legal and professional ethics. If students have not completed these classes, they may be required to complete a bridging course to ensure they have the foundation necessary to complete the master's program successfully.

If a student is looking to enroll in an accelerated learning program, it is a common requirement that they have between three and five years of experience in the field. For some programs, credit may be given for this work experience.

The need to provide standardized test results is becoming less popular. Although they are required for certain programs, a number of schools are forgoing them in favor of a strong GPA and holistic methods of candidate evaluation.

To evaluate suitability, letters of recommendation are generally required. One of the letters must usually come from a professor that has taught classes the student has taken in their undergraduate study. Most programs require an admission essay detailing the candidate's personal background, reasons for pursuing the qualification, and academic details.

Why Should I Get a Legal Studies Master's Degree?

There are a multitude of reasons why a Master's in Legal Studies is a good option for students. With law having increasing relevance in most industries, this degree is likely to give students an edge when applying for positions. The legal sector is experiencing a period of steady growth, and the increasing demand for professionals working in other industries to have some grounding in legal principles and their application means that this degree is a good investment for students. Generally, salaries are notably higher across the board for students with a master's qualification in the area. The qualification also has the potential to assist in career progression by opening the door to job opportunities that would not previously have been an option.

There is also a trend among some of the larger companies to bring some legal roles in-house.

Students who have the following aptitudes are likely to be well suited to this program of study.

  • Intellectual and cognitive maturity
  • Critical thinking skills
  • The ability to work as part of a team
  • Good communication skills

How to Choose a Master's in Legal Studies Program

One of the primary considerations for students considering this program is the specialties offered by the different schools. Not all schools offer the same options to students in this program. Schools may offer programs that cater to different areas of interest. Students need to ensure that the school they are planning on attending offers the classes they are interested in and that are required to advance their careers in a specific area.

Another consideration is whether the program is based on campus or online. Campus programs are best suited to students looking to experience campus life and whose style of study is suited to a group environment with the opportunity to work with other students. Online courses are more suited to well-motivated individuals who are looking to study at their own pace.

Cost is always a consideration, and tuition costs vary considerably between programs. Programs are offered at a number of schools. Students should be aware that the tuition savings from studying at an in-state school compared to an out-of-school are often marked. This is a crucial consideration when considering a program of study.

Legal Studies Master's Degree Courses

Most Master's in Legal Studies requirements mean that students will complete a combination of core and elective courses. Core courses serve a dual purpose. Firstly, they ensure that all students have a solid foundation across a broad subject matter. Secondly, the core courses ensure students have the grounding necessary to pursue study in more specialized areas. Elective courses provide students with the opportunity to focus their studies on the areas that interest them most and are most applicable to their future career paths.

Some courses allow students to complete a thesis or undertake work experience as part of their study program.

Legal Studies Foundational Courses

The common core courses that a student pursuing a Master's in Legal Studies must complete include the following:

  • Legal Foundations covers the historical and theoretical foundations of legal principles and the different players' roles within the system.
  • Criminal Law provides students with an introduction to the criminal justice system and its processes.
  • Constitutional Law and Policy introduces students to the pillars upon which the US legal system is built and how it impacts government and individuals' rights and powers.
  • American Legal System includes material relating to current issues and trends in law in the US. It also teaches students research techniques specific to law and legal writing styles.

Some schools may require students to take a specific course to teach them the basic principles needed when conducting legal research, although this is a less common requirement.

Legal Studies Specialist & Elective Courses

The most popular elective courses are a reflection of the backgrounds of the students in the program. They include:

  • Business Law, which provides students interested in pursing careers in this field with the foundations necessary to operate a successful business in the US legal environment.
  • Health Law and Policy teaches students with an interest in health the means of evaluating and complying with current policy and the legal challenges it poses.
  • Employment Law focuses on the current laws and obligations when employing staff and the processes that must be followed if there are disciplinary issues.
  • Environmental Law covers issues such as global warming and climate change and obligations in this area. It also covers various laws designed to protect the environment and compliance.

Licensure & Certification in Legal Studies

Licensing requirements vary, depending on whether a license is generally required in the field in which graduates intend to practice. For those wishing to pursue a career as a lawyer, there is a requirement that they are licensed in the state they practice. There is currently no mandatory national licensing requirement or certification for paralegals and legal assistants, although several certifications are available.

A certification for legal assistants has been developed by the National Association of Legal Assistants. This is known as the Certified Paralegal. To achieve this certification, candidates must complete a two-section examination that assesses skills and knowledge. The advanced certification requires candidates to undertake a continuing education course and a range of interactive exercises.

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations also provides certification in this area. The CORE Competency examination offered by the organization is one of the certifications available. To achieve this certification, candidates are required to pass an examination that assesses their education to ensure they are equipped to act as a paralegal. The advanced certification assesses knowledge as well as the candidate's work experience as a paralegal.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's in Legal Studies Degree

The concentrations offered in master's programs reflect the wide range of backgrounds and interests of the students enrolled.

