Plenty of people have a desire to study law — but the truth is, not everyone is willing to undertake the rigorous process of obtaining a Juris Doctor (JD) degree, which is often a prerequisite for admission to the bar and becoming a practicing lawyer.
After all, it’s a lengthy, time-consuming process. And if the ultimate goal is not to become a practicing attorney but rather gain a deeper understanding of the legal system, then the investment in a JD may not seem worth it.
If your objective, however, is to expand your knowledge of the law without committing to a full-time career as a lawyer, you do have other degree options. Consider the Master of Studies in Law (MSL) online program from USC Gould School of Law, which prepares non-lawyer professionals to better understand complex legal and compliance matters.
The MSL degree is a boon for all sorts of professional fields, and to gain more insights on the types of legal jobs it can advance, we spoke with two faculty members from USC Gould: Nazanin Tondravi, lecturer in law teaching compliance, and Pamela Conley Ulich, lecturer in law for entertainment law.
What Is the Master of Studies in Law (MSL) Degree?
The MSL is an ideal fit for those who wish to study law without embarking on the path of becoming a lawyer. Throughout the program, students delve into the intricacies of the U.S. legal system, covering historical foundations and contemporary applications.
With the MSL degree, students will enhance their understanding of legal terms, learn to conduct legal analysis, develop the skills to negotiate and draft contracts, and more.
“The program is rigorous, but it is also flexible because you are able to work online and at your pace as opposed to having to be available for classes while you may be working during the day,” Conley Ulich said. “You can build a network of professionals … and expect that the work will be hard, but also fulfilling.”
What Are the Benefits of Obtaining a Legal Master’s Degree?
The law intersects with almost every type of career and industry. As such, a firm grasp of the legal system is beneficial for all types of professionals, and it can serve as a significant asset, Tondravi explained.
Plus, as Conley Ulich pointed out, in comparison to a JD program, the MSL takes far less time and effort to complete, and you don’t have to stress about passing the bar exam.
“I would compare the master’s program to being a physician’s assistant versus a doctor. You’re likely able to have better work hours if you’re not litigating cases and so on,” Conley Ulich said.
Legal Jobs for Non-Lawyers
There are a variety of career possibilities for those with advanced legal knowledge that don’t require working at a law firm. Below, we’ve rounded up just a few of the many job opportunities you can land in the legal field.
Compliance is exactly what the name implies: adhering to the various laws and regulations that govern a particular industry.
“I think that’s what’s most exciting — basically every field needs someone in a compliance role,” Tondravi said.
As compliance is top of mind for every company, you’ll find there are a variety of cross-sector compliance officer positions available. Compliance officers verify that their organizations are following the relevant laws and requirements, and they monitor internal policies to align with current industry standards.
With the legal knowledge acquired in the MSL program, compliance officers will be prepared to navigate complex regulatory landscapes and make informed decisions in both private enterprise and the public sector.
The human resources department juggles all types of tasks: overseeing the recruitment and onboarding of new staff, investigating internal complaints, handling administrative questions, implementing training guidelines and more. Many of these responsibilities also require a comprehension of specific labor and employment laws.
Ultimately, however, HR managers are charged with creating and maintaining a company culture that’s safe, inclusive and welcoming for all employees. With a deeper comprehension of the legal system, HR managers are better equipped to ensure a company and its employees are properly following the applicable rules and regulations.
As our lives become more digital with a greater emphasis on artificial intelligence and automation, IT technicians are needed to guarantee that our technology systems and applications run securely and efficiently.
Due to the nature of their positions, IT technicians frequently handle a wealth of sensitive company data and personal information. Having a background in law as it pertains to technology — such as internet privacy and cybersecurity — can enhance their ability to work in an ethical and secure manner.
The U.S. government is the entity responsible for creating and upholding our laws. So naturally, those who want to work for the government or in other areas of the public sector can benefit significantly from a background in law.
By grasping the fundamentals of the legal system, you can gain insights into how laws are enacted, how legal loopholes can be manipulated and how to safeguard existing laws, making you an ideal candidate for a governmental position. This knowledge especially comes in handy if you want to be directly involved in drafting legislation.
Any company executive can benefit from a legal background, whether they’re heading up a tech company, bank, hospital or NGO. Knowledge of the law, however, is especially valuable for executives at media organizations, including production companies, news sites, marketing groups and more.
As a media executive, you will find yourself facing a plethora of legal matters related to contracts, negotiations and other business decisions. Executives with a background in business and media law will be well-equipped to handle any legal pitfalls as they navigate major decisions surrounding their companies.
It’s not only the executives of the entertainment industry who can thrive with a legal education. Within the field, plenty of other positions require a working knowledge of the law, and this includes talent managers.
Talent managers represent clients and strive to secure the best deals possible on their behalf. Whenever dealmaking and negotiations are involved, understanding contracts, legal terminology and industry regulations is a major advantage.
Analyzing the finances of a personal client or company requires a deep knowledge of tax and business law, which is a necessity for accountants. As an accountant, you must be well-versed in the many ways in which the law can impact a client’s bottom line and financial outcomes.
Although companies and organizations typically employ both an accountant and a lawyer, the prospect of hiring an accountant with extensive legal knowledge can certainly be an added benefit.
Hospitals, despite their important, altruistic mission of caring for those in need, are also companies. That means they not only hire medical professionals, but also require the expertise of hospital administrators.
Hospital administrators are critical to ensuring a hospital runs efficiently, overseeing staff, creating schedules, and implementing guidelines and protocols. Hospitals and other medical clinics are subject to strict guidelines (particularly considering their involvement in life-or-death situations), so administrators must establish a strict adherence to all health care laws and regulations.
An understanding of the compliance, risk management, privacy and other related legal issues in the health care setting can enhance the skills — and ease the responsibilities — of hospital administrators.
The Bottom Line
While many study law with the intention of becoming lawyers, pursuing a JD is not the only route to enhance your knowledge in the legal field.
By enrolling in an MSL program, you can gain a greater understanding of the law as well as legal and regulatory processes — without the substantial time and financial commitment required for a JD.
Ultimately, through developing your legal knowledge and skill sets that can be applied to a diverse array of industries, you can enhance your professional trajectory and open yourself up to new career opportunities.
Learn more about the Master of Studies in Law (MSL) online program at USC Gould School of Law today.