Will earning a Master of Legal Studies degree prepare you for the practice of law?
The simple answer to this question is no. The M.L.S. program is designed to enhance understanding of the law and legal principles in the context of a professional career. It is not, however, intended to train students for careers as attorneys, nor to prepare them for any state’s Bar examination. If you are seeking a career as a practicing attorney, the standard credential is the Doctor of Jurisprudence (or Juris Doctor), which is a terminal level graduate degree designed to equip graduates with general understanding of U.S. Law with in-depth knowledge around a particular concentration or specialization of the student’s choosing. JD programs typically take three years of full-time study to complete. Courses in these programs typically cover topics on civil procedures, constitutional laws, torts, criminal law, public law, international law, business law, courtroom procedures, legal writing, professional ethics, property law, and more.
Furthermore, the MLS and Juris Doctor while overlapping in content, are completely different degrees with completely different career focuses. Some who are unsure if they want to practice law might think that pursuit of an MLS could provide them with a flexible option that could lead (with a few additional requirements) to the necessary credentials for the practice of law down the road. Thus, they might think the MLS would be a good exploratory option while on the fence about their future in the practice of law. However, the MLS should not be thought of this way as any credits earned in an MLS or Juris Master program cannot be transferred to Juris Doctor degree. According to ABA Standards, a law school may only grant credit for courses undertaken as a Juris Doctor degree student. Therefore, students who have already earned their bachelor’s degree and are still unsure if they want to pursue a career in the practice of law, would be best off pursuing a Juris Doctor degree as opposed to the Master of Legal Studies. The Juris Doctor will provide the same opportunities for career advancement that the MLS provides plus the ability to move forward with Bar examinations to become licensed for the practice of law. JD degree holders oftwen become judges, magistrates, mediators, legal consultants, or court officers. Graduates may consider working in politics, public administration, real estate management, corporate business, or taxation.
MLS degree programs on the other hand are excellent options for professionals who know that they will work in areas that are closely related to and affected by law, but who do not intend to practice law themselves. These degrees are attractive because while a typical JD program takes three years for completion, a Master of Legal Studies typically takes one to two years. For those individuals who are certain that they do not intend to practice law, but who are looking to advance their current careers through an expanded knowledge in law, see our ranking of Best Online Master of Legal Studies programs.