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The Online Master of Legal Studies: Legal Education for All

Legal challenges pervade every industry, and professionals with legal know-how are needed to navigate ever-changing and newly emerging laws and regulations. Traditionally, managing legal tasks has been left to practicing attorneys, but the broadening regulatory landscape means that non-lawyer professionals are now players in this space through law-related job responsibilities. Legal education is essential to meet various compliance standards and regulations. William & Mary’s online Master of Studies in Law (MLS) brings you the expert education you need to get ahead in your field—no J.D. required.

The online MLS program is for you if you want to further your career through a better understanding of the U.S. legal system and the legal challenges facing you in your industry. This program is for non-lawyer professionals and consists of general law core courses and courses in specific concentrations to provide you with greater specialization and expertise. Choose from the online MLS with a Concentration in Compliance and Risk Management or the online MLS with a Concentration in Finance.

Program Details

  • 100% online
  • 32 credits
  • 2 concentrations
  • 5 semesters to completion part-time
  • 8 week courses, 2 courses per semester
  • Completely asynchronous courses

Program Outcomes: Get a ‘Public Ivy’ Legal Education

As the nation’s first law school with a forward-thinking, innovative focus, William & Mary Law School’s legal programs set the highest standard. Upon completion of the online MLS program, you will have a working knowledge of foundations of law and basic legal concepts. You will be able to understand and navigate laws and regulations that apply to your operations and industry, as well as how to interact with legal counsel to manage legal risks.

Through the MLS coursework, you will:

  • Understand core legal concepts
  • Understand how to read legislation and regulations
  • Understand dispute resolution including negotiation, mediation and arbitration
  • Understand legal principles related to business entities, corporate governance, mergers, acquisitions, contracts, intellectual property and other aspects of commercial law
  • Understand ethical considerations
  • Know how to solve complex problems

These competencies collectively contribute to shape you as a well-rounded and effective professional in legal and law-adjacent fields and positions. The ability to navigate complex laws, make informed decisions, communicate effectively and maintain ethical standards is essential for success in an increasingly complex legal landscape. Visit our careers page to learn more about what these competencies and the legal knowledge gained through our leading curriculum can do for you.

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Online Master of Legal Studies Program Requirements

The MLS requires the completion of 32 credits earned through 16 credits of general law courses, 12 credits of work in your selected concentration and 4 credits of elective coursework.

No matter which concentration you select to earn your MLS, you will take the following core courses:

  • Introduction to U.S. Law and the Legal System (2 credits)
  • Law, Ethics and Responsible Leadership (2 credits)
  • Contract Law: Interpretation and Strategy (4 credits)
  • Business Associations and Organizational Management (4 credits)
  • Foundations of Regulatory Law: Antitrust, Privacy and Tax (4 credits)

View Full Curriculum

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Compliance and Risk Management Concentration

The online MLS with a Concentration in Compliance and Risk Management gives you the expertise to excel in roles across various sectors, from corporate offices to government agencies, healthcare organizations to non-profit organizations and beyond. Whether your goal is to lead compliance initiatives, assess and manage risks or shape ethical business or human resources practices, courses in this concentration provide the knowledge and skills you need to get ahead.

View Curriculum Descriptions

Concentration courses include:

  • Risk Management and Liability (4 credits)
  • The Regulatory Landscape (4 credits)
  • Compliance Strategy and Organizational Integration (4 credits)
  • Electives (choose two, 2-credit electives):
    • Cybersecurity and Privacy (2 Credits)
    • Dispute Resolution (2 credits)
    • Project Finance Basics (2 credits)

Course Spotlight: Compliance Strategy and Organizational Integration

A strategic approach to compliance is required in today’s business environment. This course presents holistic principles of corporate governance and risk management to establish the importance of integrating compliance into organizational strategy and culture. After completing the course, you will be able to identify foundational components of a compliance program, understand the dynamic amongst various institutional stakeholders, and explore best practices around continuous improvement, response and prevention, and control monitoring/testing. The objective of this course is to synthesize key compliance elements so that you develop a strategic approach to building and managing compliance programs.

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Finance Concentration

The online MLS with a Concentration in Finance is designed to provide you with a robust foundation in both law and finance, opening doors to new opportunities or furthering your career in corporate finance, banking, investment management or regulatory compliance. Coursework on topics including mergers and acquisitions, lending, entrepreneurship, contracts, regulations and much more will equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to thrive in a rapidly evolving financial landscape.

