Pepperdine University: Social Workers and the MLS Degree

Schools of Social Work

By Peter Craig

The good news about the Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law’s online Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree program is that you don’t have to take the LSAT to apply, it lasts only 16 months, and you don’t have to become a lawyer. 

Students hail from many different disciplines, says Shaphan Roberts (pictured at left), Caruso's director of online programming.

“The social worker is a natural fit, because any time you’re working with systems, you’re working inside of a legal structure, and having an understanding of that legal structure is going to give you an advantage.”

Among the electives are Health Law, Education Law and Cross-Cultural Conflict and Dispute Resolution. Required courses include Legal Research and Writing for Non-lawyers, Introduction to U.S. Law and Legal Systems, and Contracts, the latter being particularly valuable for, say, a social services administrator setting up a new service or agency. 

Students must also do a weekend-long residency on Pepperdine’s campus in Malibu, Calif., as part of a one-credit course. They take classes that reinforce what they’ve learned online and involve role-playing and mock trials, says Roberts. In addition, they get to know professors and fellow students, and tour areas like downtown L.A.’s Skid Row to discuss “where policy and reality meet,” he adds.

The Caruso school created its MLS degree for mid-career professionals whose work intersects with the law, says professor Jeffrey R. Baker (pictured at right), associate dean of clinical education and global programs, who helped design the curriculum.

“Social workers develop knowledge and analytical tools to expand and improve their advocacy, resources and tools for developing community, connecting clients to resources, navigating the scavenger hunt of bureaucracies and improving their own processes.”

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