Paralegal Master’s Degree

A master’s degree in paralegalism is more commonly referred to as a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) or Master of Arts (MA) in Legal Studies. This degree provides students with the chance to learn more about legal systems and the law as it relates to various professions, including but not limited to paralegalism. Students can take classes focused on various areas of the law, such as family law, business law, and estates and wills, among others. The degree typically takes one year to complete full-time or can be completed part-time within two-to-three years. 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 degree programs in paralegal studies are offered by four-year universities or colleges as part of the school of law.

Completing a master’s degree in paralegalism or 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 may not be an ideal choice for aspiring lawyers. Master’s degrees in paralegal may also provide the chance to develop a specialized knowledge base in a particular area of law. According to O*NET Online, paralegals and law assistants earned a median salary of $49,500; however, the highest level of education among these individuals was an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.1 According to Payscale.com, graduates of MLS degree programs working as senior contracts managers reported salaries between $72,171-$139,588.2 While this data may not be typical across the country, it does suggest that graduates of master’s degrees in legal studies may work in management or leadership positions with a higher salary.

Admission Requirements

Applicants to master’s degree programs in paralegal studies must have a bachelor’s degree in any subject with a minimum of 2.5 to 3.0 grade point average (GPA). Students wishing to specialize in a specific area of law may benefit from prior legal studies, but coursework in paralegalism or legal studies is not required. The application package for a master’s degree in paralegalism may also require a personal statement, letters of recommendation, a resume, and undergraduate transcripts.

Core Concepts and Coursework

As prior legal study is not required for many paralegal master’s degree programs, many programs include foundational coursework in legal studies. Upon completion of the required foundational courses, students can take specialized electives based on their interests. Examples of courses in a paralegal master’s program include:

  • US Legal Systems
  • Legal Research
  • Business Communications
  • Comparative Justice
  • Mergers & Acquisitions
  • Intellectual Property
  • Business Law
  • History of American Law
  • Civil Practice Skills
  • Moot Court

Paralegal Master’s Degree Learning Goals

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

Students will learn about the various legal systems and types of law they will encounter in their work as paralegals and legal professionals. Students generally choose electives based on their career interests 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 degree programs 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.

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

Some master’s degree programs in paralegalism and legal 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, including paralegalism. 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.

Traditional Paralegal Master’s Degree Programs

There are many relevant master’s degree programs for working or aspiring paralegals, often in the area of legal studies or legal administration. The following programs enable students to gain in-depth information through traditional, on-campus methods and offer a wide range of elective courses.

Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)

Arizona State University offers a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree through the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Students can choose from many different concentration 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 entire program can be taken on-campus or in combination with online courses. Many of the concentration areas offer optional clinical placement opportunities or externships.

University of Nebraska – Lincoln (Lincoln, NE)

At the Nebraska College of Law, students in the Master of Legal Studies program complete 33 credits either full-time in one year or in a maximum of three years part-time. The course 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 program the MLS program with other degree programs administered by the University of Nebraska – Lincoln Graduate Studies, such as Psychology and Gerontology.

Washington University (St. Louis, MO)

The Washington University School of Law offers a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) that allows students to take many of the courses offered in the Juris Doctor (JD) program and are taught by the same faculty. 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 Paralegal Master’s Degree Programs

Working professionals or busy students may wish to complete a graduate degree in paralegalism or legal studies online as it provides more flexibility and can be completed anywhere. The following programs enable students to study at their own pace and complete the degree completely online.

University of Illinois Springfield (Springfield, IL)

University of Illinois Springfield offers a 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 as it can be completed fully online or in combination with night classes. 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 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 (Denver, CO)

The Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver offers many online options for the aspiring paralegal through the Master of Science in Legal Administration (MSLA) degree program. This degree program has several concentrations including Law Firm Administration, Court Administration, and International 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, including Communication, Writing, and Research in Legal Business and Applied Leadership and Management in Practice. Upon completion, students must take required concentration courses such as Business of Courts, Legal Practice Seminar, and Court Caseflow Management. The college also offers an online post-baccalaureate legal administration certificate.

University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)

USC Gould School of Law’s Master of Studies in Law (MSL) is designed to educate legal professionals who can benefit from in-depth legal knowledge but 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. The online 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 as it was ranked in a tie for 21st among National Universities by US News & World Report in 2017 as well as in a tie for fifth among Best Colleges for Veterans and in a tie for 15th for Most Innovative Schools.

Paralegal Certification with a Master’s Degree

Paralegalism is not a certified profession in any state. California does require professionals who use the title “paralegal” to meet minimum education or experience requirements but the state does not provide certification.3 Specific education, such as a master’s degree in legal studies, is not necessary to work as a paralegal but can be beneficial when applying for senior or managerial positions or. In order to prevent confusion with accreditation of Juris Doctor (JD) law degree programs, the American Bar Association does not accredit Non-JD graduate degree programs.

Many paralegal associations, however, offer optional certification and exams to help aspiring paralegals stand out, such as the National Association of Legal Assistants, the National Federation of Paralegal Assistants, and the Association for Legal Professionals. Another way to demonstrate proficiency to potential employers is to complete skills-based certifications for resources used in paralegal offices. LexisNexis is an example of a software package used in legal offices by paralegals. The company offers a five-module training program that leading to a certificate of mastery. Alternatively, Thompson Reuters WestLaw offers webinar training for their own suite of legal research software. The training consists of three modules and a test.

Jobs with a Master’s Degree in Paralegal Studies

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

Frequently Asked Questions

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 paralegalism.

Can I complete a master’s degree in paralegal studies online?

Yes, many fully-online programs are offered at the master’s level for paralegalism and legal studies. Some programs may require an internship but online students can usually complete this requirement at an approved location in their home community.

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

Most master’s degree program in paralegal studies do not require 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 school or schools you are interested in for their programs’ 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. The master’s degree programs in legal studies or paralegalism teach students about legal systems but not about how to interpret and apply the law.

1. O*NET Online: Paralegals and Law Assistants: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/23-2011.00
2. Payscale.com: Master of Legal Studies Degree Average Salary: https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Master_of_Legal_Studies_(MLS)/Salary#by_Job
3. American Bar Association: Directory of Paralegal State Activity: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/profession-information/state_activity_home.html/