When Do You Need a Law Degree

When most people think of graduate-level law degrees, the Juris Doctor (JD) is the first that comes to mind. They may not consider, or even realize, the merits of Master of Science in Law (MSL) degrees and other master’s-level programs. As you chart your educational path, keep in mind that a JD isn’t the only option. While a JD is the right choice if you want to be a lawyer, a master’s degree in law can help you reach other career goals. 

Just as you choose a route through town based on your destination, you can select a degree program based on where you want your career to go. While a JD is the most the only route to becoming a lawyer, other degree programs can take your career to diverse and interesting destinations.

Do You Need a Law Degree? 

If you want to work in public policy, lawmaking, regulation, elections, government affairs, or lobbying, a degree that focuses on law might be a great choice for you. The question is which degree?

Juris Doctor, JD

If you want to join the bar in your state and become a practicing lawyer, a JD is the right degree for you. Also, this degree is designed to prepare students for a career as a lawyer and equip them to take the bar exam. You are eligible to enroll in a JD program if you have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year undergraduate institution. 

Careers with a JD: 

  • Trial attorney
  • Appellate attorney
  • Judicial clerk
  • Mediation attorney
  • Regulatory and compliance attorney
  • Government attorney
  • Corporate attorney 

Attorneys can work in a range of specialties, including water and environment, health, labor, media, family law, immigration, intellectual property, and more. Generally speaking, an attorney represents individuals, businesses, or organizations in legal proceedings and provides counseling regarding legal obligations. They may appear in court and in agency hearings, draw up legal documents, and provide advice about rights and duties. Pursue a JD to become a licensed attorney, take a bar exam, and represent clients. Also, if you want to work in and influence law in other ways, a Master of Science in Law degree might be a better fit for your career goals. 

Master of Science in Law, MSL

Professionals who want to work in public policy, lobbying and government relations, or work closely with law and lawmaking don’t necessarily need to complete a JD. You can better prepare for these roles with a Master of Science in Law after completing a bachelor’s degree.

Careers with an MSL degree:

  • Consultant 
  • Regulatory analyst
  • Policy analyst
  • Legislative staffer
  • Lobbyist and government affairs 
  • State and federal agency management and staff 
  • Public information officer 
  • Regulatory compliance and due diligence 
  • Regulatory agent
  • Journalist or policy reporter 
  • Entrepreneur
  • Contracts negotiator
  • Business analyst
  • Urban planner
  • Government relations officer  
  • City, county, and special district elected officials and staff 
  • Public utilities leadership and staff 

An MSL is the right degree for professionals who want to advance careers in legislative and regulatory analysis, policy initiatives, election law, and lobbying. This degree prepares you with an understanding of law and policy issues. You’ll learn the language of the law, the basics of legal analysis, how to read legal documents, and how to interact with lawyers. Also, many MSL degree holders represent the interests of businesses, organizations, or the public at various points in the lawmaking process. Getting an MSL can help you advance your career or transition to a new field. 

Master of Public Administration (MPA) and or Master of Public Policy (MPP)

Closely related but designed with distinct goals in mind, MPA and MPP degrees can prepare you for a career in service to the public good. At McGeorge, the MPA focuses more on leadership and management. It’s designed for those who want to guide the implementation of public policies.

The MPP degree, on the other hand, builds skills in the analysis and development of public policy. It’s designed for those who want to help develop policies and enact laws and regulations. 

Careers with an MPA degree:

  • Government relations officer
  • Urban planner
  • Health service manager
  • City manager
  • Operations manager

Careers with an MPP degree:

  • Policy analyst
  • Development manager
  • Legislative analyst
  • Policy reporter
  • Sustainability manager

The jobs listed above are just a sampling of what you can do with these degrees. In practice, there is some overlap. There is also a wealth of opportunity. You can think of an MPP as the planning and development degree and the MPA as the implementation degree. Which one interests you more?

When most people think of graduate-level law degrees, the Juris Doctor (JD) is the first that comes to mind. Also, they may not consider, or even realize, the merits of Master of Science in Law (MSL) degrees and other master’s-level programs. As you chart your educational path, keep in mind that a JD isn’t the only option. While a JD is the right choice if you want to be a lawyer, a master’s degree in law can help you reach other career goals.

Bachelor’s Degree Options

If you plan to eventually earn a JD or pursue an MSL, you might wonder if you have to earn a bachelor’s degree in law first. The answer is no. You can earn your bachelor’s degree in any subject that interests you. The subject is less important than the skills you build along the way. Focus on establishing good study habits, deepening your intellectual curiosity, understanding what motivates you, and building grit. 

Choose the Degree That Fits Your Goals

You might need a law degree, but don’t assume that a JD is the only choice. Investigate your options to find the degree path that is most likely to lead to the realization of your career goals. Also, admissions counselors can help you explore degree programs. Reach out to them for help. 

Our Master of Government Law & Policy may be exactly what you need to advance your career. This flexible, online program enables you to advance your career without putting the rest of your life on hold. Lastly, learn more about McGeorge’s online MSL program