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Legal Studies: Degrees for Non-Lawyers

June 21, 2022
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The Juris Doctor (J.D.) remains the cornerstone of American law schools, but that does not mean that if you want to learn the law without becoming a practicing lawyer, you are left out in the cold. In fact, there are a growing number of non-J.D. legal programs offered by reputable law schools, both online and in person, that are designed to benefit students who do not want to pursue the J.D.

With a number of schools to choose from and the veritable alphabet soup of degree names, finding the right degree program may seem like a daunting task. Let’s break down the differences between the degree names and refine the search process to target the perfect legal studies degree for you.

MSL vs MJ and MLS vs JM: What’s the Difference?

A quick Google search on legal studies will yield a number of suggested search options, like, “what is a master of legal studies?” or, “what is a master of jurisprudence?” or, “what is a juris master degree?” Clearly, there is a bit of confusion about the difference between the names of the degree, and subsequently questions arise about if there is a difference between the programs based on the name of the degree.

Here is a list of the most common degrees for non-lawyers that you will see in your law school search:

  • Master of Studies in Law (MSL)
  • Master of Legal Studies (MLS)
  • Master of Jurisprudence (MJ)
  • Juris Master (JM)

The good news? These are different names for the same thing—a law degree for individuals who do not want to practice law as an attorney. This non-J.D. degree-type is popular in law-adjacent roles, such as a paralegal position, and in fields where the law is instrumental in day-to-day operations (especially in leadership roles) like IT, healthcare, HR, business and STEM fields.

Another popular non-J.D. law degree you may encounter in a law school search is the Master of Laws (LL.M.). This prerequisite to earning this degree is a J.D., as the LL.M. is considered a terminal law degree that practicing lawyers obtain to hone their expertise in a particular area of the law, such as intellectual property law, for example.

You can obtain an MSL without any legal background at all. The main prerequisites for earning this type of law degree are an interest in the law and in building your expertise in a specific area, either to apply to your current field of work, or to break into a new career. MSL programs are designed with a core focus on teaching non-lawyers the law, including U.S. law at large, common law, administrative law, and more.

Finding the Right Fit

Whether you are looking to earn a specific degree name—MSL, MLS, MJ, or JM—or not, you have a number of program options open to you. The best place to start your search is to consider whether you are looking for an on-campus or online program.

Online Programs

Online programs have increased in popularity due to their flexibility and generally lower costs. The pandemic did not hurt this popularity, either, but because courses are being offered in a more engaging manner than in the past, online programs were becoming more popular even before the lockdowns of 2020 occurred.

In online programs, many classes are asynchronous, meaning you can complete the work on your schedule, which allows you to earn your degree without having to put your current job or other commitments in your life on hold. Many programs are also designed to allow you to build connections with your professors and classmates virtually, giving you the added benefit of building your professional network.

With all the flexibility that online programs offer, it is important to remember that you will need to be disciplined enough to not let yourself fall behind in your coursework. Strong time management skills are key to finding success in an online program.

Is an online program a good fit for you? Ask yourself the following:

  • Will I be able to hold myself accountable to get the work done in a timely manner?
  • Am I comfortable building relationships with professors and peers virtually?
  • Will I realistically be able to prioritize my coursework on top of my other work and life commitments?
  • Do I have the time management skills to succeed? What skills can I brush up on before starting a program?

Reflecting on these questions can help you get a sense of how you will perform in an online learning environment.

On-Campus Programs

Despite the increased popularity of online classes, you may find the traditional on-campus experience is a better fit for you. Typically, attending in-person classes means you have to uproot your life and move to be closer to the law school, but depending on how close you live to universities with law schools, you might be able to stay where you currently live. Attending an on-campus program may limit your options, however, if you are looking for stay in a specific geographic area.

Is an on-campus program a better fit for you? Ask yourself:

  • How much am I willing to adjust my life for this program?
  • Am I willing to move for this program? Can I afford to move?
  • Will I give up my job or find a new job for my ideal program?
  • What benefits will I get in an on-campus program that I wouldn’t in an online program?

Thinking about your answers to these questions can help you get an idea of whether or not attending an on-campus program is ideal for you.

Specialize in Data and Privacy Law with Cardozo School of Law

Once you have decided between an online or on-campus program, you can start narrowing down your options even further by deciding if you want to specialize in a specific area of law with this degree. Earning a master of studies in law with a specific focus area is an excellent way to set yourself apart in your field, or to break into a new field.

Yeshiva University Cardozo School of Law’s online MSL is perfect for those working with company and customer data, as the degree focuses on data and privacy law. The program breaks down the complexities of cybersecurity, data and privacy laws to allow students to excel in IT, cybersecurity, HR, operations and more.

Cardozo’s MSL program is designed by industry leaders and combines theoretical and practical perspectives on compelling topics, including international data protection, cybersecurity, internet law and much more. As a Cardozo student, you’ll study with our top-ranked faculty and build connections with your fellow students in small group settings that focus on engagement. Gain the skills and confidence to make smarter decisions about data operation and management—in your current professional role or your future career as a data specialist.

Connect with an Admissions Advisor to learn more about the online MSL in Data and Privacy Law.