Law-related Careers

Scale of justice in courtroom

Lawyers aren't the only people who work in the legal profession. Many different career options, from police officer to paralegal to librarian, exist for those who want to implement and enfore laws, help lawyers with cases, and assist the public. We have included several law-related specialties here, but there are many more to choose from.

Correctional Officers

Correctional officers oversee individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial, as well as criminals who have been convicted and sent to a correctional facility. They maintain a high level of security and try to prevent disturbances (such as fights, riots, escapes, and other emergencies). Unlike other types of officers, correctional officers have no law enforcement responsibilities outside of their workplace.

Correctional officers need a high school diploma to be considered for employment. Officers are usually trained on-the-job or at regional training centers run by the state. Courses include some instruction on law, and correctional officers work closely with law enforcement and court systems.

Court Reporting

Court reporters are professional reporters who provide real-time translation of court proceedings and other meetings where written accounts of what is said are essential. Reporters record what's said using special machines, either stenotype machines or stenomasks, which allow the user to quickly create a phonetic interpretation of what is said. Later, the reporter goes back and makes official records of the proceedings using software that interprets this phonetic shorthand. Court reporters are very important to the proper functioning of the courts, and are held to a high ethical standard.

Court reporting programs are typically two or four years. Students are trained in basic law and court proceedings, including ethics. They learn how to use stenotype or stenomask machines and the associated software and other technology.

Many states require that court reporters pass a certification test, and even in states that don't require it, it's a good idea. Some reporters are self-employed, and they have to buy their own equipment (stenotype machine, computer and software, etc.). Court reporters also can provide the transcription for closed-captioned television - in this case, stenotype machines are hooked into computers which instantly translate the record into words displayed on the screen.

Criminal Investigators & Detectives

The field of criminal investigation is, quite simply, investigating and helping to solve crimes of all types. Criminal investigators work with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies; for the military; and in private practice. The field covers all areas of crime, from homicide to cyber crime to tax evasion. Criminal investigation is closely related to forensic investigation, but forensics is based exclusively on physical evidence (DNA analysis, comparing carpet fibers, etc.), whereas criminal investigation encompasses other types on investigation.

Criminal investigators work for a police department or agency. Often, criminal investigators were police officers or other agents that have worked their way up in rank. Some investigators are self-employed private investigators, who are hired by individuals or companies to investigate potential crimes or wrong-doing. Detectives are plainclothes investigators for police departments.

The role of the investigator is to pick up a criminal case and work with a team to try to solve the crime and prosecute any perpetrators. They must be highly logical, organized, and quick-thinking. The job can be stressful, with long hours and emotionally difficult cases.

Most criminal investigators, detectives and special agents have at least a Bachelor's degree. They undergo training specific to their particular field, and usually have to complete continuing education courses throughout their careers.

Criminal Justice

Criminal justice is a broad and interdisciplinary subject. It is the study of crime, criminals, and law enforcement agencies, as well as the study of law and the criminal justice system. Stated another way, the field brings together the police, courts and corrections systems. Criminal justice looks at how criminals can be punished for what they do in a way that is fair (or "just") to both the victims and the criminal, and also is reasonable for the government.

Students can pursue criminal justice at the Associates, undergraduate and graduate degree levels. Most programs offer a general overview of criminal justice topics, including law, and then allow the student to focus on a specialty. Graduates are prepared for work in the criminal justice field.

Forensic Investigation

Although it originally referred to public discourse or debate, forensics is now popularly understood to mean the application of science to solving criminal investigations. It includes fields such as forensic pathology (studying a human body to discover the cause of death) and toxicology (the study of drugs and poisons in criminal cases). The field has certainly been around for centuries and is the main way to investigate and solve crimes. Without evidence, such as fingerprints left at the scene of the crime, it would be impossible to find and convict most criminals.

Forensics is a broad field and can be studied at all academic levels. Becoming an expert in forensics requires an advanced degree and many years of experience. Law students can major in forensics or just take courses in it. A forensics program will be rooted in the physical and biological sciences, with a heavy emphasis on laboratory work and field work. An internship is very helpful for an individual to discover where he or she would like to work.

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Homeland Security Specialist

Homeland security specialists are trained to recognize and respond to security threats. They plan, implement and manage security operations for an agency or company. Where they work will determine what areas of expertise they need; for example, a specialist working for a large chemical manufacturing company will need to understand the specific threats that chemical companies face from terrorism. This specialized training is sometimes given on-the-job.

Several homeland security degree and certificate programs have popped up over the past few years. Coursework in a degree program combines elements of criminal justice, emergency planning and response, communications, and much more. Homeland security specialists can work in many different places, including airports, police departments, federal agencies, and others. They may need to have an understanding of immigration law, criminal law, and other legal areas.

