American Law Careers and Paralegal Jobs
American Law Jobs
Many legal specialties grew in demand during the early 21st century, including the topical fields of aerospace law and regulation and environmental 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 legal field that has been growing is tax law, expanding with the growth of forensic accounting from 2000 through 2020.
By the end of America's Great Recession around 2010, approximately 27-28% of American attorneys 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 four-year undergraduate college degree and an additional three 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 Among Lawyers
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 Bertha Cool, and scores of stories for early crime and mystery magazines.
Gardner wrote the well known works that sought American popular opinions and resulted in The Court of Last Resort articles and program in Esquire Magazine. This was the original Innocence Project, back in the early 1950s, freeing several wrongly convicted people on Death Rows.
Another famous instance of this accomplishment was achieved by Frank Abagnale, Jr. in a 1960s-era Louisiana, he is portrayed in the Stephen Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can. At the age of 19, he passed a state bar examination on the third try, without attending any law classes. Mr. Abagnale 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 FBI. He helped catch criminals and develop several means of fraud prevention for government and business, and became special consultant on documents and a public speaker with his own firm at: Abagnale and Associates.
Thus, not everyone who studies the law becomes the iconic trial attorney.
The Scope of Legal Careers
Major Legal Occupations
- Lawyers (Attorneys)
- Paralegals and Legal Assistants
- Court Reporters
- Judges, Magistrates, and Other Judicial Workers
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. Protective services include:
- Corrections Officers
- Fire Fighting Occupations
- Police, Sheriffs, and Detectives
- Private Detectives and Investigators
- Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers
Special Case: Environmental Law
- This field is one of the fastest growing legal sectors from 2000 through 2018, given the rise of awareness about climate change globally and expanding plans for major countries to mine asteroids and settle colonies on the moon and Mars to look for natural resources.
Special Case: Immigration Law
- Under the Obama and Trump administrations, U.S. southern border security issues resulted in increasing activity in immigration law, especially during 2019, forward.
Top 10 Law Schools for Environmental Law
US News and World Reports recommends these institutions:
- Lewis and Clark College (Northwestern): Portland OR
- Vermont Law School: South Royalton VT
- Pace University: White Plains NY
- Georgetown University: Washington DC
- Duke University: Durham NC
- University of Colorado: Boulder CO
- Stanford University in Stanford CA
- University of Maryland - Baltimore MD
- University of Oregon in Eugene
- Florida State University in Tallahassee
Top 10 Law Schools for Immigration Law
Law Street Media recommends the following schools as the best for immigration law programs during the Trump administration's first year in 2016:
- New York University School of Law
- Columbia Law School
- Harvard Law School
- Stanford Law School
- University of Chicago Law School
- Yale Law School
- Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
- Cornell Law School
- UC Berkeley School of Law
- University of Pennsylvania Law School
Attorneys or Lawyers
During the decade ending in 2016, we saw at least an 11% increase in jobs for attorneys, with a spike of expansion during the Great Recession and a steady increase after that through 2020.
From 2016 through 2026, the US Department of Labor estimated another 8% growth in jobs for lawyers.
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.
The early 21st century began an increased need for these attorney specialties:
- Aerospace law and regulations
- Intellectual property rights
- Real estate law
- Tax law
- Environmental law
- Immigration law
Other specialties are foreclosure law, criminal law, domestic/family law, employment law, trade secret law, and others.
All American attorneys must pass a state Bar Exam and usually a separate Ethics Examination in order to practice law.
Of all 50 states, 48 states and DC, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands mandate a 6-hour Multi-state Bar Examination (MBE). It is not insisted upon in Louisiana or Washington State.
A local State Bar Examination is also sometimes administered. A three-hour Multi-state Essay Examination (MEE) is added to the other exams in many US States. Overall, a large amount of preparation is involved in law careers and a Multi-state Performance Test of skills is required by several states.
As a reward for diligence in preparation, salaries for experienced attorneys can reach well over $100,000 per year. In fact, the 2016 median annual salary was over $118,000.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Under the strict supervision of a qualified attorney in good standing, a paralegal is employed or retained by an individual lawyer, a law office, a corporation, a governmental agency, or a non-government organization (NGO) to perform assigned substantive legal work according to best practice standards of the employer and the law.
According to the BLS employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 15% from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all job titles.
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 professionals perform a lot of research and routine jobs until experience allows them to 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 2016 extended from $38,000 to over $60,000 per year, depending on market area, and the average salary nationwide was $53,000.
Cities in highest need of these workers include:
- New York City
- Washington DC
- Atlanta GA
- Los Angeles and San Francisco in California
- Dallas and Houston in Texas
- Philadelphia PA.
According to the BLS employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 15% from 2016 to 2026, much faster than average.
Short-term certificate training and certification through testing by state authorities 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 individuals held the honored 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 web-casters 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 freelancers. median wages in AD 2010 reached $40,000 - $50,000 per year.
Out of a consistent 400 to 600 court reporting jobs listed from January 2016 through January 2018, 25% of jobs were at the federal level and advertised at annual salaries over $60,000.
The bulk of court reporting jobs are available in:
- Washington DC
- New York City, many in Manhattan
- Chicago, Illinois
- Los Angeles and San Francisco, California
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Atlanta, Georgia
Judges and Other High-Responsibility Positions
These positions require a four-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 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. This includes the township, village, and municipality, the 50 states and protectorates, and the US Supreme Court.
Salaries range in median figures from approximately $50,000 to over $250,000 per year.
The Roberts Supreme Court on November 30, 2018. Seated, from left to right: Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel A. Alito. Standing, from left to right: Justices Neil M. Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Brett M. Kavanaugh.
- AAfPE: Leaders in Legal and Paralegal Education.
- American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice: American Bar Association, 321 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610 (https://www.americanbar.org/ Accessed January 19, 2018.)
- Careers in Criminology - A Top Career for 2010 - 2020. If you watch CSI and CSI-Miama on television, you are watching criminology at work. Criminology is an important science in the field of sociology that can help prevent future crimes and help prisons to become rehabilitative.
- LSAC.org: Law School Admission Council. Law School Admission Council, P.O. Box 40, Newtown, PA 18940. LSAT site of the Law School Admission Council. LSAC's. Services include: LSAT registration; free sample LSAT; LSDAS subscription; law school forum, LSAT test preparation materials.
- NALP - The Association for Legal Career Professionals: National Association for Law Placement, 1025 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 1110, Washington, DC 20036.
- US Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics. (bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm, accessed January 17, 2018.)
- The Indeed.com American job listings, August 2016, August 2017, January 2018, February 2018, April 2019.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2009 Patty Inglish MS