Careers in Criminal Justice – Career Paths & Earning Potential

Find Your Dream Career or Job in the Legal Field

You can start a legal career with as little as a high school diploma or its equivalent and still realistically work your way up to becoming a judge once you gain the right experience and education. Legal professionals are employed in all industries and for many reasons. You could work from home or in an office. And you can find work in the legal industry in small towns just as easily as big cities; even small towns need lawyers. Legal careers often pay well and come with reasonable job security compared to other fields. Career advancement opportunities are nearly endless. To do so, you will be required to continue your education and gain relevant work experience. If you are in law school, do not forget to look for internships or entry-level jobs while you are still studying to more easily beat out the competition once it is time to start a job in your new career.

Legal Career Paths


What Can You Do with a Law Degree?


A law degree can provide you with a vast array of job opportunities. It is important to note that you can choose from several different types of law degrees including a Masters of Law, Masters of Legal Studies, Masters of Dispute Resolution, Juris Doctor, and Doctor of Judicial Science.

Today, it is becoming more common to complete a dual degree with either a secondary specialization in the legal field or another field entirely, such as a combination of a Masters of Law and an MBA or a Juris Doctor and a Doctor of Medicine. Dual degree combinations are growing rapidly, and they can reduce your overall costs and time to complete both degrees.

All types of employers are in need of legal professionals. Any business outside the legal field specifically may prefer to have someone with a legal background in addition to another specialization. You could pursue corporate, political, tax, healthcare, property, labor, public, constitutional, international law, and more. All of these types of law require all levels of legal professionals, from legal secretaries and paralegals to arbitrators and lawyers.

The types of jobs you can obtain with any type of law degree are expansive. If you prefer entry-level work that does not require the completion of advanced degrees, you can find many administrative positions with growth opportunities. To advance in these careers, you will still be required to complete higher degrees. Bachelor’s degrees can open the doors to becoming a paralegal, court administrator, and more. With a master’s degree, you could become a lawyer, mediator, judge, or work for corporations. If you complete a doctorate, you will increase your pay, be able to participate in research, and have the option to become a professor.

Skills Gained and Learned


A solid understanding of the law is only part of the requirement for becoming an exceptional legal professional. You must also possess a number of essential skills that will compliment your experience and education. Most legal professionals must work with other people as well as research and write documents. Here are just a few of the critical skills you must possess:

  • Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking is a skill that all legal professionals must use, from legal clerks to judges. Regardless of your position, you will spend countless hours reviewing information from various sources to provide a solution or make a decision. People in entry-level jobs must anticipate the needs of their employers and legal professionals of the highest caliber must make sound judgments without bias or referencing inaccurate information.

  • Writing

    All individuals who work in law will be required to write a significant amount. You might have to complete legal forms, write-up briefs, report findings, make recommendations, and much more. Everything must be written down, either by hand or online. It is essential that you are able to write well and in a clear manner so that you do not pass along bad information by using poor grammar or sentence structures. I some cases, such as trademarking, using improper punctuation can leave your client open to future issues.

  • Listening and Communicating

    Listening and communicating are also critical skills for anyone working in law. Listening is essential if you want to communicate well. You will have to carefully and objectively listen to complete any job successfully in legal professions. You have to listen to directions, listen to clients, listen to cases while actively using information provided to help you craft your response, and more. Once you have listened, you can better communicate in all forms.

  • Interpersonal

    Interpersonal skills are also essential and a skill that is oven overlooked or undervalued in law. It is often a frightening experience for regular citizens to have to use legal channels in their life; therefore, they tend to become defensive and hold back critical information. Legal professionals with exceptional interpersonal skills will often experience far better working relationships and legal outcomes with both their employees and their clients.

  • Research

    Research is another skill that will be used on a near-daily basis by many legal professionals. People will use research to complete and draft legal documents, study case law, prepare for a case, make judgments, and much more. As such, you must be able to search for and find the right information to complete your job successfully.

