Legal Services - A Guide

Where a Career in
Legal Services
Can Take You

A famous


Editor's Note

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Dear Reader,

Whether your interest in the legal services field is to enter the workforce as a court reporter or an attorney, there are more opportunities to help people resolve legal disputes than ever. Although the number of cases is growing, more opportunities are being created for those without a law degree.

We at understand that it can be difficult to find all the information you need to decide what degree to earn and career to pursue. That's why we've assembled an unbiased, detailed and informative guide to help you make the right decision. We offer an even more extensive database of legal services jobs, careers, degrees and specializations if you'd like to learn more.

We hope these pages help you find your path.

Happy reading,
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Citlali Tolia
Lead Editor, INSIDE Guides

Giving You Unbiased Information Ad

Interesting Facts About Legal Services

  • Of all lawyers, 26% work for themselves.
  • Most lawyers specialize, but a background in several areas helps create the best employment opportunities.
  • You don't need a degree to be a court reporter.
  • Court reporters also have career opportunities in medical transcription and business.
  • Paralegals are expected to enjoy more demand than lawyers between 2008 and 2018.
  • It's possible to complete some police training as a high school student.
  • Accountants and electrical engineers have more opportunities to join the FBI than those with law enforcement training.
Legal Services

Quiz on Legal Services

Legal professionals think critically and like to work with the public. You should consider a legal career if 12 or more of the following apply to you:

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Check all that apply

Job Options in Legal Services


Lawyers are responsible for representing clients during litigation. They also advocate for their clients out of court and help them work within the legal system. Once you've earned an undergraduate degree, completed law school and passed the bar exam in the jurisdiction where you plan to practice, you might focus your practice on civil or criminal matters. For example, some

Man with arms crossed with bookshelf

attorneys focus on real estate where they close sales and help clients work on mortgage contracts. You might also help clients write a will, negotiate a contract or resolve a legal issue to prevent litigation. Most lawyers run their own practice alone or with one or more attorneys. However, you can also work for large corporations as house counsel. Depending on your area of practice, you might find a job working for a government agency, non-profit organization or business on regulatory issues.

Paralegal/Legal Assistant

As a paralegal, you'll be responsible for helping attorneys gather information for pending cases, write briefs and interview clients. You can enter this field by earning an associate's degree or completing a certificate program if you have a bachelor's degree. You might also be able to find a law firm willing to train you on the job. Most of your job opportunities will be with law firms.

Legal Services
Gavel and the American Flag

You'll also enjoy increased demand because more companies are relying on paralegals to perform tasks traditionally reserved for lawyers, but a lawyer will usually review your work. Moreover, you'll still be unable to offer legal advice or represent clients in court.

Legal Secretary

As a legal secretary, you'll perform many of the same duties as a legal assistant. These might include drafting legal documents, such as motions, subpoenas and complaints. Legal secretaries also help lawyers perform legal research.

Court Reporter

Court reporters are responsible for creating transcripts of court, administrative, legislative or other proceedings. In court or other official proceedings, court reporters make a written record of exactly what judges, lawyers and witnesses have said through the use of a stenotype machine. While training programs offer certificates and 2-year degrees, it takes an average of 33 months of training to become a proficient court reporter. You'll need to be able to accurately record at least 225 words per minute.

Law Enforcement Employment

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Earnings for Lawyers and Paralegals

Degree Options

Court Reporting Certificate

Court reporting certificate programs will teach you how to use stenotype, voice writing and similar machines to record official proceedings in real time, or at least 225 words per minute. You can also apply your skills in medical transcription, business meetings or administrative proceedings. Most of the courses in a court reporting certificate program will focus on legal terminology and building your proficiency.

Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice

Criminal justice programs that award an associate's degree are for students

seeking immediate entry into the workforce or further study in a bachelor's degree program. If you earn an Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice, you can find work as a police officer, private investigator, corrections officer or in a similar, entry-level role. Coursework will cover police procedures, due process, rules of evidence, emergency response and constitutional law.

Legal Services

Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice

Bachelor's degree programs cover police procedures, evidence collection, investigations techniques and the tasks police officers are responsible for. Some students earn a bachelor's in criminal justice to prepare for law school. You can also learn about psychology, juvenile justice, legal research and criminology. In some programs you complete a fieldwork experience.

Juris Doctor (J.D.)

In a J.D. program, you'll learn how to practice law. This instruction usually lasts three years and introduces you to foundational legal concepts, principles and terminology in the first year. Foundational coursework also covers torts, contracts, estates, wills and constitutional law. During the second year, you'll begin working on legal research, pleadings, and in some programs, legal clinics where you can practice under the supervision of a licensed attorney. All J.D. programs include clinical experience by the third year.

American Bar Association Accreditation

The American Bar Association (ABA) sets the academic standard for law schools and programs along with state bar organizations. The ABA also recognizes a limited number of paralegal and legal assistant programs. Lawyers can join the ABA for professional development, networking opportunities and help managing their practices.

Legal Services Specializations

FBI Agent

Once you have a 4-year degree and law enforcement experience, you can apply for a position with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Some positions require experience or education in information technology, accounting, engineering or a foreign language. In the field, FBI agents investigate federal offenses, such as terrorism, bank robberies and white collar crimes.


After completing some college and working as a police officer, you might be able to find work as a detective. In some cases, a police department or law enforcement agency might help with tuition so you can earn a degree in law enforcement or criminal justice. You'll be responsible for interviewing suspects, examining evidence collected by forensics efforts and generating leads to solve crimes.

