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MSL vs. LL.M. Comparison: Which Legal Degree Is for You?

MSL vs. LL.M. Comparison: Which Legal Degree Is for You?

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Outside of the Juris Doctor (JD), the Master of Studies in Law (MSL) and the Master of Laws (LL.M.) are the two of the most popular legal graduate degrees. There are, however, notable differences between these two degrees. If you are considering a career in a legal or law adjacent field, or already work in law (whether you have a JD or not), it is beneficial to understand the MSL vs. LL.M. to understand which degree is appropriate for you and your career goals.

In this post, we will explore each degree type in depth and explain what you can do if you choose to pursue either educational path.

What is an MSL Degree?

The question, “What is an MSL degree?” can be answered simply in that it is a legal degree for nonlawyers. And while it is true that you do not need a JD to obtain an MSL, an MSL may still be appropriate for practicing attorneys, depending on the focus of the program. For example, the University of Pittsburgh School of Law offers an MSL degree with three specializations that you can choose from to further tailor the program to your career goals. A practicing attorney who is looking to practice in the health care compliance space would thus find the MSL degree useful. However, the MSL is generally considered an alternative to the traditional JD.

You may also hear an MSL called a Master of Jurisprudence (MJ) or a Master of Legal Studies (MLS). Regardless of the degree name, each of these programs are similar in being geared toward nonlawyers. This degree is popular in law-adjacent roles, such as a paralegal position, and in fields where the law is instrumental in day-to-day operations like health care and human resources.

Why Pursue an MSL?

As your education level increases, you are going to see an increase in your earnings and a decrease in the likelihood you will find yourself unemployed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers who hold master’s degrees earn 20 percent more than those at a bachelor’s level.1

If you are seeking to advance your career in a field that is interrelated to law, the MLS is a good degree choice for you. This degree is also a good fit for people who work with lawyers, people who work with the law, people who want to reorient their careers, and people who want to learn more about the law, but are not looking to practice law as an attorney.

Is the MSL Right for Me?

This degree proves useful in a wide array of fields. If you are in a position where knowledge of the law will make you better at your job, or you are looking to move into a position where legal knowledge will be important, then this degree could be the right fit for you.

If you are on the fence about whether or not earning an MSL would be worth it for you personally and professionally, reflecting on your motivations is a good starting point. Consider the following to better understand if this degree will be worth it 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 or a job title with more responsibility?
  • Are you interested in the law and the legal system?
  • Do you like more job security?
  • Are you looking for clarity around legal issues in your current role?
  • Are you a career changer wanting to break into a new industry?

There are no right or wrong answers here, but understanding the outcomes of earning an MSL can help you ask better questions and have better conversations as you seek out your ideal MSL program.

What is an LL.M.?

The JD is a prerequisite to earn an LL.M, making it a degree for lawyers. Similar to the MSL, an attorney chooses to pursue an LL.M. to become specialized in a specific area of law or become a leader or subject matter expert in that area of law. For example, an attorney wanting to break into intellectual property law would seek out an LL.M. focused on intellectual property.

An LL.M. is known as a terminal degree, which means that it is the highest level or most advanced degree in the study of law.

Why Pursue an LL.M.?

As noted above, an LL.M. is typically focused on a specific area of law. If you hold a JD, as an LL.M. student you will select a program that is relevant to the goals of your legal practice. The LL.M. builds on the legal fundamentals learned during JD studies and on the job and gives you a stronger understanding of the law while challenging you to see the practice of law differently.

Attorneys pursue this degree to set themselves apart. To firms and clients, an LL.M. on your resume shows your commitment to the law and your commitment to your career as a lawyer. With a specialized LL.M., you can also present yourself as an expert on the subject you choose to study.

Earning an LL.M. can also help broaden your professional network. You can build strong relationships with classmates and instructors and their connections, and tap into the alumni network of your degree granting institution.

The LL.M. is also popular for international lawyers who want to practice in the United States. In addition to giving international students an understanding of U.S. law, an LL.M. allows them to sit for the bar exam.

Find the Right Fit for Your Legal Degree in Pitt Law

MSL vs. LL.M.—no matter the degree you are seeking, finding the right program is essential to your success. For those seeking an MSL, Pitt Law’s Online Master of Studies in Law program is here to help those without a JD degree learn what they need to get ahead. Set yourself apart as a leader in corporate compliance, health care compliance, human resources law, or international business law with in-demand legal knowledge and skills. Small class sizes, individualized attention, and tuition that will not set you back financially, will set you up for success during your master’s program and after graduation.

As you prepare to apply for Pitt Law’s Online Master of Studies in Law (MSL) program or one of our graduate certificate programs (also offered online), know that our admissions advisors are always on standby to answer your questions, clarify admissions requirements, and review the list of materials we need from you. Schedule a call today.