Legal Studies Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career in legal studies? Get real job duties and career training requirements to see if a career in legal studies is right for you.
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Careers in Legal Studies

The legal studies field pertains to positions that deal with matters of the law. Additionally, many positions may demand long hours. Three positions relevant to the legal studies field include paralegal, lawyer and judge. Use the table below to help you compare these careers:

Paralegals Lawyers Judges
Career Overview Conduct legal research for law firms Represent and advise clients regarding legal matters Resolve disputes by applying legal principles
Education Requirements Certificate or associate's degree in paralegal studies Juris Doctor degree Juris Doctor degree
Program Length 1 year or less for certificate programs, 2 years for associate's degree 3 years beyond bachelor's degree 3 years beyond bachelor's degree
Additional/Other Training Internship or on-the-job training Internship Orientation
Certification and Licensing Voluntary certification Admitted to the bar Admitted to the bar (in many cases)
Experience Requirement Entry-level (may need 1 year experience in a law or office setting) Entry-level positions available Previous experience as a lawyer (for some positions)
Job Outlook (2014-2024) Fast as average growth (8%)* Fast as average growth (6%)* Little growth (1%)*
Median Salary (2014) $48,350* $114,970* $115,140*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Paralegal

Paralegals are professionals who assist in legal cases. Paralegals perform a myriad of duties, such as researching legal codes, organizing case information and assisting lawyers with evidence, arguments and written reports related to court cases. The BLS stated that as of 2010, 70% of paralegals worked for legal service companies, such as law firms. Paralegals work full-time and may work overtime. However, some law firms employ paralegals on a temporary basis.

Requirements

You have multiple options that prepare you for a paralegal position. Several schools offer associate's degree programs in paralegal studies, or you can earn a bachelor's degree in the field. If you already have a degree in an unrelated field, you can earn a certificate in paralegal or legal studies. In a paralegal or legal studies program, you may learn about litigation processes, legal research methodologies, family law, criminal law, corporate law and more. Paralegal programs typically have internship requirements, which place you in a law firm, legal aid agency, legal department or other appropriate work setting.

You may still be able to obtain a paralegal position without completing a paralegal or legal studies program. However, you may need a degree in another field that's useful to the employer. For example, a taxation law firm may hire a graduate in accounting for a paralegal position. On-the-job training may be necessary in these cases.

In November 2012, some employers of paralegals were looking for the following:

  • A South Carolina real estate practice needs a paralegal with an associate's or bachelor's degree to help with the processing of residential transactions. Candidates need 2-5 years of experience working for a real estate lawyer.
  • A Florida consulting firm needs a paralegal with foreclosure experience to help process foreclosure claims by reviewing court records and ensuring documents are accurate.
  • An Ohio pharmaceutical company needs a paralegal for its legal department to assist lawyers, prepare filings and guide other departments on legal matters. Candidates should have completed paralegal programs and have 2-5 years of relevant experience.

Standing Out

You can set yourself apart from competitors by earning certification. Certification is optional for paralegal work, and a number of organizations, including the National Association for Legal Assistants (NALA), offer it. The requirements to obtain certification vary for each organization but may include meeting education and experience requirements and/or passing an exam. Certification from NALA requires you to meet one of following requirements: complete an approved paralegal program; have a bachelor's degree and 1 year of paralegal experience or 15 credits in relevant coursework; or hold a high school diploma, have 7 years of supervised paralegal experience and have completed 20 hours of continuing education credits within the past 2 years.

Lawyer

Lawyers defend clients or prosecute individuals using laws and legal precedent. Lawyers must research and formulate arguments against or in defense of individuals who have been arrested. They also advise inquiring individuals on their legal rights or assist them in private legal dealings. The BLS indicated that most lawyers work privately through law firms or small practices. Government agencies also employ lawyers, and businesses hire lawyers for their legal departments. Lawyers work full-time and may work more than 40 hours a week in order to prepare for cases.

