Overview of Non-Attorney Legal Professions
In addition to attorneys, there are a wide range of legal professions. Most require specialized education beyond high school, but the amount of education is dependent upon the career and can range from certificate or diploma programs, to bachelor degree programs and even advanced degree programs. Some of the more popular of these careers are:
- Court Reporting - Court reporters create verbatim transcripts of legal proceedings such as court trials and depositions. To do this, they employ stenotype machines, stenotype machines attached to a computer for real-time court reporting, or audio equipment to record court proceedings. Court reporters are responsible for capturing an accurate, complete, and secure legal record of legal proceedings.
- Criminalists/Crime Scene Investigator/Crime Scene Technician/Forensic Technician - All are different names for an individual who investigates a crime scene collecting, storing, cataloging, and testing and analyzing various forms of physical evidence. They prepare reports to document their findings and the laboratory techniques used. They may also provide information and expert opinions to investigators as well as give testimony as expert witnesses in court proceedings.
- Criminal Justice - Individuals who pursue a criminal justice career path typically work in law enforcement, the courts, and corrections.
- Legal Assistant / Paralegal - Legal assistants or paralegals perform many tasks delegated by lawyers. Tasks performed by paralegals include: assisting attorneys during trials; drafting pleadings and motions to be filed with the court; helping lawyers prepare for closings, hearings, trials or corporate meetings; identifying laws, judicial decisions, legal articles, and other materials that are relevant to assigned cases; investigating the facts of cases; obtaining affidavits; preparing legal arguments; preparing written reports; and organizing and tracking files. A paralegal, however, is expressly precluded from setting legal fees, giving legal advice, and presenting cases in court.
- Legal Secretaries - Legal secretaries are administrative assistants or secretaries that perform specialized legal work. They may prepare correspondence and legal papers such as summonses, complaints, motions, responses, and subpoenas under the supervision of a lawyer or a legal assistant/paralegal. Legal secretaries may also assist with legal research.
Educational Requirements for Legal Careers
The legal professions listed above differ significantly from each other and, as one might expect, they have different educational requirements.
Court Reporter Educational Requirements
Court reporters must have a high school education or equivalent. Depending on which type of court reporting, educational programs can take any where from a year to 4 years. Programs of study must typically be from state licensed and/or approved programs. These programs are typically offered by postsecondary vocational schools and career schools and colleges.
Criminalists/Crime Scene Investigator/Crime Scene Technician/Forensic Technician Educational Requirements
Typically an individual interested in this career will obtain a bachelor's degree from with a major in criminalistics, chemistry, biology, or forensic science. Some crime labs may require advanced degrees. Lesser degrees such as an associate degree can qualify a person for forensic identification specialist positions.
Criminal Justice Educational Requirements
Educational institutions offer certificate, diploma, undergraduate, and graduate degrees in criminal justice. To maximize prospects for employment, individuals interested in this profession should consider obtaining a bachelor degree in criminal justice. An associate degree may be sufficient for entry level criminal justice positions.
Legal Assistant / Paralegal Educational Requirements
Most legal assistants or paralegals have an associate degree in paralegal studies. Some may have a bachelor's degree along with a certificate in paralegal studies. Education is typically obtained from community colleges, or career schools that offer paralegal training programs.
Legal secretaries typically obtain the skills needed for employment from high school vocational education programs or to 1- or 2-year programs in office administration offered by business schools, vocational-technical schools, community colleges, and career schools.
Evaluating Schools for a Non-Attorney Legal Education
For a detailed description of a process for evaluating schools for legal programs of study, see "Choosing A Career School". To summarize the process outlined in that article, when evaluating a career school for a legal program of study, an individual should:
- Assess themselves
- Assess the legal profession that they are considering
- Assess the educational institutions that provide legal programs
- Assess the specific legal program of study
It is very important when evaluating the school and program of study to assess the accreditation status of both the institution and the program of study.
Accreditation is a process of peer review by non-governmental agencies to insure the quality of a school and the programs of study that it offers (see: "Accreditation in the United States", U.S. Department of Education (USDE), for more information on accreditation). It is very important to obtain a legal education from a school that is accredited to maximize the acceptance of that education by prospective employers. It is also important to obtain one's education from a school that is accredited by an accreditation organization that is recognized by the USDE in order to be able to obtain Federal financial aid if needed (see: "Overview of Accreditation", U.S. Department of Education).
Schools that offer legal programs of study may be accredited by regional accrediting agencies, national accrediting agencies, and/or specialized accrediting agencies. Following is a listing of accrediting agencies that may accredited a school that offers legal programs of study:
National Accrediting Agencies
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT)
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)
- Distance Education and Training Council (DETC)
Regional Accrediting Agencies
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Higher Education
- Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Technical and Career Institutions
- New York State Board of Regents, and the Commissioner of Education
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission
- North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement, Board of Trustees
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities
Specialized Accrediting Agencies
- American Bar Association Section for Legal Education & Admission to the Bar
- Some state bar associations
Licensing and Certification Requirements for Legal Careers
Licensing and certification requirements, if any, vary by chosen legal profession.
Court Reporter Licensing and Certification
Some states that use the voice method of court reporting require voice writers to pass a test to earn licensure. They typically will also accept one of the National Verbatim Reporters Association's national certifications (Certified Verbatim Reporter (CVR), Certificate of Merit (CM), and Real-Time Verbatim Reporter (RVR)) as a substitute for state licensure.
Other states require that court reporters pass a state test to become a Certified Court Reporter (CCR). Some states even require that court reporters become notary publics.
There are also opportunities for court reporters to obtain voluntary certification from the following organizations:
- Certified Electronic Court Reporter (CER)
- Certified Electronic Court Transcriber (CET)
- Certified Electronic Court Reporter and Transcriber (CERT)
- Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) which is an entry-level designation
- Registered Merit Reporter (RMR)
- Registered Diplomate Reporter (RDR)
- Federal Certified Realtime Reporter (FCRR) for court reporters who work in Federal courts.
Criminalists/Crime Scene Investigator/Crime Scene Technician/Forensic Technician Licensing and Certification
There are no licensing or certification requirements for these professions.
Criminal Justice Licensing and Certification
There are no licensing or certification requirements for criminal justice professions.
Legal Assistant / Paralegal Licensing and Certification
Licensing and certification is not a requirement to become a paralegal. Most employers do not require voluntary certification, however obtaining certification may enhance a candidates job prospects. Following are the available voluntary certifications for legal assistants / paralegals:
- The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP)
- Advanced Paralegal Certification
- The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc (AAPI)
- AACP certification
- Registered Paralegal
Legal Secretaries Licensing and Certification
There are no mandated licensing or certification requirements for Legal Secretaries. Voluntary certification is available from:
- The National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS)
- Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS)
- Professional Legal Secretary (PLS)
- Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLS)
Legal Career Resources
For Court Reporters
- American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT)
- "COURT AND SHORTHAND REPORTERS" (PDF format) California Occupational Guide
- "Court Reporters", Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics
- National Court Reporters Association (NCRA)
- National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA)
- United States Court Reporters Association (USCRA)
For Criminalists/Crime Scene Investigator/Crime Scene Technician/Forensic Technician Professions
- American Academy of Forensic Sciences
- "CRIMINALISTS (FORENSIC SCIENCE TECHNICIANS)", California Occupational Guide
- Resources > Colleges & Universities, American Academy of Forensic Sciences
- "Science Technicians", Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics
For Criminal Justice
For Legal Assistants / Paralegals
- American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc (AAPI)
- National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- National Federation of Paralegal Association (NFPA)
- "Paralegals and Legal Assistants", Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics
For Legal Secretaries