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Other Careers - Lawyers

This page describes some legal careers. The information is based on the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook. This book is an excellent resource for locating basic information on all types of careers. Updated annually, the Occupational Outlook Handbook contains information for each major profession on the nature of the work, working conditions, qualifications and training, job outlook, earnings, and related occupations, as well as additional sources of information. The Occupational Outlook Handbook is usually available in school and public libraries or on the Web.

Salaries for some legal careers are listed with the job descriptions. These are average starting salaries. Salaries for all legal careers can differ widely depending on the geographic location, the type of business, and the experience and education of the candidate. Just click on any of the careers listed below for salaries and other information.

Corrections Officer  
Court Reporter  
Forensic Scientist  
Legal Assistant (Paralegal)  
Legal Secretary  
Local Law Enforcement Officer
  • Police Officer
  • Deputy Sheriff
    Private Detective/Investigator
    Private Security Guard
    Probation or Parole Officer
    State Law Enforcement Officer
  • Highway Patrol Officer
    U.S. Government Law Enforcement Officer
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) Agent
  • Drug Enforcement (DEA) Agent
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Agent
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Agent
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Agent
  • Secret Service Agent
  • Deputy U.S. Marshall


    Attorney ($34,000 - 50,000)

    Job Description
    Attorneys, or lawyers, who practice law, do two major things. First, they advise individuals and organizations about ways of preventing legal problems by informing them of their legal rights and responsibilities. Second, lawyers provide counsel if their clients do get into legal difficulty. In providing these services, attorneys do legal research, prepare documents, write briefs, interview parties and witnesses to legal problems, and advocate their clients' cases both in and out of court. (However, while many people think of lawyers in terms of trials, few licensed attorneys are trial lawyers.)

    Most lawyers are employed in private practice, although many work for government agencies and corporations. Some have general law practices, which involve matters such as writing wills and contracts. Others specialize in one or two legal areas, such as criminal law, labor law, property law, family law, contract law, environmental law, international law, or tax law. Still others work with legal services programs representing poor people. A small number of lawyers are judges, while some attorneys also use their legal knowledge to teach classes in law schools and colleges. In addition, a significant number of individuals in public life at the local, state, and federal levels are attorneys.

    To become a licensed attorney, one must attend four years of college and receive a bachelor's degree and then attend a three-year college of law approved by the American Bar Association. Years ago, some studied law by working with certified lawyers instead of attending law school. Today, this is extremely rare.

    Each attorney candidate must also pass all parts of the bar exam in the state in which he or she wishes to establish a practice. Finally, except in a few states where graduation from the state's law school qualifies one to practice law, an attorney candidate must also pass a national test, the multistate bar examination.

    College classes helpful in preparation for the practice of law include writing, speech, drama, foreign languages, logic, computers, philosophy, history, government, mathematics, business, word processing and accounting, as well as others.

    Special Skills
    The practice of law is an especially demanding profession. Among the essential skills a person must bring to the profession is an ability to work efficiently under pressure while relating in a positive manner to people. An attorney must be a good listener as well as a good communicator. Attorneys must be able to think and write precisely and logically and must be able to give clear, concise directions to clients and co-workers. They must also be able to meet strict deadlines and maintain the confidentiality of clients' communications and have a good knowledge of computers.

    Salary and Benefits
    The starting salary and benefits for an attorney differ widely depending on the location of the practice and the size and type of the law firm. Small town attorneys beginning their own practice may take in less than $25,000 (and in some cases lose money) and may have to pay for their own medical insurance, retirement, and business expenses. Most starting salaries are higher, however. In 1998, the average salary for beginning attorneys working in government averaged over $34,000 per year, while beginning attorneys engaged with private firms averaged about $47,000. These attorneys had virtually no overhead and had some benefits paid for by their employers. First-year attorneys for large corporate law firms in large urban areas may make as much as $85,000 and have medical benefits and retirement packages paid for completely by their firms. Partners in large law firms can make very substantial salaries.

    Working Conditions
    Lawyers do their work in offices, libraries, and courts of law. They may also visit businesses, government offices, prisons, and homes in the process of doing work for their clients.

