Law Professions: Job Descriptions & Salary Info

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Learn about careers in law. Get job description, salary, education and licensure requirement information. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a law career.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Law

The field of law includes many careers that deal with the enforcement of federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Among the careers available in law are lawyer, paralegal and judge. Use the following chart to compare pros and cons of these career paths:

Lawyer Paralegal Judge
Career Overview Lawyers advocate for and advise clients in legal matters. Paralegals assist attorneys by conducting research and providing administrative support. Judges preside over legal cases in court.
Education Requirements Juris Doctor (JD) degree Associate's degree Juris Doctor (JD) degree
Program Length Seven years full-time, including bachelor's degree Two years full-time Seven years full-time, including bachelor's degree
Additional/Other Training None required None required Orientation required for judges at all levels, many positions are elected or appointed
Certification and Licensing License required in all states. Voluntary certification is available. License to practice law is required for most positions.
Experience Requirement N/A One or more years of industry experience is generally preferred. Experience practicing law is generally required.
Job Outlook for 2012-22 Average growth (10%)*Faster than average growth (17%)*Little to no growth (1%)*
Median Salary (2014) Roughly $114,970*Roughly $48,350*Roughly $115,140*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Lawyer

Lawyers, also called attorneys, give advice to clients regarding legal matters and represent them in court. In this career, you may work for individuals, represent businesses or be employed by the government. You'll conduct research, interpret laws, file documents and argue on behalf of your clients in court. Most attorneys specialize in a certain area of law, such as environmental, business or family law. Long working hours often come along with the job. You can expect to work in office settings while also traveling to client homes, jails, courthouses and other locations.

Requirements

To become a lawyer you'll need a Juris Doctor (JD) degree and a license to practice law in your state. Most JD programs require a bachelor's degree and an acceptable score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) for admittance. No specific major is required to enter a law program, but the BLS recommended taking undergraduate classes in public speaking, economics, English and government.

When researching law schools, look for those accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). The BLS reported that eligibility for most bar exams includes holding a law degree from an ABA-accredited school. JD programs typically take three years of full-time study to complete. Courses cover civil procedures, legal writing and various types of law, such as criminal, property and estate law.

Following graduation from law school, you must pass your state's bar exam to become licensed. You may also need to pass the National Conference of Bar Examiners' (NCBE) Multistate Bar Exam. The state bar also conducts an evaluation of your character and moral fitness to determine if you will be admitted to the bar. After becoming a licensed attorney, you must stay abreast of changes in the legal field. Continuing education was required by 45 states in 2011, according to the BLS.

In December 2012, employers sought the following:

  • An Illinois insurance company advertised for an attorney to provide in-house counsel. Applicants needed experience representing financial institutions, bankruptcy knowledge, strong written and verbal communication skills and a customer-focused approach to business.
  • A construction and surety law firm in Georgia sought a lawyer with three or more years of experience in civil litigation, strong academic credentials and analytical skills.
  • A bank in Washington D.C. advertised for an attorney with financial expertise to advise bank staff members, draft documents, negotiate on behalf of the company and deliver presentations.

Standing Out

Taking advantage of any extracurricular learning opportunities your law school offers can be beneficial to future employment. You may be able to enter competitions, join student law clubs or contribute to your school's law journal. These experiences can give you additional opportunities to apply your skills as well as network with peers and law professionals. When researching law schools, look for those that offer some of these opportunities in the specific field you would like to focus your law career, such as human rights or environmental issues.

You can expand your career possibilities and attract employers by becoming licensed in more than one state. The BLS reported that competition is intense for lawyer positions, and you can increase your prospects by being willing to relocate. For this reason, it may benefit you to take the bar exam in more than one state.

Paralegal

Paralegals assist attorneys in a variety of ways. They perform research, organize files, draft documents and provide assistance during trials. Job duties can vary based on the size and specialization of your employer. Paralegals working in small law offices often provide assistance throughout the entire legal process, while those in larger firms are likely to specialize in only one phase or area. Most paralegals work full-time for law offices or company legal departments, but some work on a temporary basis during busy times.

