Employment Law Degrees: Master's, Doctorate & Online Class Info

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Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.), and various other master's degree programs can lead to careers related to employment law. Find out about requirements and career options that you might have with these programs.
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Studying Employment Law: Degrees at a Glance

Employment law addresses the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers. The field covers issues pertaining to wages, hours, and leave; health and safety; benefits and retirement plans; prohibition of discrimination; collective bargaining relationships; and job security. Students with 4-year degrees who are interested in employment law could be admitted to an M.A., M.S., or J.D. program. Those who hold J.D. degrees may be eligible to pursue an advanced specialty in an LL.M. program.

Prospects may vary depending on degree and specialty. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected an average growth of 14% in jobs in all occupations from 2010-2020. BLS projected employment for human resource managers and attorneys to grow by 13% and 10%, respectively, during the same time frame, while opportunities for human resource specialists is expected to grow by 21%.

Master's J.D. LL.M.
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in learning about law Individuals interested in taking the bar examination and practicing as an attorney J.D. holders interested in advanced specialties
Common Career Paths and Salary - Human resources specialist ($54,000)*
- Mediator ($60,000)*
- Labor relations specialist ($69,000 - with 2-4 years of experience)**
- Human resource manager ($99,000)*
- Junior employment law attorney ($78,000 - with 0-2 years of experience)**
- Government attorney for labor, employment, ERISA, and benefits ($82,000-$118,000)***
- Government attorney for civil rights ($82,000-$120,000)***
- Labor relations director ($134,000 - with 8 years of experience)**
- Senior employment law attorney ($145,000 - with 8 years of experience)**
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time 3 years, full-time
Approximately 1 year full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Typically 30-40 credits, including major area subjects
- Thesis may be required
- Approximately 80-90 credit hours
- Clinical requirements
- Publishable paper may be required
- Completion of 20-30 credit hours, including core and specialty courses
- May require a thesis
Prerequisites Minimum bachelor's degree; some programs may require graduate credits or Ph.D.
- May require LSAT, GRE, TOEFL, or other tests
- Thesis may be required by some programs
- Bachelor's degree or enrolled in bachelor's and J.D. joint degree program
- LSAT
- TOEFL if foreign student
- Publishable paper
- J.D. degree or foreign equivalent
- May require thesis
- TOEFL if foreign student
Online Availability Online degrees are rare but available Rare to non-existent at American Bar Association-approved schools Limited but available

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 median wage), **Salary.com (2012 median salary), ***PayScale.com (2012 10th-90th percentile salary range).

Master's Degrees Covering Employment Law

Master's degrees for non-lawyers with employment law options may serve as viable alternatives to traditional 3-year J.D. programs. This major could be appropriate for students from a variety of backgrounds, including labor relations or human resources, who don't intend to take the bar examination or to practice law, or they can simply serve those who are interested in knowing more about employment law.

Employment law may be presented as a major or area of concentration within a broader M.A. or M.S. program in law. Depending on your school, a 1-2 year program could be flexible enough to permit full- or part-time study. You may share some classes with J.D. candidates. These might include courses in torts and legal research, reasoning and writing, civil procedure, or constitutional law.

Pros and Cons of a Master's Degree in Employment Law

Pros

  • Expanding knowledge of legal principles and the court system may help your career
  • This program is potentially beneficial to professionals or executives in healthcare, law enforcement, human resources, labor, or accounting
  • Programs may be flexible enough to accommodate personalized curriculum design

Cons

  • Students earning this degree won't be eligible to take the bar examination or practice law
  • The American Bar Association (ABA) doesn't permit credits earned in an M.S. or M.A. program to be credited by any ABA-approved school toward a J.D. program
  • Some programs may not be available to students who don't have at least some graduate education

Courses and Requirements

Programs are designed to meet the needs of non-lawyers who are interested in law or who deal with legal issues on the job. Often these degree candidates are employed professionals. Candidates may complete some courses similar to or identical to the first year of a J.D. curriculum. You might then have specializations options that will support your interests.

  • Employment law
  • Alternative dispute resolution
  • Employee benefits
  • Employment discrimination
  • European labor and employment law
  • Labor law
  • Worker's Compensation

Online Courses

Fully online employment law M.A. or M.S. programs focused on employment law are available, but rare. If you need to take some courses online, you might contact your school to determine if this is feasible, or if they will accept courses earned online at another school. Online coursework may require access to specific software programs. Though the coursework may have some scheduling flexibility, the same level of achievement will be required.

Standing Out With a Master's Degree Program

Since you may be taking some of the same courses as J.D. students, you might want to consider a degree offered by a school with an ABA-approved J.D. program. This environment may provide exposure to resources associated with a recognized law school, such as student organizations in employment law and law libraries. If you have a professional background in human resources or another related field, you might additionally benefit from a school that also has recognized programs in your discipline, so that you will have access to those resources as well.