Requirements

The path to becoming a lawyer starts with earning a bachelor's degree. The BLS stated that no particular major is required for pre-law students although classes in communications, government and history can be beneficial. After earning your bachelor's degree, you need to earn a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from a law school, preferably one that's ABA-accredited in order to meet many states' licensure requirements. In order to apply to law school, you may need to take the Law School Admission Test. Once enrolled in a JD program, you'll spend 3 years learning about contracts, constitutional law, civil and criminal trials and legal writing. You may also choose a concentration, such as healthcare law, corporate law or international law.

Besides coursework, law school programs include mock trials, moot court competitions, research and writing requirements and internships.

Once you graduate law school, you must take a licensing examination known as a bar exam. Bar exams are different for each state, and you need to take the exam for the state where you wish to practice law. Successfully completing your bar exam allows you to practice law in your state. Lawyers may need to complete continuing education requirements to keep the licensure valid, according to the BLS.

In November 2012, some employers of lawyers were looking for the following:

  • An Illinois law firm needs a lawyer who is also a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and has 5 years of tax experience to represent clients in tax law cases.
  • A New York law firm needs a lawyer with at least 5 years experience in litigating personal injury cases to help with relevant cases.
  • A Texas law firm needs a lawyer who can work on immigration law cases. The candidate must be fluent in Spanish and have 3-5 years of trial experience in any law area.

Standing Out

The BLS stated that competition between lawyers for job opportunities can be fierce, and a willingness to relocate paired with extensive work experience could provide you with better opportunities. In addition to completing an internship while in law school, you can also acquire part-time or summer jobs. Additionally, the BLS stated that you might be able to find temporary positions through staffing agencies where you can hone your abilities.

You may also find law associations affiliated with your specific area of expertise. Becoming a member in one of these organizations can provide you with access to numerous resources, such as trade publications, continuing education and professional development courses and networking events.

Judge

During a legal proceeding, judges decide whether cases have enough evidence to go to trial. If they do, then judges preside over the proceedings to ensure the law is applied in accordance with the Constitution. In some cases, judges may decide the outcome, rather than a jury. Judges serve on local, state and federal courts, and the types of cases and job duties can vary for each level. Some judges work as appellate judges where they review lower court decisions. According to the BLS, a majority of judges work for local and state governments. Work schedules for judges vary; some judges may work part-time while holding other jobs, while others work full-time or overtime in order to prepare for cases.

Requirements

Many types of judges have the same education and licensure requirements as lawyers because they often first work as lawyers. In some states, certain types of judges don't need lawyer experience or can hold restricted positions. However, a license to practice law is typically required to serve as a judge; additional requirements may be necessary for certain types of judges. As government officials, judges are appointed or elected into their position. Some judges are appointed by executives such as mayors or governors, while others may be elected by the public. When you are given a judicial position, you receive some type of training to help you understand your powers and scope under the law. In most states, you must also complete continuing education classes during your judgeship.

In November 2012, some employers were looking for the following:

  • A North Dakota Native American nation requires a judge to work the tribal court system. The judge must hold an ABA-accredited law degree and be found of good moral character after a background check.
  • A federal court needs a bankruptcy judge in Virginia who is a member of a state's bar of the highest court. Candidates should be of moral character with full competency in applying the law.
  • A New Mexico district court needs a part-time magistrate judge with 5 years of experience as a member of the state's bar of the highest court. This position requires the judge to analyze and rule on preliminary procedures, such as bail, evidence and arraignments.

Standing Out

Competition for judgeships is strong and growth is slow, according to the BLS. You may set yourself apart from other candidates by having experience in a specific field, especially if the position is expected to preside over majority of cases pertaining to that specialty. You can acquire this subject-specific expertise as a lawyer and taking on cases in your chosen area.

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. 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
    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. Argosy University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Compliance (ML)
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor - Business Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis
  • 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. Widener University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Dual Master of Jurisprudence in Corporate and Business Law / Master of Business Administration
  • Campus and Online Programs
    8. South University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Criminal Justice (BS)
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Lewis University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice
  • 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?

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?

Grand Canyon University

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

What is your highest level of education?

Argosy University

  • Compliance (ML)
  • Bachelor - Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

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?

Widener University

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

What is your highest level of education completed?

South University

  • Criminal Justice (BS)

What is your highest level of education completed?