Business Law Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's and doctoral degrees in law can lead to careers in the legal field or academia. Get the truth about requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Business Law: Degrees at a Glance

A Master of Laws (LL.M.) typically is pursued after you've earned a Juris Doctor (J.D.) through a 3-year law school program and met state licensing requirements to work as an attorney; however, some law schools offer joint programs that award both an LL.M. and a J.D. A Master of Laws program allows you to focus on one area of law, such as business law, providing more specialized instruction than you'd receive in a J.D. program.

A J.D. or equivalent foreign law degree and an LL.M. usually are required for admission to a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D., also abbreviated J.S.D.) program. This research-based degree, which is the equivalent of a Ph.D., is the highest law degree available. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment of lawyers in general to grow 10% from 2010 to 2020, which is slightly below the average for all occupations.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? - Individuals who have completed (or are currently enrolled in) a J.D. program and want specialized knowledge in business law
- Individuals who want to pursue a career in academia
- Individuals who plan to earn an S.J.D. in the future
- Individuals who want to pursue a career in academia
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Corporate attorney ($56,000-$177,000)**
- Law instructor ($66,000)*
- Assistant professor of law ($91,000)*
- Associate professor of law ($110,000)*
- Full professor of law ($149,000)*
- Associate dean of law ($140,000)*
- Dean of law ($266,000)*
Time to Completion 1 year, full-time 3-5 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Thesis Dissertation
Prerequisites J.D. (can sometimes be pursued concurrently with an LL.M.) - J.D. and LL.M.
- Dissertation proposal
Online Availability Rare None found

Sources: * (September 2012 figures), ** (September 2012 figures)

LL.M. in Business Law

The curriculum of an LL.M. in Business Law program typically consists of core courses in business topics, followed by a selection of electives specific to your area of interest. Some programs have specific focuses, such as international business law or corporate law. Most programs either require or give you the option of completing a thesis.

Pros and Cons


  • Law is a competitive field, and earning a specialized degree such as this can set you apart from the competition.
  • If you plan to pursue an S.J.D., an LL.M. likely will be a prerequisite.
  • You'll likely have a lot of flexibility in tailoring your studies.
  • An LL.M. can be a good way to establish yourself in a new region of the country if you plan to move after completing your J.D.


  • Holding an LL.M. may not be viewed equally in all areas of business law.
  • Earning an LL.M. adds another year of education and expenses after completing four years of undergraduate and three years of law school education.
  • Corporations may be less likely to hire or use attorneys if business prospects are down.

Courses and Requirements

Different programs have strengths in different areas of business law, so it would be to your advantage to choose a program with a curriculum particular to your area of interest. Topics common to business law programs include the following:

  • Antitrust law
  • Bankruptcy
  • Corporate taxation
  • Securities regulation
  • Corporate finance
  • Secured transactions

Some law programs offer opportunities such as on-site visits to local corporations or summer externships, during which you can apply your knowledge to real-world situations. Completing a thesis under the guidance of a mentor is another common requirement, though some programs will give you the option to complete extra coursework instead. The opportunity to complete a thesis may be attractive if you plan to pursue a career in academia or government.

Online Degree Options

Online LL.M. programs are not common, and even fewer focus specifically on business law. The American Bar Association does not accredit any LL.M. programs, online or otherwise, so it could be difficult to determine if a program provides an education equivalent to on-campus programs. Nonetheless, you may be able to find a program that is suitable for your needs and interests and has similar course offerings to other programs.

Stand Out With This Degree

The most important thing you can do in your LL.M. program is choose classes that will allow you to develop expertise in the area of business law in which you wish to specialize. This can put you in a position to market yourself as a specialist when talking to employers.

Programs sometimes offer extracurricular opportunities, such as participating in a law clinic or contributing to an academic law journal. Admission to these groups is often competitive, so qualifying for and participating in them can set you apart from the competition when applying for work.

S.J.D. in Business Law

S.J.D. programs in business law are intended for students who want to work in academia or conduct research, although S.J.D. graduates also might choose to practice law. These programs usually require that you've completed both a J.D. and an LL.M.

Because these programs are research-intensive, you might want to seek a school with one or more professors who have similar interests and are willing to serve as mentors. You'll typically be required to submit a dissertation proposal as part of the application process for an S.J.D. program.

Pros and Cons


  • An S.J.D. is currently the terminal law degree.
  • Completing an S.J.D. is a mark of distinction that can set you apart from other legal professionals.
  • An S.J.D. also can help you stand out among other candidates for highly sought-after tenure-track positions in academia.


  • S.J.D. programs are extremely competitive, typically admitting only 1-2 students per year.
  • Earning an S.J.D. is not always enough for a scholarly position if you haven't been published.
  • An S.J.D. program typically requires a 3- to 5-year commitment.

Courses and Requirements

There is no specific required coursework for S.J.D. programs in business law. Programs generally require you to spend one year in residence, during which you'll take or audit advanced law classes and conduct preliminary research for your dissertation. The next 2-4 years are spent conducting research and writing your dissertation. A committee of mentors will usually guide a student through the research process and provide feedback at various stages. S.J.D. programs culminate in an oral defense of the dissertation in front of a doctoral committee.

Online Degree Options

Because S.J.D. programs require at least one year of residency and one-on-one discussions with mentors, online programs are not available. After completing your year of residency, you can do your research for your dissertation on your own time at locations other than your school. However, you'll still need to have access to a legal library and other resources necessary for your research. You'll also need to travel to your school for meetings with advisers and for your final oral defense.

Stand Out With This Degree

You can stand out in an S.J.D. program by pursuing early opportunities to publish and present your research. This can develop your skills in writing academic material and help you become comfortable presenting research in public settings, such as conferences. Additionally, the more you publish, the more attractive a job candidate you will be for competitive tenure-track positions.

Degree Alternatives

The increasingly interdisciplinary nature of law has created a trend at law schools to hire academics with Ph.D.s in related disciplines instead of academics with S.J.D.s. Therefore, in lieu of an S.J.D., you might choose to pursue a Ph.D. in a business-related field, such as economics.

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