Legal studies is offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, although student motivations for studying the field may differ at these two levels. Legal studies focuses on law as a social, political, and cultural phenomenon, and students will learn about the evolution and function of law and legal institutions. Undergraduates who aspire to become lawyers may major in legal studies to develop a greater understanding of law and legal issues.
While it is a good option for pre-law students, it does not increase their chances of getting into top law schools. A master’s degree in law allows individuals to learn about the law without having to commit three years to an arduous course of study in law school. Students at all levels will explore broad questions pertaining to law, but the program will not offer practical training or allow them to practice law.
Legal Studies Course Work Basics
Both undergraduate and graduate legal studies students will develop an understanding of the law around general topics, including but not limited to legal institutions; law and social forces; law and culture; and law and theory. In classes, students can expect to analyze court cases and engage in discussions on a range of legal issues. They will also be able to select electives to complement their career interests and customize their legal studies curriculum, which might include the following classes:
- Criminal Justice in America: Students will be introduced to the American criminal justice system through an interdisciplinary approach. They will examine the theory, foundation, structure, function, and history of the criminal justice system.
- Philosophy of Law: This class will cover law in terms of its relationship to morality. Students will learn about major issues in criminal law, civil law, constitutional law, and legal reasoning.
- Sociology of Law: Students will learn about major theories and empirical studies related to various aspects of law through the lens of social science.
- History of Punishment: This course examines the history of punishment across traditions, and how punishment has figured into law, literature, and philosophy.
- Law and the Environment: This class explores the field of environmental studies and focuses on the development of legal rights in land and natural resources.
Course assignments will likely include papers and discussions. Both undergraduate and graduate students at the top online colleges for legal studies will likely have the option to write a thesis, which allows students to focus their interests and develop knowledge in a specific area of legal studies. Students may also complete internships and research projects on legal theory and law in American society. Students will develop their writing, research, and critical thinking skills at top rated online colleges.
Careers for the Legal Studies Graduate
Many legal studies students plan to pursue careers related to law and the legal system, but legal studies majors can succeed in a variety of other career paths. As a liberal arts discipline, legal studies prepares students to utilize critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and writing skills, which are key to many professions. Aside from law, students may pursue careers in politics, academia, or the nonprofit sector. They may become mental health advocates, legislative aids, and teachers. Naturally, graduates may also go on to law school.
Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in legal studies may enter the workforce as paralegals, who conduct a variety of tasks to support the lawyers they work with. In 2011, paralegals earned $49,960 in mean annual wages, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Their responsibilities may include conducting legal research and drafting documents. Those who go on to law school will enter the demanding but lucrative field of law, where salaries averaged $130,490 in 2011, according to the BLS.