    The pressures of developing a practice are great in this profession. There is a tremendous amount of paperwork. Documents must be finished in time to meet deadlines. Many lawyers work more than 40 hours a week. In fact, it is not unusual for attorneys to put in 50-, 60-, and even 70-hour weeks in order to complete their work.

    There are many lawyers-nearly one million- in the United States today. Attaining a position in a law firm is extremely competitive, and getting a job as an attorney in some areas of the country may be difficult. Nevertheless, projections from the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that there will be an increasing need for lawyers through the year 2005, so job opportunities in the field remain good.

    For More Information
    Information Services
    American Bar Association
    750 North Lake Shore Drive
    Chicago, IL 60611
    (312) 988-5000

    The ABA site has references for legal assistance, legal publications, legal service plans and, for students, a special site containing educational materials about the law.

    Association of American Law Schools
    1201 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 800
    Washington, D.C. 20036-2605
    (202) 296-8851

    Corrections Officer ($21,000-26,300)

    Job Description
    Corrections officers, also known as prison guards, are responsible for maintaining the security of the prison or correctional facility where they work. These officers supervise prisoners as the prisoners work, eat, sleep, attend educational classes, or participate in recreation. They operate electronic security systems. Corrections officers are also responsible for the security of the prison when the prisoners receive visitors and when the prisoners travel to and from the correctional facility.

    The hiring requirements for corrections officers are not as extensive as for other careers in the legal field. All that is required in many areas is a high-school diploma or a GED. Once hired, corrections officers may participate in training programs that prepare them for their duties.

    Special Skills
    Corrections officers need strong observational skills to help detect changes in prisoners' behavior that might affect the security of the prison. It also helps to have good interpersonal skills in order to reduce tension among the many different personalities found in the prison population.

    Salary and Benefits
    Most corrections officers work for government agencies responsible for operating jails and prisons. However, some now work for private companies that have received contracts from the government to operate correctional facilities. Most government employers provide health and retirement benefits. According to a 1994 survey, starting pay at the state level averaged nearly $19,500 per year, while average earnings were about $23,000. Beginning pay for federal officers was slightly higher-about $20,000-and average pay was about $31,500.

    Working Conditions
    Correctional officers generally work 40-hour weeks, although they may be required to work off-hour shifts. They work both indoors and outdoors in correctional facilities, depending on the job requirements. The work of a corrections officer may be stressful and even dangerous because of problems in dealing with inmates.

    Approximately 310,000 people work as correctional officers in prisons across the country. With 10% to 20% of corrections officers leaving their jobs each year and the number of prisons and jails increasing, the outlook for employment of corrections officers through 2005 remains strong.

    For More Information
    The American Correctional Association
    4380 Forbes Boulevard
    Lanham, MD 20706-4322
    (800) 222-5646

    This Web site contains information regarding jobs in the corrections field and publications concerning issues facing corrections officers.

    American Jail Association
    2053 Day Road, Suite 100 (zip 21740)
    P.O. Box 2158
    Hagerstown, MD 21742
    (301) 790-3930

    This Web site contains information about the AJA, its publications, and hot links to the Corrections Connections Network, a detailed site with links to state, federal, and international correctional information sites.

    Court Reporter ($24,000-30,000)

    Job Description
    A court reporter keeps the record of the court proceedings. This means that the reporter takes down every "official" word said in court. Court reporters often take down what is said at speeds of up to 200 words per minute.

    The trial court record is the basis of all appeals to appellate courts. Lawyers making appeals base their arguments on exactly what has been stated in the trial court. Appeals court justices write their opinions based on the transcripts of the trial courts as well as what has been argued on appeal. Thus, the accurate work of court reporters is vital to an effective judicial system.

    Court reporters also take down depositions, interrogatories, and other parts of pretrial proceedings. They are often called upon to take down what is said at public hearings as well. About 90% of the 60,000 court reporters in the U.S. use computers or computer aided transcription (CAT). This work electronically ties a stenotype machine to a computer, which turns the reporter's notes into readable print.

