Paralegal Master’s Degree

A paralegal master’s degree is typically formatted as a master’s degree in legal studies, commonly a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) or Master of Arts (MA) in Legal Studies. Schools may also offer programs such as a Master in the Study of Law or a Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Paralegal Studies. A master’s in paralegal studies typically takes one to two years to complete full-time. It is becoming increasingly common for schools to offer online master’s in legal studies as well, which can offer flexible scheduling for full- and part-time students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there are over 100 master’s-level legal studies and paralegal programs available at not-for-profit colleges and universities across the US.1

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Master’s Degree in Legal Studies Learning Goals

1. Build in-depth knowledge of legal systems, laws, and their relationships to society.

Students in a master’s in paralegal studies program will learn about the various legal systems and specific principles of law they are likely to encounter in their work as paralegals and legal professionals. Students generally choose electives based on their career interests to prepare them for specialized career tracks after graduation. This knowledge will enable graduates to demonstrate leadership in the paralegal field in management and teaching roles.

2. Develop expertise in how the law impacts individuals, communities, and society.

Master’s degrees in legal studies teach students to critically analyze the various ways laws and legal procedures impact their clients’ lives and greater society. This helps graduates understand how changes in the law over time impact their clients’ experiences with and in the legal system. Paralegal master’s degrees generally also include skills-based learning designed to help paralegals make connections with their firms’ clients, effectively interview witnesses, and explain legal processes to laypeople.

3. Apply in-class learning in a legal environment or through a capstone project.

Some master’s degree programs in paralegal studies require students to apply their learning in a real-world setting through an internship or clinical placement. This enables students to see how legal knowledge can be used in a variety of settings. Alternatively, students may be required to complete a capstone project in which they apply legal knowledge to a fictional scenario or case study to demonstrate applied skills.

Master’s Degree in Legal Studies Program Options

Completing a master’s degree in legal studies may lead to further career opportunities in paralegal management or teaching; however, graduates are not able to practice law with this degree, so it is not an ideal choice for aspiring lawyers. Since a master’s in legal studies is is more in-depth than the degree needed to become an entry-level paralegal, but not as intense of a commitment as a Juris Doctor (JD) degree, prospective students should carefully consider their career goals. An MLS degree can help graduates pursue careers in regulatory compliance, risk management, or human resources management as arbitrators, mediators, or conciliators. It should also more than qualify them to become paralegals.

At the graduate level, it is important to consider concentration options (also called specialization, specialty, or emphasis) within legal studies. Due to the intense nature of the degree, choosing a sharper area of focus, such as a concentration in Criminal Law, Contract Management, Employment Law, Sustainability Law, may help graduates find jobs in the field that most interests them.

Another program option to consider is format. Many people seeking degrees at the graduate level are professionals already working in the legal field, so a part-time program may be preferable to a full-time program and an online program may be preferable to an on-campus one.

Online Degree Program Formats

For those who want or need to continue working while they seek a master’s degree, attending an online or hybrid paralegal studies program may be the best option. However, students who learn best in a traditional classroom format may prefer an on-campus master’s in paralegal studies program.

Admission Requirements

Applicants to paralegal master’s degree programs must have a bachelor’s degree, commonly with at least a 2.5 to 3.0 GPA. Students wishing to specialize in a specific area of law may benefit from prior legal studies, but previous paralegal coursework typically is not required. The application package for a master’s degree in legal studies may also require a personal statement, letters of recommendation, a resume, and undergraduate transcripts.

Core Concepts and Coursework

A master’s degree in legal studies provides students with the chance to learn more about legal systems and the law compared to a graduate program. Students will typically take classes focused on various areas of the law, such as family law, business law, and estates and wills, among others. Advanced legal writing and contract work is an integral component in most master’s in legal studies. Some schools offer optional internships to help students gain job skills and apply their learning, but many programs are designed for working professionals who are already employed in a related field. Many master’s degrees in paralegal studies are offered by law schools, which can help students network and make valuable connections for their careers.

