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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

    Judge ($46,000-83,000)

    Job Description
    Judges interpret laws to resolve disputes between conflicting parties. There are two basic types of judges: trial judges and appellate judges.

    Trial judges rule on pretrial motions, conduct pretrial hearings between parties to resolve points of conflict between the parties, and thereby make for more efficient trials. Trial judges rule on points of law. In bench trials, they are also called upon to render a verdict.

    Appellate judges review possible errors of law made by trial judges and write decisions, which then become part of common law, or judge-made law.

    In addition, some judges, called administrative judges or hearing officers, are employed by administrative agencies to make decisions about conflicts involving the rules and regulations of particular government agencies.

    Judges must have graduated from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association and must have passed the state's bar examination. This means that judges have had a minimum of seven years of education beyond high school. In addition, because most judges are appointed or elected to their positions, several years of establishing a reputation as a successful practitioner of law is considered essential.

    The competition is usually great for judicial positions. Depending on the type of position, a committee of the local, state, or national bar association is asked to review the record of lawyer applicants and then make a recommendation to a public official, who makes the appointment. In some areas, political parties select candidates for judgeships. These individuals campaign on a particular platform, and the voters elect them to office.

    (An exception to these requirements exists. The office of justice of the peace, which has some judicial responsibilities, need not be held by a lawyer in some states.)

    Special Skills
    Judges must be both very knowledgeable about the law and highly skilled in legal research. They must be excellent listeners and must have the ability to quickly analyze areas of dispute between opposing parties. Judges must have high ethical standards. They must also be able to write well and give precise instructions to all parties in the courtroom. Above all, they must be able to make sound decisions.

    Salary and Benefits
    The amount of money a judge makes depends on the type and location of the court where the judge presides. In 1994, federal trial court judges averaged over $133,000 a year, while federal appellate judges earned about $142,000. State trial court judges averaged about $91,000, with salaries ranging from $64,000 to $131,000. State appellate court salaries averaged over $94,000. Judges in state and federal systems have most of their medical and retirement benefits paid for by the court system.

    Working Conditions
    Judges work primarily in courtrooms, in law libraries, and in their chambers. Like the attorneys who practice in their courtrooms, judges often work much longer than 40 hours a week. In fact, because of the increasing amount of litigation, it is not unusual for judges to work 50 hours or more each week. The caseloads of trial judges in large urban areas have grown substantially over the last few decades. Consequently, the responsibilities are enormous, and the stress faced by judges in these areas is very great.

    Currently, there are about 80,000 judges in the United States. Although some judges have begun to take early retirement, tight public funding limits the number of positions available. Also, there is always a long list of candidates waiting to fill openings, so the compensation for positions will remain great.

    For More Information
    American Judges Association

    This Web site contains publications about issues concerning the judiciary.

    American Judges Foundation
    NCSC 300, Newport Avenue
    Williamsburg, VA 23187
    (800) 616-6165

    This Web site contains information about recent issues facing judges and a section dealing with domestic violence and the courtroom.

    Dean, National Judicial College
    Judicial College Building
    University of Nevada-Reno
    Reno, NV 89557

    Legal Assistant (Paralegal) ($16,000-24,000)

    Job Description
    Legal assistants, or paralegals, work under the supervision of licensed attorneys. They provide support services by drafting documents, interviewing clients, reviewing and updating files, doing legal research, assisting in the writing of legal briefs, and preparing trial notebooks.

    Legal assistants have traditionally received their training "on the job," but many receive training today from specialized legal assistant programs at community colleges, business schools, and universities. These programs range from several months to four years in length and usually involve a combination of specific legal classes, related electives, and general college requirements.

    Although national certification is generally not a job requirement, the Certifying Board of Legal Assistants of the National Association of Legal Assistants has developed a two-day examination for those who are interested in receiving a certificate.

    Special Skills
    Legal assistants must prepare documents under the same time constraints as their supervising attorneys. Although they are closely supervised, legal assistants need to be able to write logically and precisely. Because they are often called on to interview clients, paralegals must also be excellent listeners and be able to relate to people from many different backgrounds. Knowledge of a foreign language can be useful. Legal assistants must be able to maintain a client's confidentiality. Proficiency in word processing, computers and "on-line" legal research is also important in providing the legal assistant with the ability to assist attorneys.