Law Professor

As a law professor, you'll be responsible for helping law students learn about the legal principles, concepts and terminology used in American jurisprudence. You'll also be responsible for helping students learn about the practice of law during clinics and legal research tasks. Law professors need to be experienced lawyers and currently admitted to the bar when they apply.

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You'll need to demonstrate scholarly ability in the form of work published in a law review.


Although some magistrate and judgeship positions require a 4-year degree, most judges hold a Juris Doctor (J.D.) and experience practicing law. Most judges preside over civil, criminal or administrative matters at trial. Trial

judges are charged with overseeing the initial stage of the judicial process, ensuring that both sides of a case comply with the rules of procedure, discovery, direct and cross examination of witnesses and court decorum. If you serve as an appellate or supreme court justice, you'll be responsible for reviewing trial decisions to ensure that they follow legal precedent and current statutes.

Scales of justice

Founding American Jurisprudence: Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence, began practicing law in 1767. He was a practicing attorney at the Virginia bar until the Revolutionary War. Jefferson's other accomplishments included founding the University of Virginia and writing a law that protected religious freedom for introduction in the Virginia House of Delegates.

In office, Jefferson was highly influential on American legal precedent and

philosophy. He worked with James Madison to create the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, which opposed the Alien and Sedition Act while raising questions of state rejection of unconstitutional acts. Jefferson also refused to honor the appointment of William Marbury as Justice of the Peace by outgoing president John Adams. This led to Marbury's suit against then secretary of the state James Madison, decided in Marbury v. Madison and cementing the Supreme Court's powers to review federal action.

Legal Services

The Growing field of Legal Services

Type of Legal Professional 2008 Employment Projected 2018 Employment Percent Change Median 2010 Salary
Paralegal 263,800 337,900 28% $46,680
Court Reporter 21,500 25,400 18% $47,700
Detective 112,200 130,900 17% $68,820
Lawyer 759,200 857,700 13% $112,760
Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officer 661,500 718,800 9% $53,540
Judges, Magistrates & Magistrate Judges 26,900 26,200 -3% $119,270

The Career Wizard

  • Can I become a lawyer if I earn my J.D. online?
  • Law students can only be admitted to the bar with an online J.D. in California. Otherwise, the American Bar Association (ABA) and state bar associations only accredit law schools with certain features. For example, these include a physical library staffed by a librarian with a law degree, access to law clinics and face-to-face time with faculty.

  • Is there more of a demand for paralegals or lawyers? Why?
  • Only lawyers can provide legal advice or represent clients in court, but more employers are relying on paralegals to assume duties previously attended to by attorneys. Although their work must be reviewed by a licensed attorney, paralegals usually perform similar duties for insurance, healthcare or large organizations that deal with complex regulations or a large volume of legal issues.

  • Do I need specific credentials beyond a degree to work in legal services?
  • Lawyers need to pass the bar exam in their state, which tests their ability to exclude irrelevant information, apply legal principles and resolve issues expediently and ethically. Some states also require continuing education. Paralegals usually don't need to complete continuing education, though employers have their own specific requirements.

    Continuing education requirements for police officers also vary by state. However, it usually covers firearms, ethics, professional standards, revisions of the law and interpersonal communications.

Legal Services


Although it's easy to meet the minimum education and licensing requirements, later specialization in legal services requires planning your education. This includes clinics, internships and specialized training. The following steps can help you maximize your career opportunities and earnings potential:

Maximize Your Professional Experience Before Graduation

In law, law enforcement, paralegal, court reporter and forensics programs, you might be able to earn college credit by working under the supervision of an experienced professional. Complete as many professional experiences as possible. This is especially important to law students, who need clinical experience to figure out what area they'd like to practice in after graduation.

Get Certified

Certification isn't necessary for all positions, but it does give paralegals and court reporters an advantage. Paralegal certification is available through the National Association of Legal Assistants

(NALA), the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). The National Court Reporters Association and the United States Court Reporters Association offer a variety of court reporter credentials.

Be Flexible

Although a good academic record will help you immediately after law school, you should prepare for and take the bar exam in several states. This will allow you to take on more clients and compete with other attorneys limited to practice in one state. In some cases, you still might have to consider relocating or taking a position that isn't in law when you first enter the workforce.

Legal Services Scholarship Central

The Linn Inn Mark T. Banner Scholarship

This scholarship is open to students earning their J.D. at a school recognized by the American Bar Association. Applicants need to be committed to a career in patent law or intellectual property rights.

Judge John R. Brown Award

The Judge Brown award is open to all law students attending an accredited school and awards a $10,000 prize. It promotes excellence in legal writing. Applicants need to send four copies of a legal paper they've written and the recommendation of a legal professional.

Humane Studies Fellowships

Humane Studies Fellowships awards provide the recipient between $2,000 and

$15,000. Fellowships are open to law students who've completed libertarian or free market research during their academic studies.

The Federal Circuit Bar Association

This scholarship program awards $10,000, mostly based on financial need. Applicants need to be nominated by the law school they're attending in order to apply.

The Stephen K. Hall ACWA Water Law & Policy Scholarship

Law students are eligible to apply for this $7,000 scholarship if their academic work focuses on California water resources. Financial need, academic performance and career goals are considered.

The Attorney-CPA Foundation Scholarship

The foundation awards up to $2,500 for a total of one year. Applicants need to be second-year law students who've earned their CPA certificate.

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