You don't have to be a lawyer to benefit from an education in law. A degree in legal studies can be a valuable asset for professionals working in diverse fields such as business, government and criminal justice. At a time when litigation and liability pose significant risks to employers, job candidates with an excellent understanding of the legal system may find themselves in high demand.
Degree options in law and legal studies
Online legal degrees are generally found at the bachelor's and master's levels. However, some schools may also offer certificates in legal topics, such as labor relations, for those who want specialized skills and knowledge. These certificate programs are generally available to those who already hold a bachelor's degree.
A bachelor's degree in legal studies can lead to work in the business world or the public sector. Other graduates may use their degree as the starting point to pursue a master's degree or attend law school. Bachelor degree programs often focus on topics such as citizenship, legal writing and research methods.
At the master's degree level, students can advance their understanding of legal theory and its application. Graduates may go on to work as business executives, litigation support specialists or human resources professionals. However, prospective students should be aware a Master of Science in Law degree is not the same as a Juris Doctor, which is earned from a professional law school, and cannot be used to sit for the bar examination.
What to expect from online degrees in law
Students can find a variety of online degree programs, and legal studies is no exception. Undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs can all be found online. The curriculum for these degrees may be delivered through a variety of methods. Online reading and discussion boards may be used for independent study while real-time conferencing software may be used to facilitate classroom discussions between students and instructors.
Although online degrees in law and legal studies are readily available, students should be wary of any school promising an online Juris Doctor, the degree required to become a lawyer. While the American Bar Association allows law students to complete up to 12 credits online toward their Juris Doctor, the association has not accredited any wholly online program. Students graduating from unaccredited programs are generally ineligible to take the bar examination. The only exception is in California, where students attending an unaccredited school may take the First-Year Law Students' Examination after their first year. Passing this test makes them eligible to take the California Bar Examination after graduation.
Is a degree in legal studies right for you?
Legal studies can be a demanding field that requires an attention to detail. For students who relish the opportunity to debate the merits of the current legal system and how it is applied, a degree in law or legal studies can be an exciting and engaging educational choice. In addition, those with good research, writing and analytical skills generally do best in this major.
Law and legal studies at a glance
- Career options: Individuals with a degree in law and legal studies may go on to work in corporate law, business, government or law enforcement. However, they usually cannot sit for the bar examination and become a lawyer unless they also hold a Juris Doctor degree.
- Salaries: Entry-level positions such as that of a legal assistant can result in mean annual incomes of $49,460 while mid-career professionals such as business management analysts may earn $87,260 annually. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010 data)
- Potential employers: Legal studies graduates from Temple University have gone on to work for employers such as Target Corporation, Ernst & Young, Lockheed Martin and General Mills.