Although prior legal study is not required for many paralegal master’s degree programs, it can be helpful as many master’s programs begin with legal courses that are beyond the foundational level. In most master’s programs students can also take specialized electives based on their interests. Examples of courses in a paralegal master’s program include:

  • Advanced Legal Writing
  • Business Law
  • Civil Practice Skills
  • Comparative Justice
  • Intellectual Property
  • Legal Research
  • Mergers & Acquisitions
  • US Legal Systems

Select Master’s in Legal Studies Programs

Traditional Programs

Arizona State University

Arizona State University (ASU) offers a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree through the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Students can choose from many different focus areas, such as Criminal Law; Patent Practice; and Science and Technology Law. Each concentration has different required courses, such as International Contracts, Contract Drafting and Negotiation, and Cross-Border Investigations and Procedures. Students can study full time or part time and start in either the fall or spring term. The program can be taken through on-campus courses or as an online master’s in legal studies. The MLS can also be pursued concurrently with several of ASU’s graduate business degrees. Many of the concentration areas offer optional clinical placement opportunities or externships. For students who are interested in admission to the Juris Doctor (JD) program, ASU offers a Master of Legal Studies Honors (MLS-H) program with conditional admission.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s (UNL) Nebraska College of Law, students in the Master of Legal Studies (MLS) program complete 33 credits either full-time in one year or in a maximum of three years part-time. The curriculum requires students to take a course in legal research, at least one course from contracts, torts, or property, and successfully pass an oral exam to graduate. The remaining coursework can be completed in courses offered by the law school, such as Civil Procedure, International Law, and Law & Psychology. New students are only admitted to the fall term. The College of Law also allows students to combine the Master of Legal Studies program with select other degree programs in order to earn a dual degree.

Washington University

The Washington University School of Law offers an online Master of Legal Studies (MLS) that allows students to take many of the courses offered in the Juris Doctor (JD) program. Courses in the MLS program are taught by the same faculty who teach courses for the JD program. The program consists of 24 credits and can be completed in one year of full-time study. Students must take one prerequisite course, US Law and Methods, prior to beginning the program or in the first semester. New students are admitted in the fall, spring, and summer terms. Students may choose elective courses from many areas of law, such as commercial, health, and intellectual property. Elective courses in the degree program include Civil Procedure, Legal Writing, and Trial Advocacy.

Online and Hybrid Programs

University of Illinois Springfield

The University of Illinois Springfield offers a 100% online Master of Arts (MA) in Legal Studies with an interdisciplinary perspective focused on US law and legal systems. Some examples of courses include Legal Research and Citation, Theories of Justice, and Public Advocacy. The degree includes 40 credit hours and is designed for working professionals. Online courses may be offered through both synchronous or asynchronous methods. While the program officially begins in the fall term, students may apply to the spring or summer terms to take elective courses before beginning the legal core with the fall cohort. The degree is designed to prepare graduates for potential career opportunities in paralegalism as well as many related legal fields. Students with a bachelor’s degree in any subject may apply.

University of Denver

The Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver offers online options for the aspiring paralegal through its Master of Science in Legal Administration (MSLA) degree program. This degree program has two concentrations including Law Firm Administration and Court Administration. The degree takes 12 months of full-time study to complete or as little as two years of part-time study and comprises 30 credits. Students also complete a final externship or creative project after finishing all required coursework. Students in all concentrations must complete four required courses: Communication; Writing; Research in Legal Business; and Applied Leadership and Management in Practice. Students then take required courses related to their chosen concentration such as Business of Courts, Legal Practice Seminar, and Court Caseflow Management. The college also offers an online graduate legal administration certificate.