    Salary and Benefits
    Salary and benefits for paralegals range widely, depending on the type of law office, the location, and the job responsibilities. In smaller towns and in smaller firms, legal assistants may start at salaries ranging from $1,300 to $1,800 per month. However, most make somewhat more money. Those paralegals hired by the federal government average between $20,000 and $25,000 per year, depending on their experience and training. In addition, according to a survey by the National Association of Legal Assistants, legal assistants had an average salary of nearly $31,000 in 1994. Although the majority of employers contribute to medical and retirement benefits, the amount of the contribution differs among employers.

    Working Conditions
    Like attorneys, paralegals do most of their work at desks in offices or libraries. They may also be called on to interview clients at homes and businesses and to assist attorneys in the courtroom. They generally work 40-hour weeks but may be called on to put in extra hours to meet various deadlines.

    Statistics from the Occupational Outlook Handbook indicate that the career of legal assistant is among the fastest growing careers in the United States. Currently, there are over 111,000 legal assistants. Competition for positions is increasing. However, the job outlook for paralegals coming out of formal training programs seems excellent.

    For More Information
    Standing Committee on Legal Assistants
    American Bar Association
    750 North Lake Shore Drive
    Chicago, IL 60611
    (312) 988-5000

    This is part of the American Bar Association's Web site where one can find a brief explanation of issues facing legal assistants.

    National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc.
    1516 South Boston St., Suite 200
    Tulsa, OK 74119
    (918) 587-6828

    This Web site explains the functions of legal assistants, explains the national certification process and lists programs that are of interest to paralegals.

    American Association of Paralegals
    P.O. Box 33108
    Kansas City, MO 64114
    (816) 941-4000

    This Web site contains paralegal career information, qualifications for becoming a registered paralegal, and links to sites that deal with researching legal information and the availability of legal assistant jobs.

    Legal Secretary ($16,000-22,500)
    Job Description
    Legal secretaries apply traditional secretarial skills to specialized legal work. Secretarial duties often differ from attorney to attorney. Generally, however, legal secretaries prepare legal documents for attorneys and their clients. They also set up appointments, maintain the court calendar, handle client billing, manage client and office files, do general word processing, handle receptionist and telephone duties, and make travel arrangements for their employers. Under the supervision of a managing partner, some legal secretaries handle bookkeeping, perform office management tasks such as payroll and billing, maintain checkbooks and office accounts, and manage other clerical personnel.

    Traditionally, secretaries were prepared for their work by taking a variety of typing/keyboarding, business, and law classes in high school. They were then given more specialized training by their attorney-employers. This path is still often taken by aspiring legal secretaries. However, the complexities of legal practices now demand that secretaries come to the job with skills in many other areas. Many legal secretaries attend one- or two-year programs at community colleges with an emphasis on office practices, shorthand, keyboarding, business machines, computer use, word processing, legal terminology, and law.

    The Certifying Board of the National Association of Legal Secretaries gives a test to certify a legal secretary with three years' experience as a Professional Legal Secretary. Exam applications can be received through the e-mail.

    Special Skills
    Legal secretaries need to be able to take dictation and to type and keyboard accurately and quickly. They must be able to deal with clients from many different backgrounds. They must have strong communication skills and a good command of the English language. They must also be able to work under pressure and maintain client confidentiality. Knowledge of a foreign language can be exceptionally helpful in some locations.

    Salary and Benefits
    The starting salary for legal secretaries varies widely depending on the location, the size of the law firm, and the amount of responsibility. Beginning salaries for some secretaries in small firms can be as low as $1,300 per month. In larger areas, beginning salaries average between $20,000 and $40,000 per year. The average salary for all secretaries is about $27,500, with some experienced legal secretaries/office managers earning $45,000 or more. Medical and retirement benefits vary widely from firm to firm.

    Working Conditions
    Legal secretaries work primarily in law offices and work approximately 40-hour weeks. Given the demanding and diverse nature of law practices, legal secretaries often juggle many different functions in the office while trying to meet court deadlines. Legal secretaries must be able to deal with stressful situations on a daily basis.

    Jobs for legal secretaries should continue to grow as fast as or faster than other types of jobs through the year 2005. Although many traditional secretarial functions are being done by computers or other machines, increases in the volume of legal paperwork should allow for continuing growth in this area.

    For More Information
    National Association of Legal Secretaries (International)
    314 East 3rd Street, Suite 210
    Tulsa, OK 74120
    (918) 582-5188

    This site contains information about legal secretaries and lists the qualifications to become a certified legal secretary.

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