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Careers in Law and Paralegal Professions

Updated on April 5, 2014

American Law Jobs

Many specialties exist in the practice of law in the 21st Century, including the topical field of Environment Law.

Growing numbers of attorneys are entering the field of Environmental Law as sustainability and climate change become more important as issues to address. Another field that has been growing is Tax Law, expanding with the growth of Forensic Accounting in the 2000s and 2010s.

As of 2008 - 2009, approximately 27-28% of American attorneys (lawyers) were self-employed; they worked in private practice alone, as one of a group of partners, or in the lesser though important rank: "Of Counsel.” Attorneys of counsel may be able to work their way into a partnership within their firms as they build success through their work. Newly graduate law school students often take jobs as Law Clerks with a practice. Nearly 40% of attorneys of the bar work 50 or more hours per week, often involved in research, report preparation, meetings, and some court rooms. Attorneys can be appointed or elected as judges at various levels of the Judiciary as their careers advance.They may also become Law Professors

Except for isolated special cases, attorneys require a 4-year undergraduate college degree and an additional 3 years in a law school curriculum. Law school graduates must attain a passing score on individual US States’ written bar examinations wherever they wish to practice law in America. If they move to a new state, they will most likely need to pass a new bar exam.

*Special cases – The attorney and renowned author Erle Stanley Gardner studied law on his own in the first quarter of the 20th Century and passed the California Bar Examination without attending college or law school.

He practiced law for a few years until he began to write prolifically, changing over to full-time writing quickly. He is responsible for the Perry Mason phenomenon, another novel series concerning the work of a District Attorney, a book or two about a protagonist and the law in Chinatown, historical works about the American Southwest, period crime novels about Donald Lamb and Betha Cool, and scores of stories for early crime and mystery magazines. He wrote wrote the well known works that sought American popular opinions and resulted in The Court of Last Resort, which led to today's - including college classes that concentrate on - freeing of several wrongly convicted people on Death Rows. Gardner was a proponent and a cheerleader of medical forensics and the work of himself and his comteporaries has resulted in DNA evidentiary work and all the CSIs you can imagine - and likely helped to spur the creation of forensic accounting. Erle Stnaley Gardner practiced law by including the American people in the process of knowing and asking for legal reform and better methods.

Another famous instance of this accomplishment was achieved by Frank Abignale, Jr. in a 1960s-era Louisiana, he is portrayed in the Stephen Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can. At the ageof 19, he passed a state bar examination on the third try, without attending any related classes.

Mr. Abignale actually worked in the State Attorney General’s office as an attorney at age 19. An extremely successful imposter and fraud, he put his talents to better use when he accepted consultancy work with the US Federal Government and the FBI in particular - He helped them catch criminals and develop means of fraud prevention for government and business. He has aided FBI and other training along those lines as well. he made full restitution for all monies he received in his youthful misadventures. Today, Mr. Abignale is a special consultant on documents and a public speaker with his own firm at:

Abagnale and Associates.

Thus, not everyone that studies the law becomes the iconic trial attorney.

The scales of Justice.
The scales of Justice. | Source

The Scope of Legal Careers

Major Legal Occupations

Protective Service Occupations

It has been a misconception that Protective Services are directly linked to the Legal Occupations in the list above, but these two categories are distinct.

Top 10 Law Schools For Environmental Law

As recommended by US News and World Reports:

  1. Lewis and Clark College (Northwestern) Portland OR
  2. Vermont Law School - South Royalton VT
  3. Pace University - White Plains NY
  4. Georgetown University - Washington DC
  5. Duke University - Durham NC
  6. University of Colorado--Boulder
  7. Stanford University - Stanford CA
  8. University of Maryland - Baltimore
  9. University of Oregon - Eugene
  10. Florida State University - Tallahassee

Legal Professions in Film


The decade 2006 - 2016 represents at least an 11% increase in jobs for attorneys, while a spike of expansion was seen in 2007 - 2009.

