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Legal Studies Careers: Job Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to have a career in legal studies. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and prospects to find out if this is the career for you.

In addition to attorney, this article briefly outlines three legal occupations: paralegal, probation officer and social worker. While all legal careers require some postsecondary education, you may only need an associate's degree to begin work in law.

Essential Information

Students majoring in legal studies focus their learning on law and legal institutions. The major can lay the foundation for a career in business, government and law enforcement, as well as master's or doctorate degree programs in law or related areas.

Career Lawyer Paralegal Probation Officer Social Worker
Required Education Juris Doctor Associate's degree Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree (Master's for clinical social workers)
Other Requirements Pass state bar exam Voluntary internship and certification Competency exam // Valid Driver's Licence Licensure for clinical social workers
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% 8% 4% 12%
Median Salary (2015)* $115,820 $48,810 $49,360 $45,900

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Paralegal

Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, work directly with lawyers to assist with hearings, trials, corporate conferences or closings. Work environments can include small or large law firms, government agencies and legal departments. Job duties for these legal personnel include researching case law, drafting legal documents, taking meeting notes, organizing case documents and fact checking.

Requirements for Paralegals

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most paralegals hold an associate degree in paralegal studies or bachelor's degree from any academic field coupled with a paralegal studies certificate. Certificate, associate and bachelor's degree programs are available in paralegal/legal studies and offer concentration areas that include litigation, general practice and business. Although paralegals can gain training on the job, legal studies programs that offer paralegal coursework can train students in areas such as legal research, civil procedures and practice, legal ethics and law office management.

Career and Salary Information for Paralegals

In 2015, the BLS listed a median salary of $48,810 for paralegals. The legal services industry was the foremost employer for these workers at that time, as reported by the BLS, though the software publishing industry paid the highest wages. The BLS predicts a job growth rate of 8% for the paralegal profession between 2014 and 2024.

Probation Officer

Probation officers work in the correctional system and typically have duties in areas that include administrative, investigative, counseling, law enforcement and public relations. Officers in this area may work in the field, checking the progress, activities and rehabilitation status of offenders on probation. The BLS notes that probation officers can work for local or state governments.

Probation Officer Requirements

Most employers require prospective probation officers to have a bachelor's degree in social work, sociology, psychology, criminal justice or a related field, such as legal studies. Students who have majored in legal studies may consider programs with a correction or law enforcement emphasis that covers areas like police policy, communications, criminal justice systems, victimology, strategies for correctional treatment and criminal policy. Coursework in these areas can help applicants prepare for the certification test and training programs required for most probation officer positions.

Career and Salary Information for Probation Officers

Probation officers earned a median salary of $49,360 per year as of May 2015, the BLS states. At that time, California, New Jersey, Iowa, Illinois and New York were the states paying probation officers the highest salaries, offering mean annual wages between $64,740-$81,720. Probation officers should see a 4% increase in employment during the 2014-2024 decade, according to the BLS.

Social Worker

Earning a bachelor's degree in legal studies can provide graduates with a background for a career as a social worker. These professionals have a wide range of job duties which are predominately based on the work setting, but can include providing emotional support, assisting with family conflicts, developing policies or social services for their organization, teaching workshops or running support groups. Prospective social workers may pursue employment with clinics, educational institutions, legal aid offices or non-profit organizations.

Requirements for Social Workers

Although completing an undergraduate legal studies major may serve as a preparation for an entry-level career in social work, the BLS notes that most employers require the Master of Social Work (MSW) for advanced health care, academic or clinical social work careers. Legal studies coursework related to the social services field include, counseling and interview techniques, sociology of social conflict, social movement, research design, human behavior and family therapy. In addition to educational requirements, most states have registration, licensing or certification requirements for social workers.

Career and Salary Information for Social Workers

Social workers' income vary slightly depending on their specialty. As stated by the BLS, school, child and family social workers made a median yearly wage of $42,350 in 2015 while social workers working in health care brought in a median salary of $52,380. Job growth is expected to be faster than average for social workers from 2014-2024, with the BLS projecting a 12% increase over the decade.

Lawyers

Majoring in legal studies can also serve as an academic foundation for lawyers or attorneys. These professionals represent clients and provide legal advice in court and with other legal matters. Lawyers and attorneys can specialize in a variety of legal areas, including bankruptcy, medical malpractice, family law or environmental law. According to the BLS, most lawyers are self-employed in private practice and concentrate in either civil or criminal law.

Requirements for Lawyers

The road to becoming a lawyer can take seven years to complete and generally includes obtaining a bachelor's degree, passing the Law Schools Admissions Test (LSAT), obtaining a law degree from an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited program and passing the bar examination for state licensure. Although most law programs do not require a bachelor's degree from a specific academic field, some schools offer legal studies majors as a pre-law program. The major can provide preparation for the LSAT and graduate-level law studies through coursework in areas such as introductory business law, legal research fundamentals, public speaking, civil procedure, ethics and litigation.

Career and Salary Information for Lawyers

BLS data reflected a $115,820 median annual salary for lawyers in 2015; the top-paid 10% in the profession earned more than $187,200 a year at that time. During the 2014-2024 decade, the BLS expects lawyers to experience a 6% increase in employment, though considerable competition for jobs is still anticipated.

The best opportunities for employment should be for social workers, due to the faster than average growth in number of jobs. In some occupations, such as social workers and paralegals, pursuing higher education and developing skills or expertise can improve appeal to employers.

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