Careers in Legal Research and Assistance


Researchers and support professionals in the legal field are critical to the success of cases. These individuals often only require a high school diploma or its equivalent, though associate or bachelor’s degrees may be available for some of these positions, and they have ample opportunities for career advancement. You can apply for higher-paying jobs with greater responsibility as you complete more education and certifications.

Paralegal

A paralegal is an essential component of all legal teams. As a paralegal, you will provide support to lawyers and attorneys in a variety of ways. You will also be required to keep the confidentiality of all information that crosses your path. To be successful, you must possess critical skills, but you also must be trustworthy and ethical. Day-to-day tasks for paralegals will vary. You might be responsible for completing documents and online entries one day and researching cases the next. Some of your standard tasks will remain consistent such as gathering evidence for review, summarizing reports, performing research, investigating facts, drafting and filing legal documents, acquiring affidavits, scheduling meetings, and calling clients. It is possible to work for corporations, in litigation, or in other specialized areas of law. And, if you work for a smaller law firm, you can expect to have greater responsibilities. However, at a larger law firm, you might have greater room for career advancement. To become a paralegal, at this time, it is only required that you complete an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. However, keep in mind that most employers prefer that you have a bachelor’s degree. If you have a bachelor’s degree in a subject other than paralegal studies, you will be expected to complete at least a certificate in paralegal studies.

Legal Assistant

A legal assistant position is similar to that of a paralegal, with some exceptions. As a legal assistant, you may also help to draft documents, assist with trial preparation, and schedule meetings. The primary difference is that a legal assistant will have more administrative duties than a paralegal. As a legal assistant, you can expect to complete many assistant-related activities such as answering phones, completing data entry, sending reminders, and updating software. Legal assistants often continue their education while they work and take these positions to determine which type of law they might like to pursue in the future. It is also often a stepping stone position for paralegals without relevant experience. As a legal assistant, you might require an associate degree in paralegal studies. However, many employers only require a high school diploma or its equivalent. You will not require any experience; however, you must be able to show that you have determination, can work independently, and that you are proactive rather than reactive.

Legal Secretary

A legal secretary has many similarities to that of an executive assistant. You will have functions similar to, but more office-related, than a legal assistant. It will be your responsibility to ensure the office operates efficiently. You may be responsible for taking dictation, answering phones, typing up documents, filing documents, managing deadlines, updating pleadings, scheduling meetings, preparing correspondence, and assisting with legal research when necessary. It is common for a legal secretary to eventually transfer to an executive assistant position or to move up within a law firm to eventually become a paralegal. Many legal secretaries will start their careers with only a high school diploma or similar education equivalents. Other legal secretary positions will require an associate degree for you to be considered as a viable candidate. It is also possible to complete a certificate program offered by vocational and technical schools, as well as community colleges. If you do not have legal training or experience, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with legal terminology and procedures and brush up on various skills such as computer, time management, and communication skills.

E-Discovery Professional

An electronic discovery (e-discovery) professional is a relatively new position in the legal profession; however, it is growing rapidly. As an e-discovery professional, you will be responsible for utilizing technology to manage digital data and to promote efficiency in legal discovery. E-discovery allows for all parties to access data in real-time rather than to wait for the other side to present endless physical paperwork and documents that must be manually examined for the proper information. This process has been highly time-consuming and costly in the past, as well as delaying the legal process for many individuals. As an e-discovery professional, you will be responsible for assessment of the electronically-stored information (ESI) of a client, ensuring compliance, educating and training others on e-discovery policy, drafting documents, collecting and analyzing ESI, acting as a liaison, and working with various technologies. To become an e-discovery professional, you must have at least some education. Employers prefer a combination of legal and IT backgrounds, but many paralegals advance to e-discovery. You might require a bachelor’s degree in an IT-related field for the best jobs. It is also possible to complete relevant certifications, such as the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists.

Professional Organizations

National Association of Legal Assistants
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) is committed to the career advancement of paralegals through professional development, networking, certifications, and continuing education.

