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The fields of law and criminal justice are ever changing, as they are intricately tied to social trends--increasing immigration, aging populations, economic downturns, and much more. What's constant is the need for highly trained professionals to interpret and enforce laws, ensure that citizens have equal access to the justice system, and contribute to the justice system through research, analysis, and policy-making.

Practicing law requires an advanced degree in most U.S. states. While many entry-level positions in criminal justice do not, a campus or online master's degree can prepare you for important high-level positions such as an administrator or manager. A master's degree in criminal justice can best serve you if you:

  • Need a master's degree to obtain a position in the criminal justice field
  • Wish to enter the criminal justice field in an advanced position
  • Work in the criminal justice system and want to build your expertise, develop a specialty, or teach

While stereotypes of police, detectives, federal agents, and other criminal justice professionals still play up the image of the "tough guy," interpersonal skills and multicultural sensitivity are key skills that you can develop through a master's degree in criminal justice. If you are studying law, in particular, you should also have excellent analytical and public speaking skills.

Master's Degrees in Law and Criminal Justice

Many degrees in the field are available at the master's level. Choosing the right degree depends on your career ambitions. Following is an overview of some of the most common master's degrees in law and criminal justice.

Juris Doctor (JD)

Technically a professional doctorate, the JD is the minimal degree required to practice law in most U.S. states. However, in order to earn a license to practice law, a candidate must pass the bar exam in the state in which he or she plans to practice. Typical law core classes include civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts and sales, criminal law, legal analysis, property, and torts.

Most lawyers choose to specialize. Specializations can include:

  • Admiralty law
  • Business law
  • Constitutional law
  • Criminal law
  • Environmental law
  • First amendment law
  • Health care law
  • Intellectual property law
  • Patent law

While the trend is toward specialization, some experts argue that general practitioners are still widely sought and needed, particularly in rural areas. Lawyers who can offer one-stop shopping to clients may have more repeat business because various legal services may be required.

Approximately 26 percent of lawyers are self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2011. The remainder hold positions in government, law firms, corporations, or nonprofit organizations. Legal consultant Robert Denney identifies today's "hot" specializations as estate planning and administration, divorce and family law, elder law, immigration law, and criminal law.

Master of Laws (LLM)

The Master of Laws degree is a postgraduate degree, higher than a JD and internationally recognized. Programs vary considerably; some are research-oriented and require students to write a thesis, while others require only coursework in a particular field of law. Because LLM programs are pursued by those holding a JD, some programs are offered on a part-time basis and are geared toward legal professionals already working in the field.

LLM degrees are a good choice for those wishing to practice law internationally or work in a multinational legal environment. Furthermore, many law firms prefer candidates with an LLM because it signifies mastery in a particular specialization such as tax or international law.

Master of Science in Law (MSL) and Master of Legal Studies (MLS)

Similar in their orientation, the Master of Science in Law and Master of Legal Studies are designed for students who do not intend to practice law, but rather wish to gain an understanding of various aspects of the U.S. legal system. This expertise can enable professionals to prevent litigation, work productively with counsel, and be confident in the legal dimensions of their work.

Professionals with a solid understanding of the law and its implications on activities in the workplace and business decisions are in great demand. MSL and MLS degrees are ideally suited to professionals who want to build their expertise and job skills. Professionals who can benefit include managers, human resource workers, program directors, health professionals, policy-makers, and advocates.

Master of Science (MSc) in Criminal Justice and Master of Arts (MA) in Criminal Justice

As you explore campus or online master's degrees in criminal justice, you will encounter both Master of Arts and Master of Science programs. There is little distinction between the two degrees, although most schools that focus on a curricula in criminology and forensics offer a Master of Science in Criminal Justice.

Some master's degree programs in criminal justice are general, while others are oriented toward one or more specializations, including:

  • Corrections
  • Crime analysis
  • Criminal justice business administration
  • Criminology
  • Forensics
  • Global issues
  • Homeland security
  • Justice administration
  • Law
  • Leadership and executive management
  • Policing

With an MA in Criminal Justice or MS in Criminal Justice, you are prepared for a wide range of career opportunities, including:

  • Contracts administrator
  • Coroner
  • Corrections administrator
  • Criminal investigator
  • Criminologist
  • Detective
  • Facilities manager
  • FBI agent
  • Law librarian
  • Penologist
  • Police
  • Private investigator
  • Substance abuse counselor
  • Warden

Earn a Master's Degree Online or On Campus

If you are a professional seeking to build your skills through a master's degree, you may want to earn a master's degree online. An online master's degree in law and criminal justice is typically designed for professionals and other busy adults who need a flexible, part-time education that they can complete at their own pace.

On the other hand, if you aspire to an academic career or wish to pursue a research doctorate, campus programs may better orient you toward that goal.

Whether you earn a master's degree online or on campus, take advantage of the helpful resources that provide information about subjects of study, and education resources.

Master's Degree in Law and Criminal Justice: Moving to Your Next Career

As the population grows and ages, business activity becomes more complex and the country struggles with its own security, professionals who are highly skilled in law and criminal justice will be in great demand. A master's degree in law and criminal justice could offer the boost you need to move to a better career--to better serve the country and its people.

Sources

  • American Bar Association, From Specialization to Succession Plans: What's Cooking for Solos and Small Firm, by Robert W. Denney
  • Champlain College Graduate Studies, Master of Science in Law Program
  • Indiana University, J.D. Curriculum
  • LLM Guide, What Is an LLM?
  • UMassOnline, Master of Arts in Criminal Justice
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lawyer

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