M.S.L. programs typically last one academic year and put students through the same regimen as a first-year J.D. student. M.S.L. students study such staples as constitutional law, torts, contracts, civil procedure, and other requirements alongside regular law students, writing the same papers and taking the same exams. But they graduate after accumulating two semesters of credit instead of six.
M.S.L. programs are usually designed for academics who hold Ph.D.s in a discipline related to the law, and who want to add a legal dimension to scholarship.
The degree has several variants, including a Master of Studies in Law degree (at the University of Toronto and at the University of Pittsburgh), for example, or a Master in the Study of Law (at Ohio State). Georgetown Law will be adding a Masters of Studies in Law (MSL) degree for journalists beginning in 2007-08 academic year. In March 2007 The Ohio Board of Regents approved M.S.L. Degree for the University of Dayton School of Law. Drexel planned to offer a Master of Legal Studies program, but that appears to be on hold as of early 2007. West Virginia University offers a Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.) completely online as part of its nationally ranked Division of Public Administration. Arizona State University also offers an M.L.S. The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, and the Albany Law School in New York, both offer M.S. degrees in several concentrations. The Vermont Law School offers a Masters of Environmental Law and Policy (MELP) degree (formally known as the Master of Studies in Environmental Law (MSEL) degree).
From the mid-1970's until 2004, there was also a unique M.S.L. program at Yale Law School for journalists. The program was a competitive fellowship offered to three or four applicants a year, chosen by the university. Yale provided free tuition, and the fellows also received a living stipend provided originally by the Ford Foundation and later by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. A number of reporters who currently cover the Supreme Court or other law-related issues for major mainstream media organizations are former fellows, including Barbara Bradley of NPR (1994), Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times (1978), Charles Lane (journalist) of the Washington Post (1997), Neil A. Lewis of the New York Times (1979), Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe (2003), and Viveca Novak of Time Magazine (1986). The program lost its funding after the 2003-04 academic year when the Knight Foundation declined to renew its grant. However, as of February 2007, they seem to be taking applications for the M.S.L. program.
As of 2011, UC Hastings will be offering a Master of Studies in Law (MSL) and LLM in Law, Science and Health Policy programs together with the University of California, San Francisco.