If you are a professional seeking a legal career or law-related occupation, it is important to remember that a Juris Doctor (JD) is not the only type of law degree available to you. When pursuing your law degree options, you should first consider the specific legal skills you will need to advance your career.
Some types of law degrees, like the JD, will prepare you to pass the bar exam and practice law as a lawyer in the courtroom or in a more traditional legal setting. Other non-JD law degrees, like the Master of Legal Studies (MLS) or Master of Dispute Resolution (MDR), provide you with legal skills that are useful in almost any field.
Exploring the different admissions requirements, curriculum options, and outcomes of these degrees will help you determine which type of law degree is the best fit for your career goals.
Master of Legal Studies (MLS)
A Master of Legal Studies degree is designed for nonlawyers who could benefit from a deeper understanding of the law but do not want to follow the path of becoming a practicing attorney. A legal studies degree is generally a good fit for professionals who deal with legal procedures or concepts in their daily role and are looking to advance their career.
Admission: MLS programs require applicants to have earned their bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and can sometimes require standardized test scores. In addition, a résumé, a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and personal interviews can be required.
Academic Experience: MLS curriculums typically cover a variety of legal topics to give students a strong foundation in all aspects of the law. Courses can cover legal topics like contracts, regulatory compliance, negotiation theory, and administrative law. In addition, students are sometimes required to attend in-person learning experiences that give them the opportunity to put their newly gained legal skills into practice. MLS programs typically take 16 to 28 months to complete depending on full-time or part-time options.
Program Outcomes: Graduates of legal studies degree programs typically pursue careers in law-adjacent fields such as business, human resources, regulatory agencies, law enforcement, and social work. Skills like working with contracts, understanding the legal procedures involved in transactions, and ensuring compliance with the law can help students advance in these fields.
A Master of Dispute Resolution degree can be beneficial for professionals who are looking to develop conflict resolution and negotiation skills to better manage conflict and handle difficult situations. MDR programs can attract professionals who are interested in learning how to resolve conflicts between parties, handling change or promoting communication in their organization, and identifying workplace issues before they arise.
Admission: Similar to other non-JD degree programs, individuals pursuing a dispute resolution degree are required to have earned their bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and can sometimes require standardized test scores. In addition, a résumé, a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and personal interviews can be required.
Academic Experience: MDR curriculums typically cover negotiation, mediation, and arbitration strategies in addition to a wide range of dispute resolution topics. Course topics can include negotiation, mediation theory, arbitration practice, and conflict management. MDR programs typically take 16 to 28 months to complete.
Program Outcomes: Since conflict and difficult situations are present in almost every field, students can pursue careers in business management, social work, counseling, human resources, construction management, and labor relations.
Pepperdine Caruso School of Law’s online MDR program assists professionals across a variety of industries to confidently resolve conflicts and negotiate complex transactions. The online MDR program is offered by Pepperdine Caruso School of Law’s Straus Institute, which is ranked #1 for dispute resolution by U.S. News & World Report. Learn more about Pepperdine Caruso School of Law’s online Master of Dispute Resolution program.
A Juris Doctor degree is the required legal degree for professionals who are pursuing a career as a practicing attorney. JD degree programs at American Bar Association accredited law schools typically focus on all aspects of U.S. law and legal procedure to prepare students to research cases, prosecute or defend lawsuits, and argue on behalf of a wide variety of individual clients and businesses. A JD degree includes preparation for passing a state bar exam, which allows attorney’s to practice in their chosen state.
Admission: Students pursuing a JD degree are required to have earned their bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and must submit LSAT or GRE test scores. In addition, letters of recommendation, personal interviews, and personal statements can be required.
Academic Experience: JD curriculums typically emphasize the tools and strategies used in the courtroom and to conduct research on complex legal issues. Course topics can include U.S. law, constitutional law, civil law, criminal law, torts, contract law, property, and other legal topics. Students typically graduate in three years when taking a full-time course load. In most cases, they are also required to complete internships and clerkships at law firms.
Program Outcomes: Graduates of a JD degree program must pass a bar examination to practice law in the United States. Only after passing the bar exam can students become licensed attorneys.
A Master of Laws degree is designed for professionals who already hold a law degree and want to specialize in a particular area of law. Students in LLM programs typically develop expertise in a specific legal subject such as tax law, intellectual property, or human rights law.
Admission: Students pursuing an LLM degree are required to have earned a JD degree from an accredited college or university. In addition, a résumé, a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and personal interviews can be required.
Academic Experience: LLM curriculums provide students with the opportunity to further hone their legal skills by choosing from a range of electives that cover advanced legal topics. Specialized areas of study include international law, human rights law, tax law, commercial law, copyright law, and environmental law. Students typically graduate in one year if taking a full-time course load or two years if taking a part-time course load.
Program Outcomes: After earning this degree and developing expertise in the subject of their choice, LLM degree graduates typically continue their careers as attorneys but serve a more specialized client base. These highly competitive fields can include international law, human rights law, intellectual property law, and health law.
A Doctor of Juridical Science degree is considered the highest level of a law degree and is designed for professionals who are looking to gain an advanced legal education after earning their JD and LLM. Given that these legal professionals have already earned other advanced law degrees, an SJD provides them with the additional legal expertise that is required to become professors and scholars of law.
Admission: Students pursuing an SJD degree are required to have earned their JD and LLM from an accredited college or university. In addition, a résumé, a personal statement, a research proposal, letters of recommendation, and personal interviews can be required.
Academic Experience: Instead of a traditional curriculum featuring a range of required courses, SJD programs typically require students to conduct legal research in one-on-one sessions with professors and participate in seminars. SJD programs usually take two years to complete on a full-time course load.
Program Outcomes: SJD degree graduates typically pursue careers such as law professor or legal scholar.
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