Master of Legal Studies versus Master of Laws

With a number of legal degrees available, it can sometimes be confusing to prospective students as they try to understand the purpose and structure of each one. In this post, we’ll compare the MLS (Master of Legal Studies) and LL.M. (Master of Laws) degrees to help clear things up a bit.

The MLS is a degree for nonlawyers. People from a variety of career fields generally obtain MLS degrees in order to enhance their legal knowledge and advance their careers. MLS students are generally not seeking to practice law or become attorneys.

An LL.M., on the other hand, is a degree for lawyers. Typically, they attend LL.M. programs to learn about the legal system of a particular country (e.g. @WashULaw’s online LL.M. in U.S. Law), or to develop specialized knowledge in a particular practice area (e.g. securities or taxation).

To further clarify the differences between the degrees, here are the details surrounding each one.

Master of Legal Studies (MLS) Degree

  • Academic study. Courses in an MLS program are generally the same as those taken by first-year J.D. students who want to become attorneys. Topics include legal research and writing, civil procedure, contracts, intellectual property and other central subjects. Courses are traditionally taken alongside J.D. candidates, who will then go on to two additional years of study before taking the bar exam and eventually becoming attorneys.
  • Admissions eligibility. MLS programs are targeted at those who already have undergraduate degrees (subject area restrictions tend to not exist).
  • Career paths. An MLS degree is useful in almost any career field. The key is whether or not knowledge of the law is helpful to that field. Some jobs, like those in criminal justice, legal journalism and human resources clearly have a large legal overlap. Others may be less deeply intertwined with the law, but professionals may still benefit from a greater understanding of law.
  • Cost. Equivalent to a single year of law school: $20,000-$50,000.
  • Length of program. One year, but may vary depending on the number of courses taken per term.
  • Who should seek it? An MLS is an excellent degree for anyone seeking to advance their career, if their chosen field is interrelated with the law in a meaningful way. Some examples include executives in industries with heavy international or environmental involvement, university professors, compliance personnel and many more.

Master of Laws (LL.M.) Degree

  • Academic study. An LL.M. is generally focused on the law of a particular jurisdiction or topic area (U.S. law, human rights, intellectual property, etc.). Attorneys/students select the LL.M. focus that is most relevant to their career goals.
  • Admissions eligibility.M. programs are available to those that already have a law degree, such as a J.D. or the international equivalent.
  • Career paths. An LL.M. opens up the career paths an attorney can take. Armed with specialized knowledge, attorneys can expand their practice internationally, or serve entirely new client bases with their new expertise.
  • Cost. Equivalent to a year of law school: $20,000-$50,000.
  • Length. One year, but may vary depending on the number of courses taken per term.
  • Who should pursue it? LL.M. programs are best for attorneys who want to develop their careers and serve new client bases (or serve existing client bases better). For example, if an attorney wanted to become an advocate for international human rights, an LL.M. on that topic would be a great step in the right direction.

In general, the difference between an MLS and an LL.M. is that an MLS is for nonlawyers, while an LL.M. is for attorneys. Each program serves different student types with different goals and credentials. Be sure to do your research to determine which program and degree is the best fit for you.

Request more information today about @WashULaw’s online MLS and LL.M. degree programs!