The value of a Master’s degree in Legal Studies

As Faculty Director of Cornell Law School’s Master of Science in Legal Studies degree (MSLS), I would like to share my personal thoughts on the added value of our program. I will argue that it offers both soft and technical skills that are in many ways of comparable value to, or even of greater value than, those of an MBA program. I will further argue that both programs foster the same level of business leadership skills.

Some Master in Legal Studies degrees teach students how to think like lawyers, and incorporate their students into existing JD or law courses and classes. At Cornell, our vision of an MSLS program is guided by the nuanced understanding that we are teaching students not to become lawyers, but rather to understand how the law operates, and how to account for and mitigate legal risk.

Our program also offers insights into how lawyers think, so that students can promote better communications and synergies between business professionals and their legal counsel, and so they can better align corporate objectives with the regulatory environments and compliance frameworks within which businesses operate.

For this reason, each course within the MSLS program has been intentionally designed and created by our renowned faculty purposely for this mission and for this unique group of students. I don’t think it could work any other way. The specific skill set that our JD courses teach would not serve our MSLS students, and vice-versa. They would be limiting to both groups of students, instead of being enhancing. Our MSLS students learn the legal knowledge and skills that will best serve them as they return to the business world.

As to the value of our program compared to that of an MBA program, I will say the following. Good MBA programs are renowned for fostering dynamic learning environments, through case method courses, FIELD projects, tech simulations, introspective exercises, and for offering an impressive array of substantive technical skills within the areas of Finance; Financial Reporting and Control; Leadership and Organizational Behavior; Marketing; Technology and Operations Management; Business, Government, and the Economy; Strategy; Business Analysis and Valuation; Risk and Opportunities, among others.

In our MSLS program we teach the same high level soft and hard skills, or technical skills, offering a broader curriculum that ranges from understanding the basis of the US Constitutional order, such as how Federal Law and State Law interact, and understanding our judicial decision making process, to subject matter specific expertise in the areas of Contract Law, Employment Law, Corporate Governance, M&A and other Business Transactions, Regulatory Compliance, Antitrust and Competition Law, Criminal Liability of Business Organizations, Business Ethics, Privacy Law, Cybersecurity Law, Business Human Rights, Health Law, Financial Regulations, and Securities Regulation among others.

The immediate and obvious parallel between these two curricula is that they aim to equip business leaders with functional skills and expertise in areas that are crucial for successful business management and responsible corporate action, however broadly you construe your stakeholders to be.

The second parallel is that, much like a good MBA program, our MSLS program curriculum is forward-looking. Our courses are designed and taught to prepare business leaders to be at the forefront of innovative approaches to global challenges, such as privacy and cybersecurity; or the volatility of financial markets; to successfully address paradigm shifts and shareholder activism in areas of corporate purpose or socially responsible corporate governance; and to create effective compliance cultures that become industry standard.

To achieve the latter, our MSLS students benefit from Cornell Law School’s innovative scholars and legal professionals who shape public policy and laws, who champion social justice causes, whose expertise is sought after by members of Congress, listened to by Supreme Court Justices, and who define the highest levels of legal scholarship that then permeate into how we understand and how structure the normative frameworks that shape society.

Our MSLS learning environment relies on several dynamic and immersive pedagogical approaches, including classroom discussions, faculty led discussions, course projects, expert panels, reflection exercises, and best practice sharing, in addition to a range of exercises where students must apply course concepts and learnings to their professional experiences and consider areas for workplace improvements. We teach students high-level functional skills and how to integrate these skills into their work environments, improving their business’s operations and efficiency.

As a business and people manager with over 8 years of project management experience, most of which in a top 10 Fortune 500 company, I can vouch for how, in addition to technical skills taught by the world’s leading legal experts, the program also fosters soft skills in effective communications, research, business negotiations, leadership skills, critical analytical thinking, problem solving, situational awareness, and more importantly, in developing effective compliance cultures.

While each course has been created anew with this mission in mind, we strive to integrate our MSLS class into our Law School and offer a unique three-tier support structure that serves several goals. In addition to weekly office hours with Cornell Law School’s renowned faculty members, the students interact at least weekly with myself, the Faculty Director, and with a Teaching Associate. I hold three law degrees from three different law schools, including a Doctorate in Law. I also teach at Cornell Law School, and have over 8 years of teaching at top tier law schools around the world, in addition to my business management experience, and work as a legal consultant. Our Teaching Associate, a HLS graduate, has over 15 years of experience as a corporate attorney, and 10 years’ experience in online legal education. Together we comprise the second tier of student support and accompaniment. The third and final tier is composed of online course facilitators and teaching assistants, practicing lawyers, and current Cornell Law School JD students.

The main purpose of the three-tiered structure is to offer an immersive and comprehensive academic support structure, so that students can benefit from several points of feedback and knowledge checks. The second purpose is to integrate our students and have their voice enrich the academic discourse taking part in our community. Finally, the interactions with current JD students have been extremely beneficial for both groups of students, to understand each other’s challenges, to foster common ground between business entrepreneurs and future legal counsel, and to increase their respective professional networks, as most of our JD students go on to work at top tier law firms.

It is precisely because of this unique support structure that I argue that our program offers more added value than most MBA programs, while building the same soft skills, just with an expertise in law and legal skills rather than quantitative skills. An analogy I often use is that an MBA produces the best mechanics for running a business; whereas at the MSLS program, in addition, we also teach our students to design and engineer better businesses.

Kind regards,

By Mauvette Malizia
Mauvette Malizia Career Services Advisor