Juris Doctor (JD) vs. Master of Legal Studies

When looking to gain comprehensive knowledge in the legal field, professionals often think only of earning a JD, the doctoral degree that leads to becoming an attorney. However, for those individuals who want to improve their legal expertise but do not wish to practice law, a Master of Legal Studies provides students with an understanding of the legal system as it relates to their industries and professions.

Thinking About Law School?

Students who are considering law school can benefit from comparing the requirements and outcomes of JD and MLS programs to determine which is a better fit based on their needs.

While earning a Master of Legal Studies does not prepare students to take the bar exam or become a practicing attorney, it can satisfy a student’s curiosity about the law and is a good choice for professionals who desire an increased understanding of how the legal system applies across a variety of fields. The program can help professionals who are interested in learning about law enhance their job performance and confidence when dealing with the law.

Explore some of the differences between a JD program and Pepperdine Law’s online Master of Legal Studies program.

Time Commitment

A typical JD program takes a student between three and four years to complete. Even when attended part time, law school is an enormous commitment of time and resources and makes it very difficult for students to maintain a full-time job. First-year students are typically assigned several hours of homework per classroom hour and may be required to read upward of 400 pages a week in addition to participating in activities outside of class, such as a law review, moot court, externships, and law clinics.

Pepperdine’s Master of Legal Studies program is designed for professionals working full time. Most students can complete the program in 16–28 months while continuing to work, which means they can apply their newly developed skills immediately to their roles. The 32-unit curriculum also requires a significant time commitment, but the online classes and course load flexibility allow students to balance other priorities during the program.

Exam Requirements and Preparation

Because Pepperdine reviews applications holistically, applicants to our Master of Legal Studies program are not required to submit scores from tests such as the GRE or LSAT. Additionally, graduates do not face the added burden of studying for and taking the bar exam because they are not preparing to become lawyers.

Most JD programs, however, require candidates to obtain a minimum score on the LSAT to be admitted into law school. After graduation, students will have to take the bar exam in order to practice law. Preparing for the bar exam may require:

  • Studying for approximately 50–60 hours a week—a commitment akin to a full-time job.
  • Mastering, memorizing, and interpreting a great deal of complex information.
  • Limiting the number of outside priorities a student can balance.
  • Paying registration fees and other costs related to prep courses.

Career Paths

The primary career path for a JD graduate is the practice of law in a public or private setting. The law field can be crowded and competitive, so some law school graduates choose not to practice law and may act as consultants or legal compliance experts within corporations

A Master of Legal Studies provides students with valuable legal skills that can be applied to nonlawyer legal careers (such as paralegals) as well as a wide range of other fields, including business, healthcare, government, and education. Pepperdine Law students gain a comprehensive understanding of legal topics without committing to becoming a lawyer.

Request more information about Pepperdine Law’s online Master of Legal Studies today to see how the program helps professionals advance their careers.