School Finder



Students interested in pursuing graduate level education in law or legal studies will find a range of degrees with distinctive focuses. In this article, we discuss four types of law degrees, their differences, and the pros and cons of each.

Our editors first published the different types of legal studies degrees in July 2023. This article was updated in March 2024.

Among the different types of advanced law degrees, our focus is on:

  • Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.)
  • Juris Master’s (J.M.)
  • Master of Laws (LL.M.)
  • Juris Doctor (J.D.)

What are the differences between these advanced degrees in law and why should you get one? Read on for an overview of the different graduate level law degrees and the pros and cons of each.

Related Articles:

Master of Legal Studies

The Master of Legal Studies or MLS is a degree for non-lawyers. It is a graduate degree for students and professionals wanting to deepen their understanding of the law. You can get an MLS degree with no law background. Why? Because MLS students are not usually individuals pursuing careers in the practice of law or attempting to become attorneys.

An MLS degree is a valued credential for anyone applying for mid- to high-level government positions, but it does not qualify you to take the Bar exam to become licensed for the practice of law.


  • Career advancement in government agencies and human resources
  • Flexible learning options (online, part-time, full-time, hybrid)
  • Interdisciplinary approach to legal issues
  • Networking opportunities with professionals in the legal field
  • No Bar examination


  • Over-saturation of MLS graduates
  • Rigorous academic requirements
  • Salary potential lower than other legal degrees

Juris Master

A Juris Master (JM) degree is for experienced non-lawyer professionals seeking to a legal foundation to advance their careers. It also for students and professionals who intend to switch careers. Newcomers to the job market who want a strong legal foundation to begin a career in highly regulated industries can get a JM degree.

The Juris Master degree and the Master of Legal Studies are similar but go by different names.


  • Career advancement opportunities
  • Cost and time efficiency (not as long as other degrees)
  • Flexible approach to legal studies
  • No Bar exam required
  • Versatile degree useful in many industries


  • Limited career scope
  • Limited legal practice (must be overseen by attorney)
  • Lower salary potential than other law degrees

Master of Laws

A Master of Laws or LL.M. is a degree for lawyers. Typically, students attend LL.M. programs to learn about the legal system of a particular country, or to develop specialized knowledge in a focused area of practice. Common focus areas include:

  • Finance
  • Environmental law
  • International law
  • Real estate

In general, LL.M. degrees are for those who have already earned the necessary credentials, passed their Bar exams, and started careers as attorneys. It is a degree to enhance the career of practicing lawyers. Ultimately, the LL.M. is about specialization, but can also prove useful for students whose undergraduate degrees are not adequate for the entry level positions they desire. Securing an LL.M. can help launch your career in entry level positions in leading law firms.


  • Exposure to different legal perspectives
  • Gain specialized knowledge in a focused area of law
  • Opportunities for cultural immersion
  • Networking opportunities with faculty and law professionals
  • Work in multinational corporations


  • Competitive admissions
  • Language barriers for international students
  • Requires strong academic credentials

Juris Doctor

Students wanting to become practicing lawyers, must complete a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. JD programs are terminal level graduate degrees designed to equip students with general knowledge of United States law and law in a chosen field of interest. Graduates gain the necessary credentials to take the Bar examination and begin practicing law.


  • Leads to high earning potential
  • Prestige with heightened social status
  • Specialized legal training
  • Versatile credential opening doors to all areas of law


  • Costly investment
  • High stress and pressure when studying for Bar exam
  • Rigorous and time-consuming coursework and studies

This concludes our article on the different types of legal studies degrees.