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Careers Working with Legal Contracts: Job Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to work with legal contracts. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

There are many career options that involve working with legal contracts. Paralegals, attorneys and adjudicators all deal with legal contracts as part of their regular responsibilities. These positions all require postsecondary education, and some call for licensing or certification.

Essential Information

Contracts are agreements enforceable by law, and can require specific legal expertise to prepare or interpret. People who work with legal contracts must be well versed in the law, good at language and writing, and very detail-oriented. Various career options are available depending on level of education, ranging from an associate's degree to a law degree.

Career Paralegals Attorney Adjudicator
Education Requirements Certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree Law degree Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Optional certification State license License, registration or certification depending on the state
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 8% 6% -4% (administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers)
Average Salary (2015)* $52,390 $136,260 $93,140 (administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career Options

Many careers involve working with legal contracts because contracts govern almost all business dealings. Some job titles are paralegal, attorney and adjudicator. Read on to get more information about these career choices.

Paralegals

Paralegals assist attorneys by drafting documents, including legal contracts. They may also assist attorneys in conducting research and preparing cases. A paralegal's duties may include preparing tax returns, planning estates and organizing files. Paralegals use computer databases to store and retrieve many of the documents they need, including contracts. Paralegals cannot present cases in court or give legal advice.

Requirements for Paralegals

A paralegal may earn a diploma or a certificate, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree. Students with higher degrees may start their careers at more advanced positions. The coursework at all levels includes legal terminology, torts, contracts, litigation and criminal law. Students may be required to work an internship in a law office. Paralegals must have excellent computer and communications skills. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), paralegals are not required to be licensed to work in the U.S.; however, professional certification can enhance a paralegal's job outlook ('www.bls.gov). One possible certification is the Certified Paralegal (CP) credential, offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).

Career and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for paralegals will increase 8% from 2014-2024. In 2015, the average salary for paralegal jobs was $52,390, according to the BLS.

Attorneys

Attorneys, or lawyers, advise and represent individuals, groups, organizations and businesses. Many attorneys specialize in contracts, overseeing agreements that involve an exchange of goods or services for something of value between two or more parties. A growing number of attorneys work in intellectual property, with duties that include protecting the contracted rights of artists. While most attorneys are in private practice, many are corporate lawyers, and much of their work deals with legal contracts.

Requirements for Attorneys

The BLS reports that it takes seven years of postsecondary education to become an attorney, including four years of undergraduate work, plus three years of law school. There is no specific area of study students should major in, but the major should help students develop excellent communication and logical thinking skills. Admission to law school hinges on acceptable scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), as well as high grade point averages in undergraduate work. Students in law school receive a broad overview of the legal industry, including courses in contracts. Attorneys must be licensed, so graduates who want to practice law must pass their state's bar exam.

Career and Salary Information

Jobs for attorneys are expected to increase 6% from 2014-2024, according to the BLS. The BLS also reported that the average salary for attorneys was $136,260 in 2015.

Adjudicators

Adjudicators, sometimes called neutrals, mediators or arbitrators, resolve disputes between parties, often involving the interpretation of legal contracts. The process is not as formal, time-consuming or expensive as litigation. Both parties agree on an adjudicator. The parties present evidence, and the adjudicator examines it and renders a decision. The decision may or may not be final, depending on the terms of the agreement. Arbitration services can be contracted through a private company, and some governments offer mediation and arbitration as an alternative to litigation.

Requirements for Adjudicators

While some employers may require adjudicators to be licensed attorneys, this is generally not a requirement for employment, according to the BLS. Some states may license adjudicators, and others may require registration or certification. Adjudicators typically hold at least a bachelor's degree and have professional business experience. A bachelor's degree in legal studies is one route to this career. Many arbitrators have earned graduate certificates or master's degrees in conflict management. Students in these programs take courses in alternate dispute resolution, which includes studies in mediation and arbitration. Some professional associations offer training for adjudicators, including an arbitrator fellowship program, offered by the American Arbitration Association (AAA).

Career and Salary Information

The BLS reports that adjudicators, counted along with administrative law judges and hearing officers, could decline 4% in the number of jobs available from 2014-2024. The site also reported that the average salary for these professionals was $93,140 in 2015.

A paralegal is required to have a certificate or associate's degree. Those with more education may enter the field in more advanced positions and earn a higher salary. Lawyers must graduate law school after completing a bachelor's degree, and must also pass the state bar exam. Adjudicators are typically required to have a bachelor's degree in legal studies, although some employers may prefer master's degrees, and some states do require adjudicators to be licensed.

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