What Can You Do With a Master of Legal Studies Degree?

11 January, 2024

Two professionals discussing what you can do with a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degreeIf you’re considering earning a Master of Legal Studies (MLS), then you undoubtedly have certain career goals in mind that you’re hoping the degree will help you achieve.

Perhaps you regularly interact with lawyers as part of your job and would like to engage with them more effectively. Maybe you want to move up the ranks at your current company, and know that having a deeper understanding of how the law influences your industry is the key to getting there. Or it could be that you’ve always had an interest in the legal system, and you view earning an MLS as a way of cultivating that interest without committing to earning a Juris Doctor (JD).

“The Master of Legal Studies is a relatively new type of degree that was created for individuals who need working knowledge of the law, but don’t intend on becoming practicing lawyers,” says Dan Urman, director of Northeastern School of Law’s online and hybrid programs.

But you may also find yourself wondering:

  • What exactly can I do with a legal studies degree?
  • What kind of jobs do MLS graduates typically hold?
  • Is a Master of Legal Studies the degree I should earn to reach those goals?

To help you better understand whether or not earning a Master of Legal Studies degree is worth it, we’ve taken a closer look at how an MLS differs from a JD and some of the most common career paths that MLS graduates pursue after earning their degree.

Common Career Paths for MLS Graduates

Career Path Salary Information

Contract Negotiation Manager

A contract negotiation manager is responsible for leading and facilitating negotiations, reviewing contractual terms, ensuring legal and regulatory compliance and collaborating internally to secure agreements that align with the organization’s goals and minimize risks.


HR Manager or Director

An HR director or manager oversees and manages an organization’s human resources department. They are responsible for developing and implementing policies, programs, and strategies related to recruitment, employee relations, training, and organizational development.


Compliance Director

A compliance director establishes compliance procedures and develops organizational strategies to ensure the company complies with all federal, state and local regulations.


Health Services Manager

A health services manager coordinates and oversees the planning, implementation, and administration of healthcare facilities and programs to ensure effective delivery of quality patient care.


Operations Director

An operations director oversees and optimizes a business’s internal structure ensuring proper talent allocation, alignment with organizational challenges and goals, and adherence to internal policies.


Business Analyst Supervisor or Management Analyst

A business analyst supervisor or management analyst examines business processes, identifies needs and recommends solutions to help organizations achieve their key priorities.


*Please note, the salary information includes a range of numbers pulled from both Lightcast and Payscale. Lightcast draws from job posting data to pull salary information, which is updated daily as data changes. Payscale’s data comes from surveys and is “voluntarily self-reported by employees.” Both sources are included to provide a wider range of salary information for each professional title. It is also important to note that salary data varies by location and experience, among other factors, and does not directly reflect the salaries of Northeastern Law graduates.

Earning a Master of Legal Studies can potentially open doors to new career opportunities that directly and indirectly interact with lawyers and the law. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in legal occupations is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations with about 91,700 openings projected each year from 2022 to 2032. Below, we list some of the most common job titles held by MLS graduates and average annual salary* information, though the exact title may vary depending on the industry or organization.

*Please note, the salary information includes a range of numbers pulled from both Lightcast and Payscale. Lightcast draws from job posting data to pull salary information, which is updated daily as data changes. Payscale’s data comes from surveys and is “voluntarily self-reported by employees.” Both sources are included to provide a wider range of salary information for each professional title. It is also important to note that salary data varies by location and experience, among other factors, and does not directly reflect the salaries of Northeastern Law graduates.

Contract Negotiation Manager


Contract negotiators perform the very specific duties associated with preparing and negotiating the specifics of a contract. Due to the ever-increasing reliance on contractors and freelance workers in today’s economy, the ability to negotiate the terms of a contract has become a valuable skill set in countless professions.

HR Manager or Director


Human resources (HR) managers and directors work within their capacity to plan and coordinate the administrative functions of a business or organization. Their responsibilities can be wide-ranging, but some of the most crucial are:

  • Ensuring the proper allocation of employee talent
  • Serving as a link between employees and management
  • Administering employee benefit programs
  • Handling disputes and disciplinary procedures
  • Advising on other HR issues, including sexual harassment claims and equal employment opportunities

In performing these duties, it is essential that HR managers and directors have a firm understanding of the laws and regulations governing their actions and business operations as a whole.

Compliance Director


Compliance directors are largely responsible for ensuring that a company or organization maintains its legal and ethical integrity. They do this by by conducting legal research to stay on top of the ever-changing laws and regulations that govern their industry and implement policy enforcement programs.

Though the list of industries subject to regulations is a long one, some of those most likely to employ a compliance officer include:

  • Financial services
  • Healthcare
  • Medicine, biotech, and pharmaceuticals
  • Food preparation and delivery
  • Welfare services
  • Governmental agencies

Health Services Manager


Health services managers oversee the business operations of healthcare facilities, handling tasks like budgeting, staffing, regulatory compliance and quality assurance. They ensure efficient care delivery, manage resources and coordinate between medical and administrative teams for effective healthcare services.