Different concentrations are offered at different schools. Some of the most common concentrations include:

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution, which covers the principles of negotiation, conciliation, mediation, and arbitration.
  • Human Rights teaches students the basic principles and laws relating to human rights and advocacy skills to address violations.
  • Law and Economics provides students with the necessary framework to understand the economic policy in a legal context.
  • Mining Law and Policy addresses the law and policy that applies to operating a successful mining operation and how to ensure compliance.
  • Health Law covers a range of topics that include the role of technology, privacy, patient rights, and medical ethics.

Post-Graduate Options After Master's in Legal Studies

A doctorate is available to students wishing to pursue further educational opportunities after completing the master's degree. A doctorate will typically take a student between four and seven years, depending on whether they study full- or part-time. Doctorates are aimed at students looking to pursue research or teaching careers in the field. They give students the opportunity to explore their key area of interest by researching and writing a thesis. The thesis makes up a significant part of most programs. Students will also have to complete coursework, which includes core and elective courses. Typically students take elective courses that lead-in to the specialist area in which they plan to complete their thesis.

What Can I Do with a Legal Studies Master's Degree?

A Master's in Legal Studies creates a range of educational and professional opportunities for students. Although a less orthodox pathway, some students will complete the program before commencing the study of law. Others wanting to work in the legal profession will use the degree to open the door to working as a paralegal or legal assistant in a private law firm. The program also holds relevance for those working in law enforcement and the criminal justice system, including corrections and probation, especially given most schools offer a criminal law specialization.

Opportunities within government include positions as policy analysts, political scientists, and advisors.

The health system is undergoing a period of huge change as the model by which healthcare is delivered evolves. In light of this, it has become essential that senior health executives and those in leadership roles are well-versed in meeting their legal obligations and ensuring the organizations they manage comply with relevant legislation and current health policy. The master's degree provides those in positions such as these with the skills to do just that.

Job Outlook for a Master's in Legal Studies

For students graduating with a Master's in Legal Studies, job prospects are above average. The legal profession is expected to see a global growth of rate of 4.1% globally through to 2025, while the domestic demand for lawyers is likely to increase at a rate of 4% between 2019 and 2020.

Within the sphere of government, there is a predicted growth rate of 6% between 2019 and 2029. This includes policy analyst roles.

Healthcare is the industry experiencing one of the highest growth rates nationally, fueled by an aging population, changing models of care, and increased access to care. The demand for medical and health services managers is expected to increase with a predicted growth rate of 32% between 2019 and 2029.

How to Become a Paralegal

Paralegals are an indispensable part of any law firm, providing support to the lawyers. A paralegal's role involves undertaking legal research, drafting documents, formulating legal arguments, preparing documents for discovery or exhibits for court, assisting lawyers in court, and reviewing various legal documents. They generally take on a greater level of responsibility compared to legal assistants.

Outside of a legal office, paralegals may be seen working for non-profit organizations, governments, or private corporations. In most states, it is a requirement that a paralegal work under the direct supervision of a lawyer.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, paralegals earned an average salary of $55,020 in 2019. Higher wages are available to those working for the federal government, where the average salary is $70,040. Wages vary throughout the US, with California, Florida, and New York employing the most paralegals and the District of Columbia, Colorado, and California offering the best salaries.

How to Become a Law Enforcement Officer

Law enforcement officers are responsible for the enforcement of the law. Their jobs include the investigation and prosecution of individuals and companies who have broken the law. A number of different agencies employ law enforcement officers at a federal, state, and local level. These organizations include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Service, Police Departments, Sheriff's Departments, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Although a tertiary education is not a prerequisite for becoming a law enforcement officer, it does unlock the door to opportunities in positions of command or as detectives and specialist investigators, especially at a federal level.

In addition to their work in the field, law enforcement officers are required to prepare witness statements and other evidence to enable criminal offenders to be prosecuted. They often are required to attend court and give evidence in person when cases go to trial.

The law enforcement field is currently growing at a rate of 5%. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, criminal investigators and detectives have an average salary of $83,170. Texas, California, and New York employ the most criminal investigators and detectives, while Alaska, Hawaii, and California offer the best salaries.

Master's in Legal Studies Program Financial Aid & Scholarship Resources

A range of different scholarships are available to students considering a Master's in Legal Studies. The reasons for awarding these scholarships vary, but most are on the basis of need or merit. Other scholarships in the field focus on the area of study. Awards start at around $500 and can go as high as $10,000 depending on the organization offering the scholarship and the number of scholarships awarded. Students should ensure they explore scholarship options early as the deadlines for applying vary.

Master's students are also eligible for financial aid. Financial aid typically takes the form of loans, grants, and work-study programs. Any student wishing to apply for assistance from the federal government will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Aid is awarded on the basis of need. Students should be aware it can take some time to process applications, so it is essential that applications are made as early as possible.

Financial aid is also available at a state level. Each state has appointed an agency to take responsibility for awarding financial aid in their state. State's typically award aid based on need. The details of financial aid available in a respective state is available from the relevant state agency.

There are also financial aid packages available at different schools. Details of the packages can be obtained from the office of financial assistance at the respective school.

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