Requirements

The most common way to become a paralegal is to earn an associate's degree in paralegal studies, although bachelor's degree and certificate programs are also available. Coursework for the associate's degree program covers legal analysis, research, contracts, civil litigation and various types of law. Certificate programs are generally recommended for individuals who already hold bachelor's degrees in unrelated fields. Many of these programs include internships so you can gain professional experience in a law setting.

In December 2012, some paralegal employers were looking for the following:

  • A law firm in Chicago sought a paralegal specializing in immigration to assist attorneys, conduct research and maintain the docket system.
  • A Pittsburgh law firm sought an intellectual property paralegal to prepare documents, draft correspondence, track patents and handle portfolio transfers. Qualified candidates had undergraduate degrees and experience with docketing software.
  • A San Francisco law firm was seeking a litigation paralegal with seven or more years of experience in trial preparation, e-discovery, commercial litigation and court filings.

Standing Out

You can stand out as a paralegal by becoming proficient in a specific area. For example, if you intend to work in corporate law, you can benefit from having expertise in business. You can also earn voluntary certification. Many organizations award certifications to qualified paralegals, such as the Association for Legal Professionals and The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. In order to sit for certification exams, you must typically meet education and/or experience requirements, which varies for each organization.

Judge

Judges work in local, state and federal courts to oversee the legal process. They perform research, hear arguments and enforce the rules of court. In this position, you'll review and compose documents, oversee trials from beginning to end and interpret and apply laws. Depending on the size and type of court you oversee, you may need to make rulings or instruct jurors. You'll work in the courtroom and spend time in an office organizing cases and conducting research.

Requirements

For most judgeships, you'll need a law degree and experience practicing law as a licensed lawyer. Some state administrative law judges don't have to be lawyers, but all federal administrative law judges do. Additionally, federal administrative law judges must pass the U.S. Office of Personnel Management exam.

To obtain a judgeship, you typically have to be elected by the public or appointed. In most positions, you would serve for a specified number of years unless you obtain a judgeship that serves a lifetime term. Once you're elected or appointed, you can expect to undergo an orientation in judicial education. In many states, judges must complete continuing education while serving their terms.

In December 2012, a few employers sought some of the following requirements:

  • In an Arizona city, the city council wanted to appoint a city judge to a two-year term in order to oversee cases pertaining to misdemeanors and criminal and civil traffic and code violations. Applicants needed at least five years of experience, extensive legal knowledge and strong communication skills.
  • A North Dakota tribal court sought a chief judge with a law degree, strong moral integrity, a clean criminal record and good standing with the American Bar Association.
  • A New Jersey court of appeals sought a bankruptcy judge for a 14-year term. Applicants needed five years of legal experience and to be in good standing with the bar of at least one state's highest court.

Standing Out

You can stand out as a judge nominee through your reputation and experience practicing law. Because many positions are elected, being able to demonstrate a record of success and justice can make you stand out to your constituents. You can also stand out by specializing in a specific field. For example, if you focus your law career in criminal law, you may be more likely to find employment as a judge in a criminal court.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Legal Studies
      • Master: Criminal Justice
    Bachelor's
      • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
      • Bachelor: Criminal Justice
    Associate's
      • AAS in Legal Support and Services
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
    Certificate
      • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
      • Master of Public Administration - Government and Policy
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Widener University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Dual Master of Jurisprudence in Corporate and Business Law / Master of Business Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Legal Studies
      • B.A. - Criminal Justice
    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
      • Associate of Arts - Paralegal
  • Online Programs Available
    6. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Crisis Management
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Argosy University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Compliance (ML)
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor - Business Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Lewis University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice
  • Campus and Online Programs
    9. South University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Criminal Justice (BS)
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Legal Studies
  • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
  • AAS in Legal Support and Services
  • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal

Which subject are you interested in?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
  • Master of Public Administration - Government and Policy

What is your highest level of education?

Widener University

  • Dual Master of Jurisprudence in Corporate and Business Law / Master of Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Legal Studies
  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Paralegal

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Argosy University

  • Compliance (ML)
  • Bachelor - Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Lewis University

  • MS in Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?