Should I Become a Legal Consultant?
Legal consultants, also called legal advisors, provide legal guidance to clients and businesses. These professionals often have the same training as lawyers, except legal consultants generally only provide advice outside of the courtroom. Most legal consultants specialize in different legal fields, such as nursing, business law, real estate, financial law, or foreign affairs.
Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide information specific to legal consultants, consultants may perform many of the same day-to-day job duties as lawyers. As such, the majority of their time is spent in office settings, often meeting with clients. Some may travel to clients' locations in order to provide advice. There is great potential for high income in the legal field. There are few physical demands in this career, although legal consultants may have to work more than 40 hours per week, including evenings and weekends, to keep up with demand for their services.
|Degree Level||Juris Doctor|
|Licensure||Pass state bar exam (Not always required)|
|Experience||3+ years of experience practicing law and 2-6 years of experience in specific legal consultation field|
|Key Skills||Excellent communication, writing, organizational, and project management skills; extensive legal knowledge in specialty area; familiarity with virtual law libraries, strong Internet research skills and knowledge of how to review electronic legal databases|
|Salary||$115,820 (2015 median for lawyers)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ONET OnLine
Legal consultants typically demonstrate excellent communication skills, including strong writing skills. They use exceptional organizational skills and extensive specialty legal knowledge, along with familiarity with virtual law libraries, Internet research skills, and knowledge of information retrieval from electronic legal databases to manage projects. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May 2015 that the median annual salary for a lawyer was $115,820.
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Steps to Becoming a Legal Consultant
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
According to the BLS, individuals must earn bachelor's degrees prior to enrolling in law school. Undergraduate students have the freedom to major in almost any field, although the BLS recommends interested students take several courses in government, mathematics, English, history, communications, and economics. Potential majors that are directly related to the field of law may include criminal justice, legal studies, or political science, but students are not required to major in any of these areas.
Step 2: Pass the LSAT
Acceptance into law school is often contingent upon how well students score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), a national exam administered by the Law School Admission Council, Inc. There are five sections to each exam, each of which includes multiple-choice questions. An additional non-graded section contains an essay question, but this section is mainly used as a writing sample that potential law schools may review. Each student's score indicates how well that student can analyze questions, make logical decisions, and comprehend advanced concepts.
Step 3: Complete Law School
In most cases, earning a Juris Doctor degree from law school takes three years to complete after the bachelor's degree program. The first year is filled with structured course requirements and may include classes that cover torts, constitutional laws, contracts, property law, civil procedure, and criminal law. All students spend their second and third years in elective courses related to their career goals. Many law schools offer concentration options to help students figure out which courses will provide the best career preparation. For example, concentration options may include science and technology, business law, social change, public law, general practice, or advocacy training.
Complete real-world training. While in law school, students have the option to participate in clinical and internship experiences. These opportunities allow students to get work experience with real lawyers. Students can choose to obtain general law experience, but they can also participate in programs that allow them to build experience in specific law fields, such as family law, corporate law, international law, or government policy.
Step 4: Get Additional Specialty Training
Legal consultants often choose their field of specialty while still in law school, and many individuals learn about the laws associated with that specialty during their elective studies. However, some specialties may require additional training outside of law school. For instance, professionals who want to work as legal nurse consultants may need to gain a better understanding of the nursing field, which could involve becoming a registered nurse.
Step 5: Pass the State Bar
Legal consultants are not necessarily required to pass state bar exams. However, employers do prefer applicants who have courtroom experience, and individuals interested in working for these types of employers would have to pass the necessary state bar exams. Information from the BLS shows that lawyers become licensed to practice law by passing state bar exams in their states of employment. Lawyers who wish to practice the law in multiple states have to pass each state's bar exam, although some states have reciprocity laws that recognize lawyers licensed in other states.
Step 6: Build Experience
Most employers prefer candidates who have at least three years of general legal experience. Many of these same employers want applicants who have multiple years of additional experience in specific fields, such as real estate law, health care, or foreign business affairs. Per the BLS, new attorneys often build experience by starting off as lower-level associates at law firms or legal departments.
Maintain licensure. Legal consultants who are required to maintain their state bar licenses generally do so by completing continuing education requirements every few years. Records from the BLS indicate that coursework in continuing legal education may offer training in field-specific areas, which may lead to a bigger paycheck. These classes may also cover more general legal topics, such as tax fraud, legal practices, or ethics. Each state might have additional license renewal requirements.
Legal consultants typically have a law degree, and earning state licensure can improve job prospects for this career where they provide legal advice to clients in a specialty area, such as business or nursing.