Are you interested in broadening your legal knowledge or deepening your expertise in a particular legal niche? Would you like to do that without necessarily enrolling in law school? Or are you a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) student looking to enhance the value of your degree? A legal certificate may be an answer.
In as little as one semester and for much less tuition than for a law or master’s degree, a legal certificate may offer you formal recognition for your specialized legal knowledge.
What is a Legal Certificate Program?
A certificate is not the same as certification, which is a professional badge or license for specific occupations. A legal certificate is a broad term that signals advanced legal learning and skills. Schools offer legal certificate programs that can differ greatly. They range from one-week online seminars that accrue continuing legal education credits to certificates that students can earn concurrently with their graduate degrees.
Generally, legal certificates are offered by law schools and require an undergraduate degree. Some programs are designed specifically for students who don’t plan to practice law. Others are aimed at professionals in fields such as engineering or science, where knowledge of intellectual property law and other legal issues may be valuable. Depending on which program a student selects, an externship may be required. Often, a certificate of completion is awarded to candidates when they complete a certificate program.
Types of Legal Certificate Programs
You have a broad range of legal certificate programs to choose from. Some concentrate on a narrow legal niche, such as law and technology or clean energy. Others focus on more general legal fields like corporate law.
Paralegal Certificates and Outcomes
A paralegal certificate is designed specifically for people who work as paralegals or want to become a paralegal. In other words, non-attorneys who handle legal tasks. Take care not to confuse it with a paralegal certification, which signifies that you’ve passed a paralegal exam or met other requirements set by the certifying organization.
There are a number of paralegal education programs that are approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). Most require a bachelor’s degree to apply, but some are open to students who hold a two-year associate degree or significant legal work experience.
You can expect to learn about court systems, court procedures, legal ethics, conducting legal research online and more. Some certificate programs incorporate internships for hands-on learning.
Legal Studies Certificates and Outcomes
Designed for people who don’t plan to become licensed attorneys, a legal studies certificate often concentrates on a specific area or industry, such as cybersecurity or bank regulations, offering a thorough understanding of relevant laws and regulations.
Certain universities allow their undergraduates to take extra courses that count toward a legal studies certificate. Other schools allow applications from professionals who intend to pursue careers as paralegals or legal-related occupations.
Certificates in Specific Areas of Law and Outcomes
While there are legal certificates for Master of Legal Studies candidates and non-attorneys, there are also certificate programs for practicing attorneys, as well as Juris Doctor (J.D.) and Master of Laws (LL.M.) students.
Some schools will let you earn multiple legal certificates at the same time. Similarly, some courses may count toward more than one certificate. You can earn certificates in various specialty areas of the law. They include:
- Law and technology
- Environment, energy, and natural resources
- International trade
- Human resources
- Tribal law
- Intellectual property
- Constitutional law
- Estate planning
- State and local taxation
Pros and Cons of Legal Certificates
Depending on your professional goals, earning a legal certificate can be an investment in your career. Possible advantages of earning a legal certificate program may include:
- Concentrating your learning in legal topics that matter most to you
- Qualifying to apply whether you’re an undergraduate, enrolled in law school, practicing attorney, or a professional outside the legal field
- Less costly than earning a law degree
- Does not require years of schooling as full degree programs do
But you may find that there are also some drawbacks. One could argue that certificate programs are limited and don’t cover the breadth of knowledge that advanced degree programs are known to. Below, we compare certificate programs with some common legal degree programs to help you weigh the pros and cons of each.
Legal Studies Certificates vs. Master’s Degrees in Legal Studies
A legal certificate can usually be completed in one to three semesters. It often costs less money than a full degree program. You might choose to earn one or more legal certificates by adding extra classes as part of your master’s program.
A master’s degree in legal studies, such as a Master of Legal Studies(MLS) or Master of Science in Legal Studies is a graduate degree for people who don’t plan to take the bar exam to practice law. You need a bachelor’s degree to earn an MLS, which usually takes one to two years.
Law Certificates vs. Master of Laws (LL.M.)
Lawyers who choose to earn a law certificate may gain a competitive edge. You may be able to earn a law certificate as part of your LL.M. degree, depending on the school.
A Master of Laws (LL.M.) is a one-year, in-depth graduate degree for those who already have a J.D. A Master of Laws is a way for lawyers to hone their expertise in a particular field. Some universities gear their LL.M. programs toward professionals who plan to teach law.
Certificates vs. Short Courses
Generally, certificate programs take longer to complete than short courses. While short courses are a way to enhance existing skills and broaden your knowledge, certificates often signify deeper understanding of a topic area. You’ll usually receive a certificate of completion once you’re through with a certificate program or short course.
