An online Master's in Legal Studies is a great alternative for professionals who are interested in gaining some legal expertise in their field but who do not want to go to law school. It is specifically beneficial for those who work in any field that routinely interacts with the law, such as government or nonprofit professionals. And since many professionals are working full time, the idea of getting an online degree may just fit the bill.
Graduate degrees can be expensive and time-consuming when a student has to commute to campus. With an online degree, the courses are taken at home and on a student's own schedule, making it easier to keep up with the degree requirements. These degrees tend to also be less expensive with many schools offer discounted online tuition rates.
The ranking below was created by using research done on the National Center of Education Statistics and its public college database known as College Navigator. An initial pool of 20 schools offering online programs were selected. The final 10 were selected based on in-state graduate tuition rates and are listed below in descending order.
Ranking Low-cost Legal Studies Master's
10. Regent University
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Online Master of Arts in Law
Regent University confers a Master's in Legal Studies online degree that comes in the form of the Master of Art in Law. This is a graduate law degree that does not require a Juris Doctor for acceptance into the program. The program was built for non-legal professionals who require some legal knowledge for their particular field. There are 11 different concentration associated with this degree, including Human Resources Law, Advanced Paralegal Studies, and Nonprofit Organization Law. Students who are also interested in becoming a Certified Financial Planner can take this concentration, which leads to eligibility to sit for certification after graduation. All courses are delivered online and in an asynchronous format. Students will be required to complete 30 credit hours of coursework as well as a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Immigration Law and Procedure, National Security Law, and International and Comparative Human Rights.
9. Hodges University
Fort Myers, Florida
Online Master of Science in Legal Studies
An online Master's in Legal Studies can be found at Hodges University. This is a non-lawyer professional degree; it will not lead to eligibility to sit for licensure. Students will learn from an entirely online curriculum that does not require residency. Courses are taught by practicing lawyers and students will find that the curriculum is designed to prepare them for working with lawyers and in legal settings once they have graduated. It is possible to complete all of the course requirements in as little as two years with part-time study. Students can expect to complete 30 credit hours of coursework, a capstone project, and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Governance and Management, International Law, and Mediation, Arbitration, and Conflict Resolution.
8. Arizona State University
Online Master of Legal Studies
Arizona State University offers an online Master's in Legal Studies that is an advanced legal degree created for non-lawyers. Students will be able to learn about the legal process in the United States in as little as one year and without having to pursue a Juris Doctor. All courses are delivered online through asynchronous and synchronous formats and in an eight-week format. There are five concentrations available, including Human Resources and Employment Law, Intellectual Property Law and Criminal Law. Students will find that all courses are taught by industry leaders and scholars, enabling them to learn from some of the best lawyers in the country. The program requires 30 credit hours of coursework and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Criminal Procedure, Fundamentals of Contract Law, and Civil Procedure.
7. Grand Canyon University
Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice with an Emphasis in Legal Studies
Students at Grand Canyon University will earn a legal studies master's online degree that resides with the school's Master of Science in Criminal Justice. This degree was created for non-lawyers who are seeking to build a base of legal knowledge that will inform their current career. This is a 100 percent online program that is delivered asynchronously and taught by former and current working lawyers. Research, theory, and public policy in relation to law is the main focus of this degree. Courses are delivered in an eight-week format, making this the perfect choice for working professionals who wish to complete the program in as little as two years. Students can expect to complete 38 credit hours of coursework and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Exploration of Constitutional Criminal Law, Strategies for Funding and Effective Consulting, and Criminal Behavior Analysis.
6. West Virginia University
Online Master of Legal Studies
It is possible to earn a Master's in Legal Studies from West Virginia University. This is a 100 percent online program that was designed for working professionals in other fields. Its main focus in on the court system and so it is a good choice for professionals who work in social services or in the corrections system. This is a non-thesis program that is delivered asynchronously and in an eight-week format. Students are also taught by legal scholars and lawyers, all of which are full-time faculty members. The program requires 36 credit hours of coursework, a research paper, and a comprehensive exam; it can be completed in two years. Sample courses include Alternative Dispute Resolution, Administrative Legal Process, and Law and the Legal System.
