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Going Beyond the Classroom: Law Enforcement

Updated on December 31, 2013
Some police training like marksmanship is done on the job.
Some police training like marksmanship is done on the job.

If you ask police officers, lawyers and other criminal justice officials what makes new candidates stand out in the hiring process, they aren’t likely to mention degree majors, GPA or anything else classically learned in the college classroom. The same as any profession, transferring from academia to the real world of criminal justice involves a shifting of skills. Learning new things that cannot be taught by any professor is essential to success. A criminal justice degree is the basic qualification for many diverse fields, including FBI agents, police officers, private investigators, lawyers and others. Many of these fields require dramatically different skill-sets on the job, and the skills candidates need will vary depending on what they choose.

1. Physical Conditioning and Marksmanship

While many officers and agents rarely discharge their weapons, they are still expected to know how to use them on demand. Marksmanship training and expertise is an essential skill in many law enforcement positions. It is usually done entirely on the job using standard issue firearms. Passing a periodic marksmanship examination is an important part of fulfilling the job requirements.

Physical condition and the ability to meet physical fitness benchmarks are also important for many positions, especially those involving police work. While being a star athlete is not required, candidates must have and maintain certain health and fitness standards considered necessary to safely perform their duties. This may mean developing a physical fitness routine or spending a few hours each week at the gym.

2. Empathy and Compassion

Most criminal justice careers are very people oriented. This involves meeting with suspects and victims. Such people will be have just experienced an emotional trauma or be in the middle of one. Law enforcement officers must be able to relate to victims, encourage them to talk about their situation to collect evidence and help them feel safe and at ease. Since many people, even those usually law abiding, may be fearful or distrustful of law enforcement, the ability to help them feel comfortable is imperative to a successful case.

3. Sound Reasoning and Judgment

Out in the field, most officers are operating alone or with a single partner. They will not have the time or ability to run decisions past a higher-ranking official. They will not simply be able to “go ask their manager” if something unexpected comes up. On top of this, they will often find themselves in fast-paced, high-stress and possibly life-threatening situations. Their decisions may directly and permanently impact the life and future of many individuals. This demands the ability to make quick and appropriate decisions. They must also be consistently mindful of following the law and procedures. Being prepared for the unexpected takes practice and experience that can only be gained on the job.

4. Knowledge of Current Events

Lawyers tend to do a lot of talking, and they are expected to be readily knowledgeable about current events and activities that may affect the legal landscape. Highly successful lawyers also have the reputation for being able to talk to anyone about just about anything. Being diligent about current events isn’t just practical from a legal standpoint, it is essential for fitting into the legal world. While professors may hint at this, developing the discipline to constantly keep up-to-date is something that takes constant practice.

5. Client Service

Lawyers aren't just people who practice law. They are also business professionals. Unless they are state employed, they will only make money if they attract a steady stream of clients to their firm. Developing the business sense, marketing savvy and ideals of service that will get these clients and keep them is something that many lawyers pick up after they graduate.

6. Accuracy and Diligence

There are few professions where mistakes are more costly than in criminal justice. Carelessness with attire, punctuality and even grammar can mean the difference between success and failure in a case. Lawyers must strive to be exacting people even into the realm of perfectionism. Every detail and every word is important, and no task or part of a project, no matter how small, is meaningless or beneath notice. Perfecting this level of precision and attention is a life-long goal for anyone in the legal profession.

7. Time Management

A good rule of thumb in the criminal justice world is to remember that everything takes longer than expected. Lawyers are often held to strict, court-appointed deadlines for work and appearance. They are expected to deliver written material on time, or they risk losing the case or delaying the court. During court proceedings, lawyers are held to strict limits on presenting various arguments and statements. If they do not plan and manage their time accordingly, they may be cut off before providing all of the details of their case. This could mean losing the case in the court. Time management is a practiced skill, and it is one that is developed over the whole course of a lawyer’s career.


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