Many universities and professional organizations offer short courses and seminars in a multitude of academic disciplines. Short courses tend to have a less strict application process than certificate programs. Courses usually run for a few days to weeks, instead of the months and semesters that certificate programs tend to require.
Short courses can be in the form of in-person workshops and lectures, covering a wide range of legal topics including business law, data law and beyond. Some even target professionals in leadership positions. Many short courses have a hands-on practical approach, teaching students advocacy skills and more. Short courses can be completed online too, allowing you to interact with classmates and professors in a virtual classroom. If you choose this option, you’ll likely be exposed to interactive course content, such as videos, quizzes and discussion forums among other materials.
Certificates Programs Offered by ABA-Approved Law Schools
There are legal certificate programs run by law schools that are approved by the American Bar Association. They may carry more prestige than a certificate from a non-ABA approved program. But that may not always be true, or always matter.
Here is a comprehensive list of ABA-approved law schools offering legal certificate programs:
|School Name||Certificate Name||City||Online or On-Campus|
|The University of Akron – School of Law||
|Albany Law School||
||Albany, NY||On-Campus and Online|
|The University of Kansas School of Law||
|University of Arkansas School of Law||
|University of Baltimore School of Law||Certificate in Estate Planning||Baltimore, MD||On-Campus|
|Boston University School of Law||
||Boston, MA||On-Campus and Online|
|University of California Hastings Law||Certificate in Legal Research||San Francisco, CA||On-Campus|
|Chicago-Kent College of Law||
|University of Cincinnati College of Law||
|Cleveland-Marshall College of Law||
||Cleveland, OH||On-Campus and Online|
|Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law||
||Washington, DC||On-Campus and Online|
|Georgia State Law||
|Indiana University Bloomington Maurer School of Law||Certificate in Legal Studies||Bloomington, IN||On-Campus|
|University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law||Certificate in Health Law||Louisville, KY||Online|
|Mitchell Hamline School of Law||
||Saint Paul, MN||On-Campus and Online|
|University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Law||
||Lincoln, NE||On-Campus and Online|
|University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law||
|University of New Mexico School of Law||
|New York University School of Law||
||New York, NY||On-Campus and Online|
|Northeastern University School of Law||
||Boston, MA||On-Campus and Online|
|Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law||
|Pace University Elisabeth Haub School of Law||
||New York, NY||On-Campus|
|University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School||Certificate in Law||Philadelphia, PA||On-Campus|
|Pepperdine Caruso School of Law||
|University of Pittsburgh School of Law||
||Pittsburgh, PA||On-Campus and Online|
|Samford University Cumberland School of Law||
|Seton Hall University Law||
||Newark, NJ||On-Campus and Online|
|University of Southern California Gould School of Law||
||Los Angeles, CA||On-Campus or Online|
|Temple University Beasley School of Law||
|University of Tennessee College of Law||Certificate in Health Policy||Knoxville, TN||On-Campus|
|University of Toledo College of Law||
|Tulane University Law School||
||New Orleans, LA||On-Campus|
|Vanderbilt University Law School||
|Vermont Law School||Certificate in Restorative Justice||South Royalton, VT||On-Campus or Online|
|Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law||
|University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School||
What Can You Do with a Legal Certificate?
Legal certificates aren’t the same as law degrees. And they don’t allow you to sit for the bar to become a licensed attorney. But selecting the right certificate for you may boost your legal knowledge within your chosen specialty and give you an edge in your job hunting.
Even less-intensive certificate programs can be valuable. They may offer a way for you to explore new legal niches and ultimately allow you to redirect your career. You might, for instance, switch from financial advice to focus more directly on estate planning. You also could pursue certificates for specific occupations such as a paralegal.
Frequently Asked Questions about Legal Certificate Programs
Undecided or unclear about whether a legal certificate is right for you? Here are the answers to some common questions about pursuing legal certificates.
The length of time varies widely by programs. But most take a couple semesters. Some students who want to earn a certificate while pursuing their undergraduate or graduate degrees may be allowed to spread out the required certificate courses over several semesters. A few certificate programs that accrue continuing legal education credits can be finished in days or weeks.
This is a question you can answer best after careful consideration. Costs for legal certificate programs vary. Some law schools charge per single course credit. And some legal certificates require a dozen or more credits for completion. It’s up to you to weigh if the financial investment and effort will be worth it in the long run.
Most legal certificate programs are offered by law schools and require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree at minimum. The exceptions are programs that allow undergraduates to work toward a legal certificate concurrently with their degree.
Some legal certificate programs are aimed at lawyers who hold a J.D. degree or for those who are enrolled in graduate school for their LL.M or MLS. Still, other programs are open to students and working professionals who want to acquire legal knowledge without necessarily pursuing a law-related degree.
Information on this page was last retrieved in July 2020.