5. The University of Illinois at Springfield
Online Master of Arts in Legal Studies
The University of Illinois at Springfield confers an online legal studies master's degree that is a great choice for students interested in learning more about the legal system. This program can be delivered as a hybrid or online-only degree and is based on an interdisciplinary course of study that focuses on public law. Students will learn critical thinking, communication, and research skills throughout their program of study. Courses are provided in an eight-week format and delivered asynchronously. Nearly half of the requirements are elective-based, meaning that a student can build their own specialization if they so choose. Students will be expected to complete 40 credit hours of coursework, a thesis, and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Theories of Justice, Public Advocacy, and Legal Research and Citation.
4. Hamline University
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Online Master in the Study of Law
Students at Hamline University are treated to an online master's in legal studies that is an interdisciplinary plan of study. This is a 100 percent online program that can be completed in as little as 15 months, though most students elect to complete it in 24 months. The only residency requirement is that students must attend a one-day orientation on campus prior to beginning the curriculum. All other courses are delivered asynchronously. There are two concentrations: Conflict Resolution and Foundations in Law. Students who take on the Conflict Resolution concentration are reminded that they will be responsible for a thesis. The program also requires 30 credit hours of coursework and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Introduction to Legal Method and Ethics, Legal Writing and Research, and Cross-Cultural Dispute Resolution.
3. Liberty University
Online Juris Master in American Legal Studies
Liberty University offers an online Master's in Legal Studies that provides students with the legal education they need in order to advance in their current career. This is a 100 percent online program that delivers courses in an asynchronous format. Each term is just eight weeks long and there are eight separate start dates every year. Professionals will note that while this degree is called a Juris Master, it is not equivalent to a Juris Doctor and will not be an acceptable professional law degree. Students can expect to complete 30 credit hours of coursework and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Ethics and Professional Responsibility, Foundations of Law, and Legal Writing and Analysis.
2. American Public University
Charles Town, West Virginia
Online Master of Arts in Legal Studies
Students at the American Public University will earn a Master of Arts in Legal Studies that was designed for both lawyers and non-lawyers. It does not lead to eligibility to sit for the bar. This is a 100 percent online program that delivers asynchronous courses in an eight-week format; there are course start dates every month. All requirements for this degree can be completed in just two years with full-time study. As with many degrees in this field, students will be expected to complete a thesis prior to graduation. Other requirements include a research project, 36 credit hours of coursework, and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Methods of Legal Research and Writing, Criminal Justice Process, and Emergency Management and Public Law.
1. University of Oklahoma
Online Master of Legal Studies
The University of Oklahoma confers a cheap legal studies master's degree that will help non-lawyers with their legal education and help them advance in their career. This degree comes with three concentrations: Indigenous Peoples Law, Healthcare Law, and Oil, Gas, and Energy Law. This is a 100 percent online cohort degree that can be completed in as little as 15 months. Courses are taught by working lawyers who specialize in the subject. Students will find small class sizes and asynchronous course formats as well as a strong technical support team and an online research library. This degree requires 33 credit hours of coursework and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Introduction to the American Legal System, Introduction to Property Law and Natural Resources, and Oil and Gas Law.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the Career Options for an Online Master's in Legal Studies Degree?
Most professionals who earn a graduate degree in legal studies work in various fields; they take on the degree to advance in that field, not to work in legal studies. However, there are some career options available to those who wish to remain in the field.
The most popular career choice is a paralegal. These are the assistants who work side-by-side with lawyers every day, preparing briefs, researching cases, and helping during trials. Paralegals generally begin with an associate's degree and work their way up to a graduate degree.
Another popular option is that of human resources manager. While this is not strictly within the realm of legal studies, human resources managers need to be well-versed in employment and labor laws as well as health and safety code regulations. Much of their time is spent working out contracts and clearing up any legal issue that may be facing the company.
The third most popular option is that of a nonprofit director or supervisor. These professionals work with lawyers constantly to ensure the organization is in compliance with national and international law. They also must work with financial lawyers to ensure that their fundraising efforts are well within the law.
There are various other options, including:
- C-Level Executives
- Legal Administrative Assistant
- Compliance Specialist
- Contracts Manager
- Executive Assistant
- Senior Payroll Administrator
- Human Resources Director
- Media Specialist
- Contract Analyst
- Contract Negotiator
- Position Classification Specialist
- Claims Manager
How Much Can You Earn in this Field?
Legal studies tends to be a large field that is paired with another industry; graduates often have stable careers and wish to advance in their sector. Therefore, for the purposes of this question, only the salaries of legal studies professionals will be discussed.
