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Educational Requirements for the Different Law Professions

Programs in the legal field typically cover the legal system at distinct levels of education for specific careers in law. Find out about the education requirements of programs for a few careers in the legal field and learn about these career options, job growth, and salary information for graduates in this field.

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A legal career as a paralegal is possible with an associate's degree in paralegal studies. Lawyers must have a bachelor's degree, graduate from law school and pass the bar exam. Although it's possible to become a judge with a bachelor's degree, many places require judges to have prior experience as an attorney.

Essential Information

Professional law careers include jobs like lawyer, paralegal and judge. All law professionals are required to have a comprehensive understanding of the legal system, but the level of education required and pay for each position varies greatly.

Career Titles Lawyer Paralegal Judge
Education Requirements Bachelor's and Juris Doctorate Associate's from Paralegal program Bachelor's and Juris Doctorate
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% 8% -1%
Median Salary (2015)* $115,820 $48,810 $126,930

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

There are many career options in the legal field. These three, lawyer, paralegal or legal assistant, and judge, are probably the three most common positions to be found in this field. Lawyers try cases in court. Paralegals and legal assistants handle clerical work and research for lawyers and within law offices. Judges preside over courts and ensure that laws are applied correctly.

Continue reading for more in-depth discussions of these career options in the legal field, as well as salary and job outlook information and education requirements.

Lawyers

Lawyers instruct clients on what their constitutional rights are and their best approach for legal action. They work in different industries, such as corporate, public interest and government, and also specialize in certain types of law, like criminal or civil. Lawyers use their thorough legal knowledge to interpret rulings, present and analyze testimony and evidence, write legal reports and develop winning strategies.

Education Requirements

To become a lawyer, a student must earn bachelor's degree, attend law school, earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) and pass the bar exam. Undergraduate degrees can be in any field, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that programs focused on good research, writing, communication and thinking skills are best (www.bls.gov).

Taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is required of all students applying to law programs. Once accepted, law students spend three years studying to become lawyers. Students commonly spend the first half of the duration studying subjects like constitutional law, contracts, property law, torts, civil procedure and other legal fundamentals. Students decide on a specialty during the second half of schooling and take classes related to that specialty. They also participate in projects where they apply what they've learned.

Each lawyer must pass a state bar exam to gain licensure prior to professional practice. To qualify for the exam, individuals must have a degree from an American Bar Association-accredited law school, or one accredited by the proper state authorities.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the BLS, employment opportunities for lawyers are expected to increase by 6% over the 2014 to 2024 decade, with 43,800 new jobs expected to be added over that time frame. The median salary for lawyers in 2015 was $115,820, based on BLS income data.

Paralegals

Paralegals assist lawyers with their cases by researching and analyzing evidence, testimony, rulings and laws. They commonly prepare and file paperwork, search public records and update clients regarding their cases. However, paralegals are prohibited from providing clients with legal counsel or representing them in court.

Education Requirements

To become a paralegal or legal assistant, most students attend a paralegal program that may last up to two years and result in an associate's degree. Individuals who already earned a bachelor's degree in a different subject can take a certificate program in paralegal studies. The BLS reports that a few schools also offer bachelor's and master's degrees in paralegal studies. Paralegal curriculum generally involves legal terminology, court procedures, litigation, ethics, types of law, state and federal laws, torts and real estate.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Demand for paralegals and legal assistants is projected to increase 8% between 2014 and 2024, as reported by the BLS. Paralegals and legal assistants earned a median salary of $48,810 in 2015, as indicated by figures from the BLS. The BLS data shows the District of Columbia, Alaska, California, New York, and Washington are among the top-paying states for paralegals and legal assistants.

Judges

Judges preside over court proceedings by ensuring laws are applied appropriately and proceedings are conducted fairly and orderly. Judges determine a case's outcome when a jury isn't required and they decide whether cases should proceed to trial. Other specific duties depend on the court a judge works in.

Education Requirements

A bachelor's degree and practical experience are typically the minimum requirements to become a judge, according to the BLS, but most judges get their start as lawyers. In fact, some jurisdictions require judges to have previous experience as lawyers.

Judges are typically elected or appointed to their positions. During their term, judges are usually required to take continuing education classes, and may also have to participate in a training program after taking office.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS predicts opportunities for judges and magistrates will decrease at a rate of just one percent during the 2014 to 2024 time frame. The decline is due to the fact that government budget issues are going to make it hard for openings to be filled. Judges and magistrates earned a median salary of $126,930 in 2015, according to the BLS.

Paralegals assist lawyers by researching cases and preparing paperwork, while lawyers advise clients and argue cases in court. Judges oversee court hearings to make sure that they are conducted properly, and they may also be required to decide the verdict in cases without a jury. Paralegals, lawyers and judges are all law professionals required to have two to seven years of postsecondary training to prepare them for a legal career.

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