Legal Career Overview
The complexities of our legal system require professionals with skills that are vast and varied. From the criminal investigators that discover criminal activity to the judges that are responsible for providing fair and just rulings, the legal system needs workers of all capacities to function and serve modern society.
However, because of budgetary constraints in federal, state, and local governments, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment in many of these careers could be limited over the next decade. The BLS does note, however, that employment for all legal positions combined is expected to surge by as much as 11 percent nationally from 2012 to 2022.
Although careers in this field can be quite different from another, they often have several tasks in common, including these:
Top Legal Careers (BLS, 2013)
|Career||Number of Workers Nationally in 2013||Job Description||Degree Requirements|
|Lawyers||592,670||According to the BLS, lawyers provide legal representation to individuals, businesses, and government agencies involved in legal disputes.||Lawyers typically spend at least 7 years of full-time study to earn a Bachelor's degree followed by a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from law school.|
|Paralegals and Legal Assistants||271,320||Paralegals and legal assistants work as assistants to lawyers. They conduct research, file legal paperwork, maintain and organize files, and draft legal documents.||The BLS notes that most paralegals earn an Associate's degree in Paralegal studies. However, others earn a Bachelor's degree in a related field, then pursue a Certificate program in Paralegal Studies.|
|Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators||6,830||These professionals use their skills and expertise to resolve conflicts outside of the court system with consent from all parties.||A Bachelor's degree in any field is often the starting point for this career, although experience in negotiation is helpful. Some positions in this field require a Master's degree or graduate degree.|
|Judges and Hearing Officers||27,190||According to the BLS, judges oversee the legal process through every level of the court system. They hear cases, examine evidence, and issue legal decisions.||Judges must complete 7 years of full-time study earning a Bachelor's degree followed by a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from law school. Most judges and hearing officers are appointed to or elected into their positions.|
|Court Reporters||19,200||Court reporters create word-for-word accounts of trials and other court proceedings. They may use special equipment such as audio and recording devices.||Court reporters typically learn the jobs at trade or technical schools. Most often, they earn a Certificate or Associate's degree in Court Reporting.|
Legal Career Education
Legal careers typically begin with some type of postsecondary education at one of the many colleges and universities that offer these programs. The following table uses data from the BLS to outline the different degree and certificate options in this field, and what kind of career they may help you qualify for:
|Degree Type||Timeline for Completion||Possible Careers|
|Certificate||Although timelines vary considerably depending on the program you choose, many Certificate programs can be completed in one year or less.||Paralegals and Legal Assistants, Court Reporters, Legal Support Workers, Legal Secretaries|
|Associate||Associate degrees can typically be completed with two years of full-time study. However, programs completed on a part-time basis may take longer.||Paralegals and Legal Assistants, Court Reporters, Legal Support Workers, Legal Secretaries|
|Bachelor's||Bachelor's degree programs typically take four years of full-time study to complete.||Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators|
|Graduate or Professional||Students can earn a graduate or professional degree such as a Juris Doctor (J.D.) in as little as 2-3 years upon earning a Bachelor's degree.||Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators,Lawyers, Judges and Hearing Officers|
"Bureau of Labor Statistics," May 2013 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition" Lawyers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm#tab-1
"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition" Paralegals and Legal Assistants, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm#tab-1
"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition" Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/arbitrators-mediators-and-conciliators.htm#tab-1
"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition" Judges and Hearing Officers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/judges-and-hearing-officers.htm
"Bureau of Labor Statistics," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition"
Schools for Legal are listed in the column to the left.
This table shows summary data on occupations in the US. Clicking on any occupation name brings you to a page showing job prospects and salaries for that occupation in hundreds of metro areas across the country, with data updated through 2022.(Where data is denoted by an asterisk (*), summary info was not available.
Click each Occupation title for more details.
|Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators||6,240|
|Judges and Hearing Officers||14,280|
|Legal Support Workers||43,150|
|Paralegals and Legal Assistants||309,940|