Information Security Officers

Information security officers are responsible for guarding the flow of information for an organization. The field involves computer-related security; communications security; and cryptography. Besides the technology and policy aspects of the field, it is rooted in law - laws are passed to help organizations protect their information assets in an ever-changing world.

Information security programs are offered at different academic levels (through graduate school). Students in such a program will learn about computer and internet security; technology in the industry; and laws and regulations in information security. Graduates of such programs work on a team to help protect an organization's information resources.

Judicial Clerkship

Law clerks who work for judges are called "judicial clerks." They perform many of the same duties as regular law clerks, except they work for a judge instead of a lawyer. Many judicial clerks have their law degree already, and some have taken and passed the bar.

Judicial clerks assist a judge with the research and reports needed to complete a case. Judicial clerkships are harder to obtain that the average law clerkship, so they usually go to the best and the brightest (or the most persistent!). Judges usually have many years of law experience, making them a very valuable mentor.

Justice Technology

The goal of justice technology is to improve the efficiency, safety, and effectiveness of crime-solving units through the use of technological advances. Justice technology covers many fields; communications, information management and dissemination, forensics applications, and more. Most professionals in the field research and develop new technologies for fighting crime and keeping officers, agents, and citizens safe.

Programs in justice technology are offered at community colleges and technical institutes. Students receive training on how to use the tools of law enforcement, including techniques in traditional and computer forensics. For example, they may learn how to retrieve data from a hard drive to be used in a criminal investigation. Graduates are prepared for jobs in government agencies, police departments, security jobs, and large corporations. They might also do research and development for a company involved in justice technology.

Law Clerk

Law clerks do research and other tasks for law firms, lawyers, or the courts (positions with judges are called "judicial clerkships"). A clerkship can be thought of as an internship where the clerk basically does everything a lawyer does except appear in court to argue a case. Clerks are responsible for much of the behind-the-scenes work on a case; research, reporting, and summarizing for lawyers and courts.

To be a law clerk, individuals need at least a Bachelor's degree. Law clerks are usually law students who are working towards their degree and have not taken the bar. Working as a clerk is a great way to understand the profession - and also a way to get a foot in the door with a firm.

Law Enforcement Officers

Law enforcement officers protect our lives and property by enforcing laws and helping out in other ways. They undergo training and are allowed to become police officers after graduating from the police academy (or equivalent institution outside of the US). Law enforcement officers can work on the local or state level, or at federal agencies such as the National Park Service, the FBI and US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Besides basic training in safety, emergency response, medical training, and more, law enforcement officers need a good understanding of the laws and rights pertaining to their job. Officers are well versed in civil and constitutional law; local ordinances; and criminal law. They are the ones who apply the law in everyday life, so it is critical that the understand citizens' rights and the law in emergency or stressful situations.

Local and municipal areas accept applicants that have a high school diploma and who completed (or will complete) training; state and federal agencies almost always require at least a college degree to apply. Most municipalities go through the Civil Service system to hire employees, so individuals who want to be officers should pass the relevant exam to be considered.

Law Librarians

Law librarians are professional librarians who work in law offices or in law libraries (such as at universities or for the Library of Congress). Depending on where they work, law librarians may be responsible for maintaining the book collection in an academic or government library; or they may be running research and organizing books and files for a law firm. Law Librarians must have an extensive knowledge of law, be very organized, and communicate well.

Most employers require their librarians to have graduate degrees (Masters of Library Science - MLS) from an institution accredited by the American Library Association. Some law librarians also have a law degree (usually a JD or an LLB). There are schools that offer a joint JD/MLS degree program. Reference librarians in academic libraries usually need to have both degrees; however, an MLS degree is sufficient for jobs in most law firms and with regular law libraries.

Legal Administrative Assistant

Legal administrative assistants perform the administrative and clerical duties that help a law office run smoothly. Administrative assistants may answer phones; greet clients, schedule appointments, train new hires, do filing, and much more. They are essential to the operation of a busy firm or court. Law secretaries must have specialized training to prepare and process legal correspondence and to review law journals.

Legal administrative assistants may complete an Associate's degree program or a Bachelor's program and then gain certification to become an Accredited Legal Secretary, a Professional Legal Secretary, or a Certified Legal Secretary Specialist. Administrative assistants usually pursue continuing education courses to keep their skills up-to-date.

Legal Aid

Legal aid is provided for free (or at a reduced cost) to those citizens who cannot afford regular legal help. The purpose of Legal aid is to "level the playing field" of law, so that all citizens can have good legal advice and defense. Legal aid programs are paid for at the federal, state and local levels, and also by law firms that donate time, money and expertise.

