The Master of Studies in Law (MSL) is becoming an increasingly popular law program for non-Juris Doctor (J.D.) students. While the J.D. still dominates the legal education landscape, legal studies and accessible legal education are proving beneficial in a number of fields where laws and regulations affect day-to-day work.
With this in mind, an MSL program is meticulously designed to help those without a JD degree learn what they need to get ahead. From human resources to information technology and beyond, building a legal foundation is key for workers to set themselves apart in the business landscape and to increase their earning potential.
Let’s explore the Master of Studies in Law benefits in greater depth to better understand this degree.
What is a Master of Studies in Law?
An MSL is a legal degree for non-lawyers (those who do not hold a JD) that is popular in law-adjacent roles and in fields where the law is instrumental in day-to-day operations. An MSL degree is ideal for working professionals who want to advance their careers by building a foundation in U.S. law. Paired with a specialization of your choosing, an MSL can bring an immediate impact and value to your current workplace while setting you up for future success.
Is an MSL Degree Right for You?
If you are in a position where knowledge of the legal system will make you better at your job, or you want to move into a position where legal knowledge will be important, then this degree could be right for you. If you work in a field that is closely related to or overlaps with law (e.g., health care, consulting, HR, finance, research, nonprofit management, and government), the MSL is an excellent degree choice and proves useful in an array of fields.
The Master of Studies in Law will be a good fit if you:
- Work with lawyers
- Work with the law or regulations
- Want to reorient your career
- Want to learn more about the law, but are not looking to practice as an attorney
If you are on the fence about whether or not earning an MSL would be a worthwhile investment, take the time to reflect on your motivations for seeking additional education. Consider the following questions to better understand if this degree will be worth pursuing in order to meet your goals:
- Do you want a raise, or do you have a salary goal in mind?
- Are you looking for a promotion?
- Do you want to gain additional work responsibilities?
- Are you interested in the law and the legal system?
- Would you like more job security?
- Do you want to better understand legal issues that you encounter in your current role?
- Are you a career changer who wants to break into a new industry?
Understanding the potential outcomes of earning an MSL will help you ask better questions and have deeper conversations as you seek out your ideal master’s program.
Benefits of Earning a Master’s Degree in Legal Studies
Because of the increasingly competitive job market, a bachelor’s degree alone might not be enough for professionals looking to move forward in their career. Higher education has become desirable, and often necessary, for many lucrative and executive-level jobs, or even to advance in your current job. A master’s degree can help expand your knowledge and experience, and improve your chances of getting promoted or hired.
Deeper Legal Knowledge
You likely have experienced some legal scenario in your career so far. You may have even done some training on the subject or sought legal counsel for your work. While this exposure can be helpful, none of those experiences compare to the depth and breadth of legal education that an MSL provides.
Since this degree is designed for people adjacent to law work, you’ll gain broad coverage of the law versus niche areas that lawyers or other legal professionals must learn. For example, you can master the principles of commercial and personal contracts and learn how to interpret and apply contracts in general without focusing on all the details of every different type of contract. This will serve you well in various stages of business development.
MSL programs, like what is offered at Pitt Law, teach you a solid understanding of the basics so you can become more adept at identifying, analyzing, and resolving legal issues. Your unique background can make you more informed on law without pivoting your entire career. Once you graduate, you’ll have a comprehensive and well-rounded perspective of the evolving laws and regulations that govern business today.
Career Advancement & Opportunities
Like other master’s degrees, an MSL is a revered and coveted designation that speaks volumes to employers. Not only does it show that you have the advanced skills and knowledge for upper-level positions, but it also shows your impressive motivation and commitment. Seeking out, qualifying for, and completing a master’s program is no easy feat, and recruiters will recognize the drive and work ethic that a degree like this requires.
At your current position, an MSL will help you show that you’re ready to take on greater responsibility and help you move up from a middle management position. It is also a great way to grow your authority at your organization, as you can now speak intelligently and accurately on matters outside of your direct field. Legal expertise is especially valuable in the C-suite, where your assessment of risk and exposure can influence major decisions and strategies.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an increase in your education level typically leads to higher earnings and a decrease in unemployment. Those who hold master’s degrees earn 16 percent more than those at a bachelor’s level.1
You have many options open to you as you look at MSL programs in order to position yourself for advancement. In addition to the specific focus of the program, you also get to choose whether you want to seek the degree online or on campus. Online programs have increased in popularity due to their flexibility and generally lower costs. Many classes are asynchronous, meaning you can complete the work on your schedule, which allows you to earn your degree while continuing to work and earn a paycheck. The Pitt Law Online MSL program offers all classes asynchronously, so you can continue to earn while you learn, and you don’t need to take precious time out of the workforce in order to boost your educational profile.