National Federation of Paralegal Associations
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations is a non-profit and the original paralegal association dedicated to professional growth and leadership for all paralegals.

National Paralegal Association
The National Paralegal Association offers paralegals countless resources and job search tools to empower and encourage members to seek out career advancement opportunities.

Careers as Legal Consultants and Specialists


Legal consultants and specialists are becoming increasingly in demand and growing in opportunities as other legal professionals are in constant search of an advantage over opposing counsel. These legal professionals can also help prevent the need to take a case to court, which is a benefit to nearly everyone involved.

Trial Consultant

A trial consultant is an expert in trial preparation and tactics, as well as offering arbitration and mediation services. Each trial consultant will specialize in a different area of a trial or legal-related service. It is important to note that mediation and arbitration services are growing at far greater rates than trial-related services. This is due to the fact that the legal system is trying to keep as many non-essential cases out of the courts as possible. This means that trial consultants are more often hired to settle cases before a trial, rather than helping lawyers win them. The background of a trial consultant will vary by their specialty, including law enforcement, handwriting analysis, psychology, anthropology, sociology, technology, and everything in between. As a trial consultant, you will utilize your background to settle a case or try a case using your specialized skillset. You might conduct a focus group, develop a questionnaire, create a video, speak with other professionals in their field of expertise, arrange a mock trial, and more. To become a trial consultant, you will likely require a high-level degree your field. The degree you seek out will depend upon the type of trial consultant you would like to become. Some people will benefit from degrees in criminal justice; whereas, others should pursue criminal or forensic psychology. Most desirable and employable trial consultants will have at least a master’s degree. Many consultants will continue their education as they gain invaluable experience to complete a PhD. While most professionals do not start out with a plan to become a trial consultant, experts are becoming more and more important in today’s legal system as the courts recognize the importance of their expert opinions.

Jury Consultant

A jury consultant differs from a trial consultant in that it focuses exclusively on jury selection and jury persuasion. Today, jury consultants are becoming an everyday part of the legal process during a trial. These consultants work with lawyers to help reduce the chance of choosing a jury that might be weighted heavily to be more favorable to the other side. A jury consultant is considered a human behavior expert. As a jury consultant, you will assist with the questioning of potential jurors, research jurors once they have been determined, create profiles, administer focus groups, perform mock trials, complete research for pretrial, analyze data, offer juror feedback, perform statistical analysis, examine jurors’ behavior and body language, recommend effective strategies, construct influential multimedia and graphics, coach witnesses, and compile analytical reports. A jury consultant might begin with a bachelor’s degree in a law-based field or behavioral science. Most jury consultants will continue their education to complete a master’s degree in various fields including political science, psychology, sociology, criminology, or others. Those at the top of the industry will complete a PhD. You should complete an internship during your undergraduate degree to gain critical experience either at a law firm or with a successful jury consultant.

Compliance Specialist

A compliance specialist in the legal profession works with state and federal lawsuits, as well as additional legal issues. As a compliance specialist, you will have a variety of roles and responsibilities such as research, filing, generating reports, assisting in investigations, considering privacy concerns, reviewing authorizations, examining statuses, advise on updated regulations, identifying and locating witnesses, managing litigation holds, conducting detailed searches for information, and much more. You might work with insurance companies and/or a wide array of businesses. As a compliance specialist, you must make sure that all actions follow strict regulatory and compliance guidelines in the legal field and in every other way possible. To become a compliance specialist, you will require at least an associate degree. Some employers may hire someone with a high school education or the equivalent in relevant work experience. You will also need to possess a variety of skills including moderate technology skills and previous experience in compliance, regulations, or law. Keep in mind that most employers prefer a bachelor’s degree in business or law and some experience.

