MSL FAQs

What is the MSL all about?

The MSL is designed for engineers, scientists, medical professionals (doctors and researchers), and professionals who work in STEM-related fields who wish to acquire a broader-based understanding of law, regulation, and business, and a set of skills that will allow them to excel at their technical work and also to work in cross-functional roles.

What subjects does the MSL cover?

The MSL covers basic foundational courses in law and legal analysis, including legal process, contract law and design, risk and liability, business entity design, intellectual property fundamentals, negotiating and resolving disputes, analytics, and writing, communication and presentation skills. The MSL also allows for wide choice in choosing elective classes that cluster in three areas: intellectual property/patents, business law and entrepreneurship, and regulatory strategy.

Is there an "ideal" candidate for the MSL?

A variety of students are appropriate for the MSL. One group is recent graduates in the STEM and medical disciplines who seek to enhance their professional marketability by gaining an additional degree from a premier university that instills a flexible, strategic skill set and a background in the legal and business concepts that relate to their technical fields. The MSL is also appropriate for early-career professionals in the medical, scientific, engineering, and technology fields who wish to expand their professional options by gaining a practical understanding of the IP, regulatory, and contracting and licensing environments. Mid-career professionals with STEM backgrounds are also appropriate for the MSL, especially employees in medical, engineering, and science companies who would like to participate in and lead cross-functional teams within their organizations or those who are interested in positions of increasing responsibility. STEM-trained individuals who wish to work in the start-up environment or who wish to start their own companies will benefit from the MSL's focus on the practical skills and legal and regulatory know-how required to bring a product to market. Finally, professionals who work in STEM environments and are interested in developing hands-on, practical skills to utilize in their STEM-related professions would also be appropriate for the MSL.

Can I get into the MSL program if I do not have a STEM background?

The program is designed for students with STEM backgrounds. This includes students who have formal degrees in STEM fields as well as professionals who work in STEM environments. We may develop more MSL programs in the future, including for non-STEM trained individuals—stay tuned.

Do other law schools have this degree?

Some other law schools have one-year masters programs in law, but Northwestern's new program is very different from most of these programs. Most of the existing MSL programs are very general—they are open to students with any background. Northwestern's MSL program is only open to STEM-trained students. In addition, most of the existing masters programs in law put their MSL students into existing JD courses for a majority of the curriculum. Northwestern's MSL is unique in creating a new curriculum for the MSL program, with all new MSL classes specifically designed for students with STEM backgrounds.

I already have a job as an engineer (or scientist); why should I get an MSL?

The MSL is for STEM-trained individuals who want to be better at and have a wider-ranging view of their technical work; it will help those who wish to understand the business and legal implications of their technical work. Scientists and engineers who would like to branch outside of bench and research jobs would be better positioned to do so with an MSL.  Also, individuals who aspire to work in more cross-functional positions should consider an MSL.

If I am interested in law, shouldn't I just get a JD?

The JD is the appropriate degree for scientists and engineers who want to be lawyers and/or practice law. But technically-trained individuals who want to stay in their technical/business fields, but who also aspire to understand and interact with law more effectively, will benefit from the MSL, which can be completed in one academic year.

If I am interested in the business side of things, shouldn't I just get an MBA?

An MBA is great for a student who wishes to have a business credential. But for students looking for a more interdisciplinary approach, or those wanting to develop a nuanced business-legal perspective, the MSL is a great option.

What are some of the skills would I get from MSL study that I would not get from other graduate study?

The MSL will instill very practical communication, business, and legal skills. Northwestern's law school has long excelled at teaching skills, and especially at teaching skills in context. In the MSL program, students will learn how to read, write, and interpret patents, regulatory submissions, contracts, licensing deals, etc. There will also be an opportunity for MSL students to fortify quantitative skills.

What will the MSL curriculum look like?

The MSL curriculum will consist of about 25% required courses and about 75% elective courses. Students will take foundational required subjects in a "boot camp" format; these subjects will provide background in legal reasoning and legal fundamentals. The foundational subjects will include such things as Contract Law and Design; Risk and Liability; Intellectual Property Fundamentals; Legal Process; Writing, Communication & Presentation Skills; Introduction to Business Associations; Negotiations; and Quantitative Methods and Analytics. The elective part of the curriculum features an array of specialized courses that will cluster in three areas of concentration – Patent/IP Design, Business Law/Entrepreneurship, and Regulatory Strategy. Students may mix and match courses from all areas of the curriculum or they may concentrate their studies in one particular area.

Will I be taking regular JD classes?