Focused Subject Matter
Not every Master of Studies in Law degree is the same, as some offer specializations to narrow your legal studies. At the University of Pittsburgh, we have four specialization options available: Corporate Compliance, Health Care Compliance, Human Resources Law, and International Business Law. By choosing a specialization, you can gain a deeper understanding of how the law impacts your professional life in your area of concentration.
Corporate compliance: Corporations implement compliance programs to identify misconduct and protect the interests of employees, shareholders, and businesses, and to guard against liability and reputational risk. Compliance officers are the individuals in corporations who are key to ensuring that the organization complies with its own policies and procedures, as well as applicable legal statutes, regulations, and judicial.
Health care compliance: Health care compliance is crucial to protecting practices against liabilities like fraud, abuse, and waste that violate federal and state laws governing the health care industry. Compliance programs require knowledgeable professionals to develop processes, policies, and procedures that will promote legal and ethical business practices in health services, as well as teaching and enforcing compliance policies in health care organizations.
HR law: Human resources (HR) is one of the fields where knowledge of the law is rapidly becoming essential to successfully navigate day-to-day tasks. This can range from hiring, administering benefits, and promoting employee engagement to engaging in collective bargaining, handling sensitive employee relations issues, creating and administering anti-discrimination policies, and implementing layoffs.
International business: If your employer does business outside of the U.S., a focus on international business prepares you for understanding and managing U.S. and international business transactions in which the legal systems might vary. It also equips you to manage cross-border disputes via skills gained in litigation, mediation and arbitration.
Robust, Diverse Professional Network
When you join a master’s degree program, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a group of students who have many of the same goals and interests as you; after all, you all ended up in the same program. Although the ages of MSL students can vary greatly, you can be confident that your classmates are all hard-working, motivated professionals like yourself, with diverse backgrounds and experiences to share.
As a student in Pitt Law’s MSL program you’ll also have access to broader connections, such as Pitt’s other staff members and a worldwide alumni network. This network growth can serve as a great starting point for new jobs, business ventures, mentorship opportunities, or personal relationships.
Your undergraduate learning and work experience certainly equipped you with a lot of applicable skills, but much has changed in business and law in the past few years (and continues to every day). To stay ahead of the curve, you need to be trained in today’s tools, systems, and best practices, much of which are difficult to learn on your own.
A quality MSL curriculum will develop your:
- Communication skills (e.g., arguments, negotiations, persuasion, and rebuttals)
- Leadership skills
- Legal knowledge and expertise
- Curiosity and desire to learn
- Strategic thinking capabilities
- Time management
Flexibility with Support
Zoom lectures and PowerPoints are no longer the standard for online learning. Online courses are now available on engaging platforms with real-time activities, interactions, and feedback that mimic a classroom experience. You can enjoy the flexibility of asynchronous classes and coursework, which gives you autonomy and independence to live, work, and learn how you prefer.
Even with this coveted flexibility, you will find unwavering support from Pitt Law’s faculty members and your cohort. Instructors check in on you throughout your courses and support your progress through each week, interacting with you via email (or phone or video chat if that suits your needs better), commenting on assignments, moderating discussion threads, and leading group and private discussions via video chat. You’ll know what work needs to be completed when, as course materials are organized by a weekly schedule. Core MSL and specialized courses are consistent in format, scope, and timing, making it easier for you to know what to expect in order to successfully navigate and balance your work, life, and education.
Apply a Legal Lens to Your Work
For more than 125 years, the University of Pittsburgh has been a leader in legal education. Pitt Law’s Online Master of Studies in Law (MSL) program is here to help those without a JD degree learn what they need to navigate legal issues in any organization. With Pitt Law’s Online MSL program, you will not only gain knowledge and skills in the field of law, but you will also be able to pair the core MSL courses to the specialization of your choosing.
Set up a call with an Admissions Outreach Advisor to discuss how an Online MSL can align with your goals and interests.