View Curriculum Descriptions

Concentration courses include:

  • Consumer Financial Law (4 credits)
  • Banking Law Fundamentals (4 credits)
  • Broker-Dealer and Exchange Regulation (4 credits)
  • Electives (choose two, 2-credit electives):
    • Cybersecurity and Privacy (2 Credits)
    • Dispute Resolution (2 credits)
    • Project Finance Basics (2 credits)

Course Spotlight: Broker-Dealer and Exchange Regulation

This course concerns financial instrument markets and their regulation and focuses on the secondary market for public company stock. The class begins with a consideration of major domestic capital market institutions. It will then address the economic theory that explains how these markets operate and the incentives that motivate their various players. This part of the course focuses on market-microstructure and finance theory. These beginning segments lay the groundwork for a more informed discussion of the substantive law that governs the markets.

You will explore regulatory areas to be considered, including the rules relating to:

  • Transparency
  • Brokers duties with respect to execution of customer orders
  • Dealer rules for transacting directly with retail customers
  • Trading system alternatives to the NYSE and NASDAQ
  • Trader behavior including manipulation and short selling

The course is an important building block if you plan on pursuing a career in financial-services and related industries.

Legal Mastery, Delivered Online

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Full Flexibility

All courses for the MLS are online and 100% asynchronous, meaning you are not required to log in for class at a designated time. Course materials are accessible through the law school’s learning management system and are taught in eight-week sessions during the fall, spring and summer semesters.

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Engaging Lessons

Course content is effective and engaging. You will practice legal skills through applied projects, problem-solving activities, document analysis and case studies. You will graduate with a portfolio of work demonstrating your ability to synthesize complex problems and apply legal knowledge to real-world challenges.

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Meaningful Connections

Participating in an online program will not deter you from networking. You will connect with your classmates and professors through the online learning platform. For coursework, you will conduct interviews with industry experts, giving you prime access to professionals working in your current or future industry.

Master of Legal Studies FAQs

What is an MLS?

A Master of Legal Studies (MLS) is an alternative to the traditional three-year Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree program. An MLS program can help you better understand and use the law in your day-to-day work, especially if you work in a heavily regulated industry. An MLS degree may be a good fit for you if you are interested in law, want to work in a law-adjacent profession or if you know that better comprehension of the law would help further your career. This degree is not a good fit if you aspire to become a practicing lawyer. To become a practicing lawyer/attorney, you would need to pursue a J.D. degree.

Who can benefit from the online MLS degree program?

This degree is beneficial to a wide array of students. The degree may be a great fit for you if you:

  • Are motivated to advance your career or to open up new opportunities at a higher level
  • Work in a heavily regulated industry where legal knowledge would help you better protect your organization
  • Are passionate about the intersection of business and law
  • Desire to increase professional credibility around compliance and risk management or finance and the law generally, in order to earn a promotion
  • Want to learn from teachers and scholars who are leaders working in their respective fields
  • Are looking to change up your career-path or field to be more focused on compliance and risk management or finance

Will earning my MLS prepare me to sit for the bar exam?

The online MLS program will not prepare you to sit for any bar exam, will not guarantee admission to any J.D. program and will not prepare you to become a practicing attorney.

Can I earn my MLS if I previously earned a J.D.?

If you have previously earned a J.D., you are not eligible for admission to the online MLS program. However, please reach out to the admissions team if you are interested in participating as a non-degree seeker.

Is a legal studies degree like the online MLS program worth it?

To answer this question, you will need to assess your individual goals for pursuing an MLS degree. Reflect on the following questions to get started. These will help you better understand if this degree will help you meet your goals.

  • What are your career aspirations?
  • Do you want a promotion to a job title with more responsibility?
  • Do you want a raise or do you have a salary goal in mind?
  • Are you interested in the law and how it can be applied to your work or your field?
  • Are you looking for knowledge around legal issues to be more successful in your current role?
  • Are you thinking about a career change in order to get into a new role or new industry?

William & Mary MLS Application Deadlines for Fall 2024

Priority Deadline
July 15
Fall 2024
Final Deadline
August 10
Fall 2024
Start Date
August 26
Fall 2024

William & Mary has engaged Everspring, a leading provider of education and technology services, to support select aspects of program delivery.