Medical and health services managers can perform a variety of administrative roles within healthcare. Because of this, their specific responsibilities will depend on their position. However, typical tasks for a healthcare manager involve:

  • Developing the organization’s overarching objectives
  • Managing facility finances and creating budgets
  • Ensuring compliance with pertinent legal requirements
  • Building employee work schedules
  • Facilitating communication with medical personnel

Operations Director


Operations directors are responsible for coordinating the internal structure of a business or organization. In addition to ensuring the proper allocation of talent throughout a company, they work to ensure that the organization’s structure is based on its unique challenges, goals, and internal policies.

As such, operations directors interact closely with both management—including HR and executives—and rank-and-file employees. Just as with other management positions, understanding how the law and various regulations impacts their job and company will lead to a more successful tenure.

Business Analyst Supervisor or Management Analyst


Business analyst supervisors or management analysts perform a number of duties with the goal of understanding the key challenges and goals of a business and then make recommendations to achieve key priorities.

Business analysts are often employed by a single company, or may work for a number of clients. In either case, a firm understanding of the laws and regulations that impact those is critical to ensuring that the recommendations made are appropriate and actionable.

No Clear-Cut Path

While the titles above are some of the most common titles held by Master of Legal Studies graduates according to Lightcast, it’s important to keep in mind that MLS programs are not designed to train students to perform a specific job. Whereas a JD trains a student to be an attorney, and a Doctor of Medicine (MD) trains students to become doctors, an MLS equips students with legal skills that can be put to use in a variety of ways.

“The individuals most likely to seek out an MLS are those who currently work in a middle or upper management role,” Urman says, “and who would like to take the next logical step toward more authority and responsibility within their industry or organization, whatever that step may be.”

As such, the degree is often used as a career booster for individuals whose job performance would benefit from a more thorough understanding of the law and regulations that apply to their organization.

Beyond career advancement, some students pursue an MLS in order to test the waters of law school without committing to earning their JD. These are often individuals who are unsure whether or not they have the passion for law required to become an effective attorney. If, in the end, the student decides that they do want to pursue their JD, the lessons learned while earning their MLS will prove invaluable; if they decide that they do not wish to further their study of law, they still walk away with a valuable degree that will help them advance their career.

Average Salary for Master of Legal Studies Graduates

Those who choose to pursue an MLS degree often do so to build the legal skills and expertise needed to advance their careers. As they advance after graduation, they frequently see higher salaries as a result. In general, an individual who holds a master’s degree will earn an average salary of $77,844, as compared to $64,896 for those with a bachelor’s degree.

For those specifically with an MLS, data from PayScale shows that graduates earn an average of $71,000 per year; however, certain job titles see higher levels of compensation. For example, according to Lightcast, compliance directors with a salary in the 90th percentile can earn as much as $208,667 annually.

Of course, salaries vary based on position, years of experience, industry, and location. Aside from litigation, some of the most popular industries for professionals with a law-focused background include general business, real estate, intellectual property law and regulatory compliance.

Master of Legal Studies (MLS) vs Juris Doctor (JD)

Though a JD shares some similarities with an MLS, they are unique degrees — each of which sets graduates up for very different career paths.

“The main difference between a JD and MLS boils down to the student’s motivation in earning the degree,” Urman says. “Master of Legal Studies programs are designed to grant students a working knowledge of the law that they can put to use in an industry or career that interacts with the law without going into the training required to become a practicing attorney.”

An MLS is ideal for people who regularly need to communicate with lawyers, but are not concerned with representing clients, and those working in highly regulated fields like healthcare, education, nonprofits, manufacturing and finance.

The JD, on the other hand, is designed to train people to become practicing attorneys who represent clients, whether those clients are individuals, businesses or institutions.

To see an in-depth exploration of the differences between an MLS and a JD, check out our article on the topic:

[Master of Legal Studies vs Juris Doctor: Which Is Right for You?]

The Bottom Line

Before pursuing any post-graduate degree, it’s important for you to understand how that degree will help you to reach your personal and professional goals. Understanding what you hope to gain and what you’re willing to do to achieve your aspirations plays a large role in determining whether earning a degree is worth it for you.

Advancing your education in any area of study is a major decision that deserves a significant amount of research and consideration. Whether you work side-by-side with lawyers regularly or you want to better understand how you can more effectively address the compliance and regulatory issues that affect your industry, a Master of Legal Studies may be perfect for you. No matter the reason you decide to earn your MLS, the truth is that the knowledge learned through earning the degree can be applied to a wide range of careers in any number of fields.

Online Master of Legal Studies

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