While there are a number of careers related to immigration law, we'll focus on just three: lawyers, paralegals and legal assistants and law professors. Each of these professions faces unique challenges and can be rewarding in their right.
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There are a variety of occupational options available to students interested in immigration law. The obvious career path is to become an immigration lawyer. However, students interested in careers in this branch of law may also go on to become paralegals or law school professors. Immigration lawyers must have a law degree and pass the bar exam. Paralegals must have at least an associate's degree and it is helpful to have a certificate in paralegal studies. Law school professors are usually required to have a doctoral degree in law.
|Career||Lawyers||Paralegals and Legal Assistants||Law Professors|
|Required Education||Law degree||Associate's degree in paralegal studies, or bachelor's degree in any subject combined with a certificate in paralegal studies||Doctoral degree in law|
|Other Requirements||Pass bar exam||Experience at a law firm or specific knowledge of a related field is helpful||Most have worked or currently work as lawyers|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||6%||8%||22%|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$115,820||$48,810||$105,250|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Immigration lawyers offer their services in a number of different legal settings, such as private practice, small and large firms, corporations and legal rights organizations. These professionals represent clients involved in the immigration process, including illegal and legal citizens who want to stay in the country, as well as refugees.
In corporate settings, they might represent clients who are trying to gain work visas to obtain employment. Immigration law issues are also present in a variety of other branches of law. For example, labor lawyers representing illegal citizens must have a strong knowledge of immigration law to preserve their clients' rights.
Aspiring immigration lawyers must complete three years of law school in addition to undergraduate study. During the first year of law school, students learn legal basics, such as civil procedure, torts, constitutional law and legal writing. The remaining years consist of electives specific to students' interests.
Those interested in becoming immigration lawyers might take electives in international litigation, civil rights, labor law and immigration law. After earning their Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, graduates must pass the bar exam and any other state-specific exams to obtain licensure.
Salary and Outlook Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that all lawyers earned a median salary of $115,820 per year in May 2015 (www.bls.gov). BLS also reported that job opportunities for lawyers were projected to increase 6% between 2014 and 2024, an effect of population growth and increasing commerce.
Immigration law paralegals assist immigration lawyers in resolving legal issues. Their duties are generally restricted to research and organization of information related to cases, and they typically cannot present cases in court or advise clients.
An immigration law paralegal might, for example, investigate and analyze the Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 and prepare the findings for use in a trial. Paralegals may also compose contracts, court agreements and other documents.
These professionals generally hold an associate's degree for paralegals, though many also enter the profession with a bachelor's degree in unrelated majors coupled with a certificate in paralegal studies. Paralegals who wish to advance in the field may complete a bachelor's or master's degree program in paralegal studies, though these programs are rare. While not mandatory, certification may enhance paralegals' chances of gaining employment.
Salary and Outlook Information
In May 2015, paralegals and legal assistants earned a median salary of $48,810, according to the BLS. The BLS reported that employment of these professionals was expected to increase 8% from 2014-2024. However, the job market is still expected to be competitive due to the high desirability of the career.
Some immigration law professionals dedicate their careers to teaching rather than practicing law. They instruct students and stimulate thinking regarding issues in immigration policy. Along with giving lectures, this job entails preparing course materials, administering exams and evaluating students' performances.
They typically work in law schools, though some work in departments of universities, colleges and junior colleges. Some law school professors conduct research in addition to teaching.
While requirements vary by academic institution, most law professors are required to hold a doctoral degree in law. These degree programs can entail up to six years of full-time, graduate-level study. Many schools also offer combined J.D.-Ph.D. programs, which also take six years to complete and culminate in dissertation projects.
Salary and Outlook Information
The BLS reported that law teachers at the post-secondary level earned a median salary of $105,250 in May 2015. BLS reported that jobs for post-secondary law professors were expected to increase 22% from 2014-2024. This projected growth is an effect of increased enrollment among colleges and universities in the coming years. Professors who hold a Ph.D. are expected to see the greatest job prospects.
While becoming a lawyer is the most common career path chosen by people interested in immigration law, becoming a law professor or a paralegal are also viable career options. By learning about the basics of each of these careers--including education requirements and salary information--you'll be able to make an informed decision about whether or not immigration law is right for you.