J.D. Degrees Covering Employment Law

You may be able to pursue labor and employment law as a concentration in a 3-year J.D. program. Some schools offer combined bachelor's and J.D. programs, or concurrent degrees in business administration, criminal justice, political science, or other disciplines. Your school may offer opportunities to further specialize in areas of interest to employment lawyers, such as discrimination, collective bargaining or employment relationships. You could enter competitions such as the National Student Writing Competition or the Law Student Trial Advocacy Competition offered by the ABA's Section of Labor and Employment Law.

After successful completion of your academic program, you may be eligible to take the bar examination in one or more states. Some schools provide assistance with bar examination preparation. Candidates must pass the examination to be eligible to practice as an attorney. According to BLS, the 2010-2020 trend will be toward more attorneys becoming solo practitioners in private practice instead of employees. Graduates willing to take additional state bar exams or relocate may have the best opportunities.

Pros and Cons of a J.D. Covering Employment Law

Pros

  • Law background could be helpful in a variety of human resources, labor management, arbitration, public interest, or executive careers
  • Potential to be considered for a judicial position
  • Personal satisfaction in facilitating equitable solutions for clients
  • Opportunities for private practice

Cons

  • Competitive field with only 10% job growth projected from 2010-2020*
  • Time and expense factors may be prohibitive
  • Specialization in some subfields, like benefits, could lead to competition with accounting or other firms who manage benefits programs
  • Some job functions may be able to be performed by less expensive paralegals

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

ABA-approved J.D. programs typically require prescribed first-year courses in core topics like civil procedure, contracts, property, and constitutional law. You'll also learn legal research and writing skills before taking advanced courses covering employment law. Second- and third-year coursework may vary depending on your prospective sub-discipline. Schools may require participation in legal clinics, moot court, or pro bono work.

You might take courses like these in an employment law J.D. concentration:

  • Disability discrimination law
  • Unions and their members
  • Sports law and the art of the deal
  • Employment relations
  • Civil rights statutes
  • Administrative law
  • Immigration law

Online Class Options

It could be difficult to find an ABA-approved program that is completely online. J.D. programs may require intense commitment and face-to-face interaction. The law school experience may not lend itself to remote work, since it typically involves real-time debates and discussions. It would also be difficult to master courtroom presentation skills online. If time and scheduling are issues, you may be able to find an ABA-approved program in a convenient location that offers part-time study.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

You might choose a school with a strong bar passage rate. You may need to plan carefully and take advantage of all of your school's resources to be competitive in employment law. The best opportunities could be available to those who consider anticipated needs for the various employment law sub-disciplines and adjust their programs accordingly. You might want a school that offers research centers, clinics in mediation or other employment law-related topics, or student associations dealing with employment law. You may be able to produce publishable papers or join the editorial staff of a student-run journal.

Students interested in joining government or advocacy organizations might have study semester or internship options in Washington, D.C. Other internship or post-graduate fellowship options may be available.

LL.M. Degrees Covering Employment Law

An LL.M. is a postgraduate degree in law. LL.M. degrees are available to J.D. holders or international students with the equivalent who want advanced training in a specialization or to pursue research or a teaching career. Candidates might be employment lawyers or lawyers interested in developing expertise in employment law. The objective of the LL.M. is to accelerate the development of expertise.

LL.M. programs aren't approved independently by the ABA, but the ABA will permit an approved law school to offer an LL.M. program upon assurance that the LL.M. won't detract from the J.D. program. Programs may require careful planning, since advanced courses may not be available every term.

Pros and Cons of an LL.M. Degree Covering Employment Law

Pros

  • This degree may accelerate growth of employment law knowledge
  • Program may offer an opportunity to switch fields to employment law
  • An advanced degree may enhance credibility and income prospects

Cons

  • Time and opportunity cost will need to be considered
  • You may be able to get similar exposure through the right on-the-job opportunities
  • Few LL.M. programs are available specific to employment law, though you may be able to concentrate in employment law in a general program

Courses and Requirements

Candidates may complete 20-30 credit hours, including an appropriate number of hours in relevant courses. You could build on your knowledge of contract law, torts, and regulatory processes with enhanced understanding of wage and hour laws, leaves, health and safety, unemployment and wrongful discharge, and discrimination topics.

You might take employment law courses like these in an LL.M. program:

  • Alternative dispute resolution
  • Administrative practice for employment law
  • Privacy
  • Sexual harassment
  • Constitutional issues in the workplace
  • Investigating and litigating employment law cases

Online Courses

Online LL.M. programs with employment law specialization options are available, though uncommon. Students may have acquired basic lawyering skills during their J.D. program, so remote study options could build on that foundation. Advanced courses appropriate to the LL.M. degree may not be available every term, so careful planning may be required. You'll need to meet the same requirements in an online course as in an on-campus course.

Standing Out With This Degree

The ABA publishes a list of post-J.D. programs. LL.M. options specific to employment law are limited, but you could consider either a related field like dispute resolution, which is offered by more schools, or a program that offers a general LL.M. with enough advanced courses to permit specialization in employment law.

You might enhance your employment prospects if you complete an externship leading to new contacts and positive references. Your supervisor could structure your placement to include a breadth of employment law assignments. You might check out your proposed program's employment statistics as compiled by the National Association for Law Placement. As with J.D. candidates, LL.M. students would have access to workshops and seminars and academic and career planning resources.

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