No. The JD emphasizes more doctrinal, theoretical training, whereas MSL classes are specially designed to provide focused training that will be of practical use to engineers, scientists and medical professionals. While it is unlikely that MSL students will take any JD classes, there may be certain situations where JD students would like to enroll in an MSL course. If appropriate, JD students may be permitted to take an MSL course if space is available on a case-by-case basis. (Should this occur, MSL students and JD students will be graded separately.)

Will this program qualify me for law school? Will classes count toward a JD if I get into a JD program?

Generally, no, the MSL is not a pipeline to a law school's JD program. The American Bar Association, which regulates law schools, does not allow masters classes to count towards a JD program, unless a student is already in a JD program. However, Northwestern Law School has an Accelerated JD program (AJD). Exceptional students may qualify for the AJD program which would allow them to complete their law degree in two years following the MSL.

How are MSL classes taught?

MSL classes will focus on active learning techniques. Blended learning (combination of online and in-class) as well as flipped classrooms (lectures and reading outside of class; problem-solving and teamwork exercises inside of class) will be employed. The MSL will also incorporate experiential components throughout, including opportunities for internships and field placements in technology and life science companies.

What is the Entrepreneurship Lab?

The Entrepreneurship Lab is a hallmark of the program, providing the opportunity for students to participate in a real start-up experience. Working in teams, students in the lab will create an idea for a business, design a prototype or model of their idea, draft a business plan, address issues of entity selection and intellectual property protection, and actually launch a new business. The Entrepreneurship Lab will expose students to all stages of the innovation process, providing "in-context" learning about the legal and business issues involved in starting a new enterprise. The Entrepreneurship Lab will draw on the law school's experience with the highly successful NUvention program.

What will the MSL do for a graduate's career/professional prospects?

The skills and knowledge taught in the MSL program will give graduates an advantage when seeking both technical jobs, and also jobs that are at the intersection of science/engineering, law, and business. And there are an increasing number of jobs at that intersection. MSL graduates will be better equipped for a variety of positions, including as entrepreneurs or in start-up enterprises, employees working on intrapreneurship initiatives within companies, patent agents, technical specialists, scientific advisors, consultants, regulatory analysts and specialists, intellectual property and patent portfolio managers, IP monetization specialists, inventors, expert witnesses, compliance officers, government regulators, technology transfer officers, business managers, jobs in business development, patent coordinators, litigation advisors, chief scientific officers, medical science liaisons, and many others.

How long will it take me to get through the program?

On a full-time basis, the MSL will take two semesters. On a part-time basis, the MSL can be completed in three to eight semesters. In total, 28 credits are required.

Is there an online option for the MSL?

Not currently. While some of the classes will be taught in a "blended learning" format, with a substantial online component, there is not currently an all-online option. We are considering an all-online option for the future.

How much does the program cost?

Full-time MSL tuition is $46,000. Part-time tuition is $1,800 per credit.

Is there any financial aid?

MSL students are eligible to apply for loans, and there are also a limited number of merit-based grants available for exceptional applicants. No separate application is required to be considered for merit-based aid.

Is it possible my employer might pay for me to get the MSL degree?

Yes, employer reimbursement for tuition is a possibility—check with your individual employers. Of the companies that do assist with tuition payments, some have an annual limit on the amount of tuition reimbursement an employee can receive. (Note: Full-time Northwestern employees may qualify for tuition assistance.) 

What are the application procedures for the MSL?

Students complete an online application for the MSL program. There is no application fee. A standardized test score is not required. In addition to general biographical information, students must submit:

  • A statement of interest
  • A letter of recommendation
  • An official copy of undergraduate transcripts and graduate transcripts (if applicable)
  • A current resume or Curriculum Vitae
  • For international applicants, a TOEFL (or equivalent) score report
  • The applicant may choose to submit other optional information, including unofficial standardized test score reports (GMAT, GRE, LSAT or MCAT) and/or additional letters of recommendation.

Will I be at a disadvantage if I do not submit test scores or additional recommendations?

No, students who do not submit any of the optional items are not at a disadvantage in the admissions process.

Is there an interview option as part of the applications process?

Not currently. We may add an optional interview during the next admissions cycle.

What is the deadline for applying to the MSL program?

There are three different deadlines for MSL applications. Applications for the first period are due by January 1, 2014; decisions will be sent by January 21, 2014. Applications for the second period are due by April 1, 2014; decisions will be sent by April 30, 2014. Applications for the third period are due by July 1, 2014; decisions will be sent by August 15, 2014. For international students, the final deadline to apply for the third period is May 15, 2014; decisions will be sent by June 15, 2014.