Accredited Master of Legal Studies (MLS) Programs

There are many careers in the legal field that do not require you to be a lawyer, however, these positions may require you to have an advanced degree such as a Master of Legal Studies (MLS). MLS degrees provide a thorough understanding of laws and regulations.

Many MLS programs and related law degrees are recognized by the American Bar Association (ABA) by way of “ acquiescence”. ABA-recognition for MLS programs may help prospective students understand that a program is affirmed by rigorous academic and career standards. It is important to note that the ABA does not grant accreditation to any non-Juris Doctor (J.D.) or post-J.D. programs.

Sponsored Online MLS and Law Programs

Pepperdine University

Caruso School of Law


Master of Legal Studies

  • No GRE or LSAT scores required to apply 
  • Complete in as few as 16 months 
  • Dispute resolution concentration available

American University

Washington College of Law


Master of Legal Studies

  • Complete in as few as 12 months 
  • No GRE/LSAT scores required to apply 
  • Four tracks available: General MLS, Business, Health Care Compliance, and Technology 
  • Three certificates available: Business, Health Care Compliance, and Technology


ABA-recognized online MLS programs may be an excellent option for students pursuing an advanced degree in legal studies while working full time or part time. There are dozens of online Master of Legal Studies programs that allow students to enroll in school without having to relocate. Whether you are looking for the right online program or a traditional on-campus experience, one of the most important attributes to consider when comparing MLS degrees is accreditation. 

Jump to the list of ABA-Recognized Master of Legal Studies Programs

What is Accreditation for Law Schools?

Accreditation is a voluntary, rigorous process that many schools go through to prove the quality of their education programs. For law schools, this is no different. According to the American Bar Association and the ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools, an “ABA-approved law school may not establish a degree program other than its J.D. degree program unless the school is fully approved, and the additional degree program will not detract from a law school’s ability to maintain a sound J.D. degree program.” Both traditional and hybrid online J.D. programs can be accredited by the ABA if criteria have been met.

While the ABA does not extend its accreditation of J.D. programs to any other program under law schools, programs may request acquiescence. Further, the ABA only reviews these programs on a basis of avoiding impacts to quality to the J.D. program that is accredited.  

To be accredited by the ABA, law schools must meet various standards set forth by the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools (PDF, 2.5 MB), such as faculty experience, assessments of student learning, legal coursework requirements, administration rules and regulations on public disclosures about the law school.

Accredited schools are accountable to the Department of Education, via the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, which ensures that schools maintain and enforce their education standards.

Accrediting Agencies and Process

Educational accreditation agencies are often recognized by the Department of Education. These agencies perform independent and objective assessments of schools and their programs. They measure, assess and validate application procedures, educational content, financial stability, teaching staff and degree criteria. 

An institution must comply with a set of rigorous standards and rules of procedure to be ABA-approved. The accreditation process for ABA requires that a law school be operating for at least one year, obtain provisional approval for three years, and then a full approval. These standards establish requirements for providing a sound program of legal education. “To be granted full approval, a school must demonstrate that it is in full compliance with each of the Standards (PDF, 6.9 MB),” according to the ABA’s Law School Accreditation Process. After a school receives full approval, its compliance with the standards is monitored through an annual questionnaire and periodic site evaluations. 

National Accreditation vs. Regional Accreditation

The ABA is not the only accrediting agency for law schools. There are also state bar associations and regional institutional accrediting agencies. It’s important to be familiar with the benefits and potential limitations of each accreditation type before enrolling in a law school or MLS program. 

While each state has its own bar associations, all states recognize graduation from an ABA-approved law school as meeting the legal education requirements for eligibility to sit for the bar examination. Among these state bar associations, it’s worth noting that the California Bar Association (CBA) is the largest state bar association in the United States and may open doors to non-accredited schools. The CBA has accredited a number of California schools that lack ABA accreditation.

Institutional accreditation may include national and regional recognition. Two popular national college accreditation agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) include the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools (ACICS) and the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).

As indicated in the name, regional accrediting agencies each serve a geographic region of the United States and provide institutional accreditation. Some of them may accredit states outside their region as well. CHEA-recognized regional organizations include:

When legal students examine the accreditation of law schools, it’s advised to check the accreditation status from both bar associations and educational institutions to have a holistic understanding of the school and legal programs.

What is Acquiescence for Legal Studies Programs?

When selecting a master’s in legal studies program, you should note if the school and the program itself is granted “acquiescence by the ABAEven though some legal students don’t need to sit for the bar exam, ABA recognition may imply that legal professionals have judged the program’s curriculum to be of high educational quality, avoiding impacts to the ABA-accreditation of the J.D. program from the same law school. 

The entirety of the MLS program—admission standards, coursework, professors, education content, degree requirements and teaching methods—may have been reviewed by other accreditation agencies, such as regional or national organizations.

Additionally, bar association accreditation and institutional accreditation are not mutually exclusive. Earning a master’s degree takes a significant commitment of time and money, so it’s best to check if the programs have more accreditations than regional recognition.

Why is Acquiescence Important for a Master of Legal Studies Program?

There are many reasons why you should attend law schools with MLS programs that have been granted acquiescence:

  • Prospective employers may assign higher value to degrees from accredited programs.
  • Employers may require proof that a school is accredited to qualify for tuition reimbursement. 
  • Only accredited programs qualify for federal financial aid, grants or loans.
  • Professional licensure exams may require completion of an accredited degree.
  • Content of classes, quality of instruction, structure of program and veracity of the degree are independently assessed as meeting the high standards of accrediting institutions.

The Department of Education maintains the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs of all accredited schools.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any ABA-accredited legal studies programs?

The ABA does not accredit programs apart from Juris Doctor (J.D.) degrees. However, students can still look at the programs that have been granted acquiescence by ABA.
Check the list of ABA-recognized MLS programs.

Is it mandatory to apply to accredited or recognized programs only?

This is a student’s personal choice. However, accredited or recognized programs may provide students with benefits, such as a higher quality education, learning competitive skills, networking resources and more.

ABA-Recognized MLS Programs

The first thing a prospective student should do is ensure that a program is accredited. The table below provides helpful information regarding online Master of Legal Studies programs and related degrees that have been granted acquiescence by the ABA.

Sponsored Online MLS and Law Programs

Fordham University

School of Law


Master of Studies in Law

  • GRE, GMAT, and LSAT scores not required to apply 
  • Complete in as few as 12 months 
  • Minimum two years’ compliance-related work experience recommended


Information for the above programs was retrieved as of February 2022. For the most up-to-date information, refer to the school’s website.