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Master of Studies in Law degree provides flexible opportunity for legal education

Recent University of Iowa graduate Sophia Schilling has always been interested in human rights policy. She considered going to law school, but she didn’t necessarily want to be a lawyer.

Schilling, who is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, graduated from the University of Iowa in May 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in communications, a certificate in nonprofit management, and a minor in religious studies. But once she began applying for jobs that involved drafting policy, she quickly realized having more in-depth knowledge of the legal system could give her a leg up.

That’s where the UI College of Law’s Master of Studies in Law (MSL) degree entered the picture.

“I realized all the positions I wanted required some sort of knowledge of the law, even though they didn’t necessarily require a JD,” says Schilling. “When I heard about the MSL program, I thought it was a great option because you don’t have to commit to three years of law school, and you can get all of the basic information you need in a year, depending on your course load.”

The MSL program—which was approved by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, in 2014 and first became available to students in June 2015—provides accessible training in the legal system for students and professionals who need to recognize and respond to legal issues in their work but do not want to practice law.

When UI employee Martha Hedberg received an email about the program shortly after it launched, she knew it would be a great opportunity to supplement her work experience and fulfill a lifelong dream of attending law school.

“I have completed all of my higher education as a nontraditional student, but as a single parent of two teenagers, law school wasn’t really something I could make happen previously,” says Hedberg, who has an undergraduate degree in social science and a master’s degree in public administration. “I’ve always had law school in the back of my head, and when I saw this program was geared toward professionals who want extra knowledge but aren’t looking to pass the bar exam, I thought it would fit very well with where I am in my career.”

The curriculum—which includes 30 semester hours of study—is intended to be flexible and cross-disciplinary, allowing students like Schilling and Hedberg to take traditional legal courses alongside law students, as well as up to nine credit hours of non-law classes in related disciplines.

Christina Bohannan, Iowa law professor and director of the MSL program, says MSL students have enjoyed the experience of studying law alongside JD students.

“The program is going very well. We have students with a wide variety of backgrounds and career paths,” Bohannan says. “It is exciting to know that these students, who knew little or nothing about law just a year ago, now have a solid introduction to the kinds of legal issues they may see in their work and a degree that can help them give them an edge in the job market.”

Though the MSL is designed to accommodate both traditional students and professionals who might be taking classes in addition to a full-time career, Schilling elected to complete her MSL in one year as a full-time student and was part of the first cohort to graduate from the program in May 2017.

“I feel like I received a world-class education, and my overall law school experience was great even though I’m not a JD student,” Schilling says. “It’s a great experience to learn in a classroom at such a highly regarded law school among so many talented students.”

Hedberg is enrolled in the program on a part-time basis. Her full-time job as a compliance specialist involves reviewing research from across campus for conflicts of interest, understanding and synthesizing it, and working with a committee to ensure the university adheres to state and federal regulations.

“There are many legal aspects to the work that I do,” says Hedberg. “Sometimes it involves understanding the language in contracts, sometimes it involves intellectual property, and it always involves having an understanding of the research and how it could relate to a financial interest or federal regulations the university adheres to, which is why this program is such a great fit.”

So far, Hedberg has completed a contract law course and looks forward to enrolling in intellectual property law courses and a few non-law courses in the sciences to enhance her understanding of both the legal and scientific parts of her job.

Bohannan encourages those interested in the program to see if it might be a good fit.

“We love talking to people about their career paths and helping potential students decide whether an MSL or JD degree is right for them,” says Bohannan. “It is sometimes difficult to make these decisions on your own. Whether you are an undergraduate who is unsure of a future career path or someone who is working full time and unsure whether you can take time away from work, we want to hear from you.”

Interested in the Master of Studies in Law program? Learn more at
Information about application materials is available at

Original story published on September 19, 2017 at


Christina Bohannan, College of Law, 319-335-8337
Hayley Bruce, Office of Strategic Communication, 319-384-0072

Sophia Schilling