    To become a court reporter, one must attend court-reporting school or a similar program given by a community college or university. The duration of these programs varies from two to four years, depending on the type of degree or certificate offered.

    In a court-reporting program, students learn court-reporting language and develop skill in using the court-reporting machine, or stenotype. Classes in various types of law, English, keyboarding, computers, and medical terminology form the core of the curriculum.

    Special Skills
    Persons who wish to attend court-reporting school should have an excellent command of the English language, good hearing, general knowledge of computers and extremely strong typing and keyboarding skills. They must be good listeners since they must sit and concentrate for long periods of time.

    Salary and Benefits
    Court reporters can work for the courts, freelance for different businesses, or do both. Starting salaries for this position are generally between $20,000 and $25,000 per year. Most employers offer medical insurance and a retirement package. Because this position is vital and requires great skill, the amount of money a court reporter earns can increase sharply as he or she becomes more proficient. It is not unusual for court reporters to earn at least $50,000 annually after five years.

    Working Conditions
    Most court reporters who work for courts follow the schedule of the court. This means most work 40-hour weeks, unless deadlines require that court transcripts be ready at a certain time. In this case, the court reporter must work overtime to get the work done.

    Court reporters may work anywhere an official record is needed for a meeting or conference. They work in courts, law offices, businesses, or public buildings such as town halls and legislatures.

    With the rising number of civil and criminal cases, the outlook for employment for court reporters is good. Although technological breakthroughs, such as voice-activated transcription equipment, may eventually cut down on the need for court reporters, the job outlook through the year 2005 is still good. People with court reporting skills can also find work as medical/legal transcriptionists and in captioning.

    For More Information
    National Court Reporters Association
    8224 Old Courthouse Road
    Vienna, VA 22182-3808
    (800) 272-6272

    This site contains a detailed account of the responsibilities of court reporting including explanations about computer aided transcription (CAT), captioning careers, cyber-conferencing, scopists, rapid data entry transcription, medical and medical/legal transcriptionists.

    Forensic Scientist ($22,000-35,000)

    Job Description
    Forensic scientists collect and analyze evidence found at crime scenes. Specifically, they analyze blood, saliva, semen, drugs, fingerprints, and firearms and perform reconstructions on skeletal bones. Forensic scientists also confer with law enforcement personnel and attorneys on evidence collection, preserve evidence, write reports, and testify in court. The scientific analysis of evidence often proves critical in determining the innocence or guilt of a person accused of a crime. Thus, forensic scientists play a vital role in the criminal justice process.

    Entry-level jobs in forensic science require a four-year degree in one of the following: biology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, genetics, or medical technology. Communication arts and law classes are considered helpful. Some crime labs also require laboratory experience.

    Special Skills
    A forensic scientist works with many different kinds of people, often under stressful circumstances. Thus, it is essential for a person in this field to have good "people" skills. Because forensic scientists must complete many reports and make court appearances, they must be capable writers and good speakers. Finally, forensic scientists must be able to manipulate tiny bits of evidence under a microscope that requires excellent hand-eye coordination.

    Salary and Benefits
    Forensic scientists generally work for state or federal crime laboratories. Because these positions are found primarily in government, some medical and retirement benefits are paid.
    At the state level, beginning forensic scientists are paid about $1,900 per month. Those who start with laboratory experience may receive as much as $3,000 per month. Depending on the state, experienced workers may eventually earn between $35,000 and $50,000 per year. Federal salaries are usually higher.

    Working Conditions
    As employees of the government, forensic scientists generally work 40-hour weeks. However, because of increasing caseloads and the need to meet deadlines, they may work extra hours.
    Forensic scientists work primarily in the crime lab. However, they also go to the scene of the crime to examine and secure evidence, and they testify in court.

    Good forensic scientists are always in demand. However, because of pressures to reduce government funding, beginning positions are usually limited, and competition for them is keen. The job outlook in this area is, at best, fair.

    For More Information
    American Academy of Forensic Sciences
    P.O. Box 669
    410 North 21st St., Suite 203
    Colorado Springs, CO 80901

    This site explains the main disciplines of forensic science, as well as listing a link to further reading on forensic science topics.

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