Do you want to break into the legal field? Are you interested in a career that involves advocating for people, resolving disputes, ensuring compliance and generally helping individuals or organizations solve complicated legal matters? If you want to work in law but don’t want to go to law school, there’s other legal careers to consider that don’t require you to be a practicing attorney—and lucrative ones, at that.
|Average Salaries for Legal Professionals (United States)
No Law Degree Required
|Paralegal/Legal Assistant (2-3 years’ exp.)||$46,250-$61,000*|
|Legal Secretary (3-6 years’ exp.)||$52,000-$63,500*|
|Contract Administrator (4+ years’ exp.)||$76,750-$118,250|
|Compliance Analyst (1-3 years’ exp.)||$54,250-$80,750|
|eDiscovery Specialist (1-2 years’ exp.)||$58,250-$73,500|
|*Large law firm (75+ lawyers)
Source: Robert Half, Source: Robert Half, 2017 Salary Guide for the Legal Profession
If you want to feel like a lawyer for a fraction of the cost of attending law school, you may be interested in a paralegal career. Paralegals, also referred to as legal assistants, perform a variety of tasks to support lawyers, corporations, government agencies or other legal entities. Paralegals and legal assistants are not practicing attorneys, so they are prohibited from engaging in the direct practice of law (e.g., accepting financial consideration for representing a party connected with a judicial proceeding). However, it’s not uncommon for paralegals to do just about everything else that lawyers do, with virtually the same degree of skill and competence. According to the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), typical duties of a paralegal include:
- Conduct client interviews and maintain general contact with clients
- Locate and interview witnesses
- Conduct investigations and research
- Draft legal documents, correspondence and pleadings
- Summarize depositions, interrogations and testimonies
Legal secretaries and paralegals are very similar positions. The biggest difference between a legal secretary and paralegal is the involvement in direct legal activities. Legal secretaries are primarily responsible for managing the day-to-day administrative needs of a law office, such as scheduling meetings, taking messages from clients and organizing office documents. A high school education or equivalent is usually all that is required to become a legal secretary.
Legal secretary is considered an entry-level law position but may serve as a good starting point for anyone interested in climbing the administrative career ladder in the legal field. With experience and additional education, a legal secretary may climb the ranks within a law firm and become an office manager. According to the 2017 Salary Guide for the Legal Profession, administrators/office managers at small/midsize law firms (10-35 lawyers) earn between $67,250 and $92,500.
Contract enforcement is one of the many specialties provided by a lawyer, but going to law school and passing the BAR exam isn’t the only path to becoming a contract expert. Contract administrators draft and negotiate new contracts, handle disputes and conflicts that arise from existing contracts and oversee the closeout process when a contract has been fulfilled. Law firms may employ contract administrators to free up their attorneys to focus on more pressing legal matters. Corporations, government agencies, real estate firms and other large organizations and entities may also employ in-house contract administrators.
According to the National Contract Management Association (NCMA), about 44% of NCMA members have a general business background; other common areas of studies include law, contracting, liberal arts, accounting, public affairs, management and more. In other words, there are many different paths of entry into the contract management career field.
Compliance is a major component of the law, especially in highly-regulated fields such as finance and healthcare. Corporations and other large organizations employ compliance officers to ensure they are conducting business in full compliance with all local, federal and international laws and regulations that pertain to their industry. Considering the increasing cost to organizations that violate or fall short of those industry regulations and standards, it’s no surprise the National Jurist included compliance officer in its list of 10 Hottest Alternative Legal Careers and the Wall Street Journal described it as one of the fastest growing corporate professions in America.
One of the most important, and intensive, aspects of any legal dispute is the discovery process. Lawyers rely on evidence as proof for the arguments they make and the outcomes they pursue. In recent years, there has been a growing need for specialists who know how to identify, collect, process, review and preserve digital evidence. These specialists, known as eDiscovery specialists, are in high demand. The global market for eDiscovery software and services is projected to reach $11.6 billion by 2020, according to Global Industry Analysts, Inc., who explain the exploding growth as being driven by “demand from government and private enterprises, rise in criminal prosecutions and civil litigations, and increased admissibility of digital data in investigational proceedings.”
If you are interested in a law-related career, or if the next step in your career path requires you to have a greater understanding of the legal system, you can gain a deeper understanding of law and legal matters with a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree. A master’s degree in legal studies can provide you with an introduction to foundational legal concepts and theories if you aspire to someday work in a law-related position but don’t want to attend law school to become an attorney.
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