Conflict Analyst

A conflict analyst is a person dedicated to the determination of whether or not a conflict of interest will arise if a specific law firm were to represent a specific client. Conflict analyst professionals are critical in the legal profession, especially for larger firms. If a law firm does engage in a conflict of interest, whether knowingly or otherwise, they can be fined and receive sanctions or malpractice claims. The primary responsibility of a conflict analyst is to explicitly follow the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct as established by the American Bar Association. An important part of this position is to create and implement preventative practices so that conflict does not occur. However, this does not always work. When potential conflict of interests do occur, you will be required to research, prepare reports, notify legal teams, and provide recommendations for the best way to resolve the matter. To become a conflict analyst, you will require experience working in the legal profession. Many employers prefer at least a bachelor’s degree. Top employers will require a master’s degree. Many people choose degrees in criminal justice or business.

Professional Organizations

American Society of Trial Consultants
The American Society of Trial Consultants is the only association for litigation and trial consultants, focusing on high standards of practice and conduct.

International Association for Conflict Management
The International Association for Conflict Management is committed to developing greater support and understanding as to the reasons behind conflict and to improve resolutions.

Careers in the Courts


A career in the courts can provide you with greater job security. It is important to note that these careers have very specific career advancement opportunities. For example, lawyers can move to higher-paying law firms, become corporate counsel, or accept a judgeship. And judges can move from local to state or state to federal judge positions.

Lawyer

A lawyer is an authorized and trained legal representative who protects clients in legal situations. Such clients might include businesses, individuals, or government entities. As a lawyer, you will provide sound legal advice in the best interest of the client that remains within the standards of conduct one swears to adhere to when they are granted permission to practice law. Your daily tasks will not always be glamorous courtroom trials, they will also include meetings, research, writing legal documents, analyzing legal problems, billing, interpreting laws, and much more. You will also have to collaborate with many types of professionals including paralegals, judges, colleagues, and clients. Keep in mind that clients can often be the most difficult part of your day when they do not tell you all the details or intentionally lie to you. If you work for a big firm, you will likely have a lot of assistance. However, if you work for a small firm or have your own firm, you will be responsible for nearly all tasks. You can choose from a variety of lawyer specializations such as prosecutor, defense, corporate counsel, public-interest, environmental, tax, family, securities, intellectual property, and more. To become a lawyer, you must complete a law degree, which is an advanced graduate degree. Many people choose to complete an MBA and a law degree at the same time. These dual degree programs reduce the time and money it would normally take to complete both. You will also have to pass the bar exam in order to practice law in the US.

Judge

A judge is essentially a mediator of two attorneys who ensures that they follow the rules and listens to each side’s arguments carefully so that they can make an impartial and unbiased judgment that is in accordance with the law to the best of their abilities. Judges are often responsible for imposing sentencing during non-trial cases. Most judges spend their days presiding over hearings and trials. They might work in a variety of specialized courtrooms such as those dealing with divorce proceedings, child custody, civil cases, criminal cases, corporate disputes, and more. Regardless of the subject matter, you will preside over either a federal, state, or local court. Part of your daily responsibilities might include document evaluation, defining the specific application of laws, writing opinions, facilitating negotiations, resolving disputes between lawyers, and more. You could become a county court judge, justice of the peace, appellate court judge, adjudicator, hearing officer, administrative judge, and more. To become a judge, you must first have a law degree and extensive experience working as a lawyer. You will also have to complete the US Office of Personnel Management exam. It is important to note that most magistrates and judges are elected or appointed to their positions. This means that you must have political support to become a judge in most cases. A few judge positions are even appointed for life. You must keep your law license valid throughout the entire time of your judgeship. You must also complete various training as required by your state and the federal government and you will be required to continue your education throughout your tenure in most states.