Although attorneys are the ones that represent clients in court and are allowed to give legal advice, legal aid offices also employ counselors, mediators, secretaries, and law students to help out. These employees take new cases, develop and research cases, and help the lawyers who take cases to court or settlement.

Law students may work in a legal aid clinic as their internship, but they don't usually take courses specifically devoted to the subject. A clerkship at a legal aid firm is a great way to give back to the community, to learn about the legal process, and to get a job after graduation. Legal aid can encompass all areas of law, but most often it involves family law, healthcare law, labor and employment law, child law, and bankruptcy and financial law.


Mediation brings two conflicting parties, along with a neutral third party, together to reach a voluntary agreement that will help end a conflict. Mediators are there to help diffuse a situation and allow for thoughtful discussion of the problem and its possible solutions.

Going through the mediation process sometimes allows people to solve conflicts without resorting to legal action - which means they save time and money.

Those interested in mediation can either take courses in it while completing their degree; complete a certificate program; or take it as a degree-granting course (several institutions offer mediation and/or conflict resolution as a Master's degree program). Individuals can xpect to touch on the origins and effective management of conflicts; negotiation and management skills; conflict in different arenas (individual, community, corporate, etc.); and ethics.

Mediators work in many different professions, and have different specialties and styles. Mediation is related to law in that it can be an effective first (and hopefully last step) in resolving a conflict that could have ended up in court. Additionally, all types of lawyers have to know how to be effective mediators and how to diffuse conflicts.

Paralegal Studies & Legal Studies

Paralegals and legal assistants perform many of the functions of lawyers, but are not allowed to present cases in court or give out legal advice. They help lawyers prepare a case and its proceedings, doing research and writing reports, and they are responsible for filing reports and keeping research organized. Paralegals also help draft contracts and prepare documents.

Paralegals are similar to law clerks, except that clerks tend to be students or interns on their way to being lawyers, whereas paralegals are specifically trained for this profession.

Paralegals are usually graduates of Associate's degree programs or are college graduates who took some paralegal courses. Many paralegals have a specialty, such as labor law, and even a sub-specialty, such as employee benefits and contracts within labor law. They may work under lawyers in a firm, or they can work for corporations (helping draft documents and explain the laws) or for public agencies and non-profit groups.

Police Foundations (Canada only)

A police foundations program prepares students for employment within a police department. It is usually a diploma-level program. Police foundations is found in Canadian schools, where it is a prerequisite for employment with local police forces. Students study police procedures, criminal investigation, ethics, race relations, and communication.

Probation Officers & Correctional Treatment Specialists

Probation officers monitor offenders who are on probation. They make sure their charges don't break the law and that they comply with the conditions of their probation, such as house arrest or attending counseling. Probation officers also spend a lot of their time in court, investigating the cases of offenders and making recommendations on sentencing based on their findings. They sometimes testify in court as to their findings, and they confer with the offender and his or her family before and during the proceedings.

Correctional treatment specialists work with incarcerated prisoners to help them prepare for life after prison. They hold career counseling sessions and help prisoners prepare for future employment. Specialists coordinate other types of counseling as well, such as anger management and abuse counseling.

Both jobs require at least a Bachelor's degree in a field such as social work, criminal justice, counseling, or a related field. Previous experience in social work is very helpful and may be required. Most officers and specialists go through a training program to gain certification. An understanding of criminal and civil law, labor and employment law, family law, mediation, and correctional law is needed in the field.

Security Officers

We are all familiar with security guards (or security officers), who help maintain order, keep people safe and prevent crime in public settings. Security officers in the court system help ensure the safety of everyone in the court. Most courthouses have security personnel at the entrances that operate the metal detectors and make sure no one comes in with weapons or other dangerous items. They also patrol the court house to look for suspicious activity, and they are there to help in a security-related emergency. Guards may also escort defendants and monitor them during court proceedings.

During training or school, one would learn proper surveillance techniques (including how to use closed-circuit TV cameras); how to respond to emergencies of all kinds; how to assist law enforcement officers in keeping the peace of the court; mediation techniques to prevent conflict; how to use alarm systems; and more. Security officers must be very observant, particularly in court situations, and they have to carefully document everything that happens on their shift. If an incident occurs, the security officers will have to file a detailed report, just like police officers do.

After completing their training in a classroom setting, security guards can gain licensure. Armed guards have to undergo further training to be licensed, and their background checks will be more rigorous than other guards. Training may be on-site, but there are also many certificate programs through community colleges and technical schools.

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