Legal studies professionals who earn an online Master's in Legal Studies can make anywhere between $40,000 to $125,000. This takes into account all the various career positions, work experience level, and educational experience.
Paralegals make between $40,000 to $50,000 a year, a salary that has remained constant for a few years. On the higher end, senior contract managers can make up to $125,000. These ranges do not account for bonus forms of compensation such as stocks or overtime pay.
What are the Various Disciplines of Legal Studies?
Legal studies is a field in which law plays the largest role. While that may seem self-explanatory, it goes deeper than most people would think.
Legal studies takes into account psychology, sociology, anthropology, diversity, social justice, criminal justice, history, political science, and more. Because law permeates most parts of life in America, each industry and sector is touched by the law in some way.
Additionally, many students who come to a degree in law studies are looking for specific programs. Those who work in healthcare will work with healthcare administration, population health, and regulations. Students working in nonprofit organizations will want to learn about nonprofit organizations, public law, and more. Even those who work for environmental companies may learn about the environment, sustainability, and environmental law.
The field can be vast and there's a lot to cover. Fortunately, many programs, like the ones in this ranking, provide students with the chance to tailor their curriculum to the industry in which they work. Alongside electives, students will find courses on leadership, ethics, management, and more. Students are the deciding force in what disciplines, for the most part, they engage with inside of the legal studies field.
Is it Possible to Become a Lawyer with This Degree?
No, it is not possible to become a lawyer with this degree. The only degree that will make it possible for a professional to become a lawyer is the Juris Doctor. All other law degrees are either postgraduate professional degrees or, in the case of legal studies, a general academic degree. Students interested in becoming lawyers will need to consider the requirements of entering law school.
Can an Online Graduate Degree in Legal Studies Prepare a Professional for Law School?
No, this degree will not prepare professionals for entrance into a law degree. Credit cannot be applied to a JD degree as per the regulations of the American Bar Association. Students who wish to enter law school should look for an alternate route.
Why Do Some Online Master's in Legal Studies Degrees Require a Thesis or a Capstone Project and Some Do Not?
An online Master's in Legal Studies are as individual as the schools who confer them. No two programs are exactly alike and so students should be aware that there is a possibility that they may enroll in a non-thesis program.
Because an MSL is a generalist academic degree, capstone experiences and thesis projects are not considered to be necessary. Students will not be becoming lawyers and so there is no reason to subject them to the rigors of legal training if their career goals are different.
Some programs do, however, require a thesis, including some that are listed in this ranking. These degrees tend to be more specific in terms of curriculum and often come with concentrations. Students are expected to take on a thesis because they are receiving a very specific education and the school will want to ensure they understood the concepts prior to graduation.
Who Should Decide to Earn an Online Degree in Legal Studies?
While lawyers practice law as a profession, there are many other working professionals who need to have a good understanding of the law in order to be successful in their own careers. This is especially true for any professional who spends a good amount of their work time meeting with lawyers or discussing legal issues.
For example, nurse administrators, nonprofit directors, lobbyists, and oil and energy executives must have a good understanding of the law in order to do their job well. That is because all of these professions rely on the law of the land in order to make decisions. It then stands to reason that any person who works in a heavily regulated industry will want to consider a degree in legal studies.
An important note: if a professional is not an administrator or executive in an industry that is heavily regulated, they may not need to worry about going back to school in order to get a degree in legal studies. Unless their duties require them to pore over legislation and regulations or work with lawyers, it may not be a good fit.
Other professionals who may also want to consider a degree in legal studies are entrepreneurs in new and emerging industries. The information they will glean from the curriculum may help them make smarter choices and avoid legal concerns once they have graduated from the program. It's also helpful because it allows them to learn more about contracts and negotiations from a legal standpoint.
Additionally, anyone who deals with contracts on a daily basis may want to consider this degree. Professionals in social services would also be helped by a graduate diploma in legal studies. And while this is not a necessary degree for any profession, it can make all the difference should a legal issue arise.
Legal studies is a great way for working professionals to gain legal expertise in their field without having to go to law school. This degree is the perfect fit for many professionals, especially those who wish to enter into the government or nonprofit industries. It is a good time to seriously consider going back to school to help enhance your professional field and career with an online Master's in Legal Studies.