Court Administrator

A court administrator is essentially the operations manager of the courthouse. As a court administrator, you will be responsible for managing both the systems and the personnel of the court. You can work in either a local, state, or federal courthouse. You might work for one or several courthouses depending on their sizes. Your duties and responsibilities will also vary based on the size of the courthouse. You might be responsible for managing the budget, monitoring spending, maintaining facilities, enforcing deadlines, evaluating systems, and directing employees. You will also act as a court liaison between the court and private and public organizations now and again. To become a court administrator, you will require a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or a Juris Doctorate. The type of degree you must complete will depend entirely on the courthouse. Many people choose to major in judicial administration, business administration, or public administration for their master’s degree. Court administrators in small, rural counties might be more inclined to hire someone with less education or experience due to the smaller available talent pool. To become an even more desirable candidate, you can complete various certifications such as the Voluntary Certified Court Manager certificate or the Certified Court Executive certificate. These certificates may be required by some employers. You should also have relevant legal know-how pertaining to court procedures.

Arbitrator/Mediator

Professionals who facilitate dialogue and negotiations amongst two parties in dispute to resolve various conflicts in a neutral setting outside the courts are mediators and arbitrators. The overall goal and purpose of these legal professionals is to avoid a full court trial. An arbitrator can be either a retired judge, business professional, or attorney and they have the power to make decisions on procedural issues that are binding. A mediator acts as a discussion facilitator and works toward an agreement that is mutually acceptable. While they might differ in their titles and required background and experience, they all have similar job duties such as clarifying issues, outlining the process, settling procedural issues, interviewing witnesses, preparing agreements for settlements, applying appropriate regulations, evaluating claim applications, and more. To become a mediator or an arbitrator, you might only require a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. However, many employers will require an MBA, a law degree, or another advanced degree. Most arbitrators and mediators are retired judges, lawyers, or expert business professionals. You will require experience and know-how in the industry for which you will mediate/arbitrate. It will also be a requirement that you complete job training with an active and respected arbitrator and mediator before you begin. You might require specific certification to work in some states.

Law Clerk

A law clerk is essentially an assistant to a judge at the state and federal level. Law clerks are vital to the success of a judge, as they are essentially a lawyer or junior apprentice judge with the proper qualifications to research and analyze legal cases and procedures. The duties of a law clerk will depend entirely on the judge but may include assisting in courtroom proceedings, managing evidentiary exhibits, drafting legal documents, performing research, advising the judge on case facts, maintaining the chambers library, making recommendations on appeals, and delivering subpoenas. You might also have to prepare bench memos, proofread orders of the judge, and verify citations. A law clerkship is a highly sought after and prestigious position as it is a crash course in law and a stepping stone to becoming a judge one day. Many law clerkships are given to recent top-of-their-class graduates from law school. To become a law clerk, you must have a law degree; however, you do not have to complete the bar. The judge will determine who is their law clerk in the end, so it is best to network at every opportunity during your law degree. You will also be required to have exceptional writing skills and be seen to possess the ability to go far in the legal profession.

Court Reporter

A court reporter is equally as important as any other legal professional in the courtroom. As a court reporter, you will be creating an exact transcript reflective of legal proceedings including administrative hearings, trials, and depositions. You must be able to account for all spoken communication word for word. You will be responsible for reporting gestures, actions, and the identification of speakers. You must be able to read back any portion of the transcript at any time. In some instances, you might have to ask a speaker to clarify their statements. Once a transcription is complete, you will have to provide copies to all parties involved and the courts. It is even possible to provide real-time translation for people hard of hearing in various settings and to create closed captioning for television. To become a court reporter, you will require at least a court reporter certificate that is often offered by technical institutions and community colleges; you can also earn an appropriate associate degree. You must complete a typing-speed test and a licensing exam in most states and you will require at least a few weeks of training before you can begin reporting on your own.

Professional Organizations

American Bar Association
The American Bar Association is the go-to standard in the US for ethical practices and standards of professionalism in the legal field that also provides the accreditation required for all practicing lawyers.

National Court Reporters Association
The National Court Reporters Association is dedicated to professional development through technology, legislative issues, education, certification, captioning, and more.

National Association of Women Judges
The National Association of Women Judges is centered around fairness and equality in populations prone to vulnerabilities, as well as protecting individual rights.

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