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What Is An MSL Degree?

What Is A MSL Degree?A Masters of Studies in Law or a Masters of Science in Law are both referred to as an MSL and it is an
alternative way to learn about US law and legal institutions.

An MSL is a postgraduate qualification, which is aimed at those without a law degree who want to gain a deeper understanding of the law but who do not wish to become qualified lawyers.

An MSL is suitable for a wide range of students from different professional backgrounds. Most of those studying an MSL will already be working and wish to become more familiar with how the law relates to their particular field. Others might be working in a legal profession but not as a lawyer and wish to focus more closely on a specific area of the Law.

Recent graduates with an undergraduate law degree (known as a Juris Doctor of Law or JD in the US) may wish to focus their future career by taking an MSL as do some academics who want to understand how their fields relate to the legal institutions and the law of the US and around the world. 

An MSL degree is predominantly studied in the US and can be studied in Canada too. An MSL degree is an alternative to an LLM aimed at those students who do not wish to become lawyers but do want to work closely with the law.


Reasons to study an MSL

So now you are a bit clearer on what an MSL degree is – let’s take a look at the reasons why you might choose to study one.

Career advancement – many careers are assisted by gaining an MSL degree. Those working in academia and who want to improve their understanding of research topics and the impact of the law on them are one group. People working in positions such as court clerks, in law enforcement or areas like human resources would all benefit from studying an MSL degree. Many reporters in the US who cover legal matters including the events of the Supreme Court have undertaken an MSL degree to ensure they have the necessary knowledge to explain the decisions of courts to the public.

Personal fulfilment ­– most students undertaking an MSL degree are ones who are currently working in the industry they wish to continue in, so many MSL degrees are offered on a part-time and online basis. This makes it much easier to fit in your studies whilst continuing to advance your career at the same time. Many courses offer opportunities to improve other transferable skills that will improve your employability along with your understanding of yourself and your skillset.

Opportunity to specialise – many MSL courses offer the chance to tailor studies to fit with career aims. As students come from many different backgrounds, it is important that you thoroughly research the modules and courses available during your chosen MSL degree before you apply. There are courses that specialise in all sorts of areas including Environmental Law, Health Care Law, Fashion Law, Corporate Compliance and Employment Law.

Networking opportunities – law schools often have an excellent network of contacts in their local area, and this is one major advantage of attending an on-campus MSL degree. However, even with online degrees, you might have the chance to attend local networking events associated with your law school to improve your skills and meet new contacts.

Careers which can benefit from an MSL

There are various different careers that can benefit from gaining an MSL, these include:

Information Technology Managers
Healthcare Managers
Social Work or Child Welfare
Business Management and Administration
Corporate Management
Government Employees
Law Enforcement
Legal Professionals
Court Officers
Human Resources

Students who wish to go on to become qualified lawyers should try another law degree as some institutions will not allow those who have completed an MSL to even apply for a place on their JD program. Other institutions will allow students to transfer to their JD course, however the Bar Association often does not allow the transfer of course credits from an MSL course to a JD course even though the modules are often taken by both JD and MSL students at the same time. This means that you will want to be sure that an MSL is the right route for you.

What specialisations are available?

The majority of universities offer courses covering all of the major legal themes in US and Global Law with specialised courses for MSL students such as an Introduction to Law and Legal Reasoning. The majority of students have little or no experience in working with the law and the introductory classes would be repetitive for those who have already taken an undergraduate degree in law. Many students are looking to specialise their careers and so the bulk of courses are small with only a few students. This allows most institutions to offer an individually tailored education and students can cover all of the areas of specialisation that are open to JD and LLM students. A few examples of the specialisations that MSL students can concentrate on include:

Intellectual Property Law
Corporate Law
Maritime Law
Healthcare Law
Energy Law
Insurance Law
International and Human Rights Law
Criminal Law
Environmental Law
Personal Injury and Civil Litigation 

How can you study an MSL?

There are a couple of different ways of studying for MSL degrees and these are either full-time or part-time with a traditional campus-based course or online. You can expect a full-time course to last one academic year and a part-time course to last two academic years. An online course is usually completed on a part-time basis and you can expect it to take between three and five years.

Entry requirements

Many specialised professional MSL courses, such as the MSL in Taxation at Georgetown Law School, require both an undergraduate degree and either a masters degree or substantial experience working in the profession. These professional MSL courses tend to be very competitive and highly selective. Other courses are aimed at academics who are teaching or researching an element of law in their existing field of study or for professionals like journalists who are explaining the law to others. These courses, such as the MSL at Yale Law School, are also highly selective but only attract a few applications a year. Finally, there are MSL courses that are aimed at those who are working within the broader legal professions, such as court clerks or in law enforcement, and these courses tend to require only an undergraduates degree or substantial work experience. These courses are aimed at a wider range of students and entry is not usually as competitive. 


When comparing an LLM with a MSL you have to think about what your aim is for your future career. Do you want to take the Bar exam in the US or do you just want to learn about US legal systems? If you are already a qualified lawyer with a law degree from a country outside of the US, then you will find that a MSL will be too simplistic for you and an LLM is the way forward. If you wish to become a qualified lawyer in the US, then neither the LLM or the MSL is for you and you should look into the three year JD as in most states this is the only way to qualify to take the Bar exam. An LLM is an intensive look into the complex detail of the law so it requires an existing level of expertise where as an MSL is more of an introduction. An MSL is not usually suitable to those who have completed an undergraduate law degree, however some courses are a good starting point to become specialised in a particular field. 

When comparing LLMs with MSLs it depends on the course as some MSL courses are for suitable for those with an undergraduate degree in law but they do not offer the same intensive look at the subject that an LLM would offer. Generally an MSL is not for those who want to practise as a lawyer, but if you do not wish to become a lawyer and want an introduction to understanding the of the legal issues and institutions surrounding your profession then an MSL could be for you. If you're not sure about your future path, then taking the time to gain work experience will be invaluable to you when making a decision about your future career.

Where you can study an MSL in North America?

Here’s a table showing some of the universities where you can study an MSL degree in North America, together with the mode of study on offer.


On campus or online

Northeastern University


University of Iowa

On campus

University of Illinois

On campus

University of Pittsburgh


University of Toronto

On campus for academics only

University of Western Ontario

On campus

University of Pennsylvania

On campus

Fordham University


University of Dayton

On campus

Washburn University

On campus

Drexel University


West Virginia University


University of Washington


Seattle University


John Marshall Law School

On campus and online

Albany Law School

On campus

Sources: 1 and law schools' own websites

Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE)

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) was phased in during 2021 as the new centralised way to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. It will replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which is the former route to practicing law, and once the transitional phase is over law schools in England and Wales will stop offering the LPC.

The SQE is a new system of exams divided into two stages – SQE1 and SQE2 – that was introduced from September 2021, and all prospective candidates will have to pass both stages of exams to qualify as a solicitor. As well as passing both stages of the SQE, prospective candidates must complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) and demonstrate that they have suitable character to work in this field.

Put simply, to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales through the new SQE route you need to:

1. Have a university degree in ANY subject.

2. Pass SQE1 and SQE2 exams.

3. Complete two years’ Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).

4. Demonstrate suitable character.

The SQE differs from the LPC in that it is a series of exams rather than an actual course, as a result of this the SQE does not involve any direct education or training. New law conversion course options will be launched alongside the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) to offer students a range of options to prepare for the SQE.

Read our article on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination for the complete lowdown.


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