When we think of legal careers, many of us imagine trial lawyers made famous by films, television series, and crime novels. Some authors have used their own experiences to produce award winning works of fiction and true drama in the world of law and crime. In the 21st Century, an increased need has emerged for attorneys that specialize in tax law, intellectual property rights, real estate law, and environmental law. Other specialties are foreclosure law, criminal law, domestic/family law, employment law, trade secret law, and others.

Attorneys must pass a state Bar Exam (mentioned above) and usually a separate Ethics Examination in order to practice law. Of all States, 48 States, DC, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands mandate a 6-hour Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). It is not insisted upon in Louisiana or Washington State. A local State Bar Examination is sometimes also administered. A 3-hour Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) is used in addition to the other exams in many US States. Overall, a large amount of preparation is involved in law careers. A Multistate Performance Test of skills can also be given. However, salaries for experienced attorneys can reach over $100,000 per year and sometimes, several hundred thousands.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

The majority of newly trained Paralegals and Legal Assistants have earned an Associate's degree in paralegal studies, or a Bachelor’s and a Certificate in paralegal studies. Most work in law firms. although some work for legal departments of companies and in government, and some paralegals may become self employed.

This category of professional workers performs a lot of research and routine jobs until experiences, whereupon they accept additional responsibilities. As the legal field expands in the 21st Century, the need for specialized paralegals increases. The fields of work involved include real estate, taxes, litigation, personal injury, corporate and criminal law, intellectual property, labor law, bankruptcy, immigration, malpractice, family law, and others.

Median salaries in 2011 extended from $38,000 to over $56,000 per year, depending on market area, and the average salary nationwide was $51,000.

Cities in highest need of these workers out of 10,600 positions listed nationwide in September 2012 include: New York City, Washington DC, Atlanta GA, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Dallas and Houston, and Philadelphia PA.

Court reporting steno machine.
Court reporting steno machine.

Court Reporters

Short-term certificate training and certification through testing by state authorites is required in this work in order to be most successful.

In the science fiction classic Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, some indiviuals held the position of Witness. They were actually court reporters that had photographic memories and were hired as perfect human recorders of events, their testimony incorruptible. They wore a special white robe when they were on a case and were highly paid and respected..

Court reporters usually work in court rooms, but can also be used as webcasters where electronic recording is used as a legal tool and as broadcast captioners - they add the captions for the hearing impaired on TV.

A high demand is emerging for real-time broadcast captioning in a high-tech instant communications media-driven world. Court reporters can be self-employed frelancers. median wages in the late 200s reaced $40,000 - $50,000 per year.

See: A Day in the Life of a Court Reporter

Court Reporter Job Listings in America

During the first week of September 2012, a total of 1,055 job openings for Court Reporter were listed among Internet based sources. Job openings for these occupation declined significantly leading up to 2011, with an upswing in numbers of new jobs beginning during the 4th Quarter of 2011 with continued increases into 2012.

Most of these jobs were located in large cities, such as New York City, Fort Lauderdale FL, Ellicott City MD, Houston TX, Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Francisco.

United States Supreme Court
United States Supreme Court | Source

Judges and Others

These positions require a 4-year college degree and experience, although some positions are elected and require a campaign and related expenses as well. Their work is completed mostly indoors, in offices, libraries, and the court, although some field work may become necessary. About 80% of the US States permit non-lawyers to hold a limited or lower level judgeship, but State and Federal Judges need to have become lawyers and passed all the bar, ethics, and other exams required.

Judges preside over a number of types of cases in trials and hearings, and at many levels in society, from the township, village, and municipality up through the States to the US Supreme Court.

Salaries range in median figures from approximately $50,000 to nearly $150,000 per year.

Please see: A Day in the Life of Judge Walton in the District Court.


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Melody - Thanks for your comment and kind words; I'm happy to have you appreciate the info.

      LondonGirl - This is a great comment from one in the legal profession in UK - How are the legal careers different in your country? (I may have just requested a whole Hub, because I know little about it except from reading John Mortimer.)

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      great guide - and I agree, lawyers who do court work are the exception, rather than the rule.

    • Melody Lagrimas profile image

      Melody Lagrimas 8 years ago from Philippines

      Great hub...very informative, thanks.