GW Law Expands Program for Non-Lawyers

A master’s degree program at the law school offers an alternative to a traditional law degree for those outside of the legal profession.

July 20, 2018

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By Tatyana Hopkins

GW Law will launch a substantially expanded degree program in fall 2018 that offers a versatile alternative to the traditional three-year Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree.

The 24-credit Master of Studies in Law (M.S.L.) program allows non-lawyer professionals to study the particular area of law that significantly influences their work, even though they have no desire to earn a J.D. or practice law.

Students enrolled in the M.S.L. program will take courses alongside J.D. and Masters of Law (LL.M.) students, but rather than train to become attorneys, they will enhance their understanding of legal principles within nine areas of concentration, including cybersecurity, environmental and energy studies, and business and finance.

GW Law Associate Dean for Student Academic Development Renee Y. DeVigne discussed with GW Today how the M.S.L. program can boost professional advancement.

Q: Are there any prerequisites to being admitted to the M.S.L. program?  
A: Yes. A successful candidate will have a good academic record in other studies to date, excellent references and a work history that reflects significant exposure to, or experience in, the area of law intended for the M.S.L., just not in the capacity of a lawyer. 

Q: How does the Masters of Studies in Law (M.S.L.) program differ from the Masters of Law (LL.M.) program?
A: The LL.M. program is only available to candidates who have already earned a J.D. in the United States or its equivalent from a country outside of the United States. It is a master’s degree in law, with the J.D. mandated to be the qualifying first degree. By design, the M.S.L. program does not require a first degree in law to qualify for admission. It is a master’s program for qualified candidates that enables a deep dive into a particular field of legal study. The M.S.L. is a program for those who are not seeking a law degree, at least not at the time of pursuing the M.S.L.  

Q:  What are some examples of people who may want to reorient their careers using the M.S.L. program?
A: The degree would enhance prospects for a broad variety of career professionals from law enforcement to collegiate sports, including:

  • A policy analyst in local, state or federal government who wants to better understand the applicable law and regulations in their field
  • A person with a career in law enforcement on almost any level where a background in criminal law and procedure would be advantageous
  • An individual with a career in health administration or medicine who seeks a deeper dive into the relevant statutes and regulations governing health care
  • A career professional in environmental sciences or environmental studies who seeks understanding of federal law and regulation
  • An entrepreneur who seeks legal grounding in the law of tax, corporations, international business transactions, international trade, labor or other topics
  • An individual who works in an international field or a domestic field with international dimensions who desires solid grounding in international law and its application to their field
  • A career professional who works closely with lawyers and wants to better understand the language of the law and the leeway and restrictions on certain decisions and courses of action
  • A compliance official in the financial industry, health services, collegiate sports, grants management, transportation safety and other fields where a legal background enhances their knowledge
  • A career procurement official in local, state or federal government who seeks a legal understanding of the policy, law and regulations related to government contracts, their formation and performance.


Q: What can students expect in terms of workload in the M.S.L. program?
A: For each one hour of class time per week, M.S.L. students should expect to spend approximately three hours to prepare. If an M.S.L. student is enrolled full-time at 12 credits, 36 hours of preparation would be necessary, in addition to the 12 credit hours of class time, for approximately 48 hours total per week, give or take, depending on the amount and length of prior exposure to the field of law the M.S.L. student brings to a particular class. Some courses could be more challenging than others.