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California’s (USC) Gould School of Law offers a Master of Studies in Law (MSL) that is designed to prepare legal professionals who can benefit from in-depth legal knowledge but who are not practicing lawyers. The degree requires 21 credits, including two mandatory courses and 18 credits of electives. Course titles include Constitutional Law, Topics in American Law, and Business for Law. This online master of legal studies program uses multiple methods of delivery including live lectures and asynchronous course content. New students are admitted for fall, spring, and summer start dates and can complete the program on a part-time or full-time basis. The school has a strong national reputation and offers students unique opportunities to grow their careers with its expansive alumni network.

Jobs with a Master’s Degree in Legal Studies

Many graduates of master’s in paralegal studies programs will become paralegals; however, a graduate degree can open up more doors than an undergraduate degree. Some common job titles for MLS graduates include:

  • Arbitrator
  • Conciliator
  • Intelligence Analyst
  • Law Clerk
  • Legal Administrator
  • Legal Advocate
  • Legal Assistant
  • Legal Researcher
  • Legal Secretary
  • Mediator
  • Paralegal
  • Risk Management Advisor
  • Specialized Paralegal

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I earn an online master’s in legal studies without visiting campus?

Yes! A number of schools offer online master’s in legal studies programs that do not require campus visits. These programs typically offer the same courses as their on-campus counterparts and in many cases are led by the same faculty. If you choose to earn a paralegal master’s online from a regionally accredited program, your transcript will also look the same as if you had attended courses on campus.

What can you do with a master’s in legal studies?

A master’s degree in legal studies offers advanced legal preparation for those interested in more senior legal support positions, which typically are also associated with higher salaries. Possible master’s degree in legal studies careers include titles such as Paralegal Manager, Legal Manager, Senior Paralegal, Contracts Manager/Paralegal, and Paralegal Supervisor.

Do I need a paralegal master’s degree to work as a paralegal?

No, a master’s degree in paralegal studies is not necessary to work as a paralegal. This degree may be most valuable to individuals who want to advance into senior positions in the legal field or specialize in a particular area of law. A master of legal studies is also helpful to those seeking leadership or manager positions in law offices.

How much do paralegals make?

According to the BLS, paralegals and legal assistants earned a mean salary of $55,020 in 2019.2 The education level required for this career is typically an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree3 Legal studies careers for those with a master’s degree are frequently focused on management and leadership positions, which tend to be higher-paying than paralegal jobs.

Do I need prior paralegal experience or education to apply to a paralegal master’s degree program?

Most master’s degree programs in paralegal studies do not require any previous study in the field as a prerequisite; however, some programs may ask students to complete foundational coursework either before beginning the core curriculum or in the first term of the program. This ensures all students have a working knowledge of legal systems and areas of the law before taking specialized courses. While many students in legal studies master’s degree programs do have prior experience in the field, it is not always a requirement for admission. Check with the schools you are interested in for admission requirements.

Can I give legal advice or practice law with a master’s degree in legal studies?

No. To work as a lawyer or provide legal advice, you must complete a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. A master’s degree in paralegal studies will teach students about legal systems but not about how to interpret and apply the law and will not qualify graduates to sit for the bar and become licensed attorneys.

Can I get certified as a paralegal with a master’s degree?

Paralegals typically are not required to be certified or licensed in order to find work, although some states offer optional certification through their bar associations. While specific educational attainment like a master’s degree in legal studies is not necessary to work as a paralegal, a graduate degree in legal studies will meet the requirements for voluntary state certification and can be beneficial when applying for senior or managerial positions, or for positions specializing in a particular area of law. In addition to state certification, there are multiple national certification options offered by organizations such as the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS).

Does the ABA accredit master’s in legal studies programs?

In order to prevent confusion with the accreditation of Juris Doctor (JD) law degree programs, which are also at the graduate level, the American Bar Association does not accredit non-JD graduate degree programs. This means that an ABA-approved law school offers an ABA-approved JD program, not that its other graduate programs (including MLS degrees) are ABA-approved.

1. National Center for Education Statistics, College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Paralegals and Legal Assistants: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm
3. O*NET OnLine: Paralegals and Legal Assistants: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/23-2011.00