If you are one of those individuals who have a passion for law but do not necessarily want to “practice” the profession, then a career in legal studies may be apt for you.
A wide array of legal studies programs and courses are available spanning Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate degrees alongside diplomas and certifications. Interestingly, these courses usually lead up to careers as paralegals and legal assistants. Though a formal qualification is not necessary, yet employers generally prefer formal education. Additionally, those who are interested in practicing law may also want to go through these programs since it helps them to connect better with their practice and the administrative work involved in it.
Professionals in legal studies essentially are the backbone of any successful practice in law. They are specialists in their chosen field and several times may overwhelm even the most experienced attorneys with their knowledge and court procedures. They offer administrative support in terms of doing legal research, writing reports, taking care of paperwork, filing necessary petitions in Courts, maintaining a records system, scheduling appointments with clients, and handling calls, to name a few. They provide low-cost legal support in many offices that include corporates. An important distinction between an attorney and legal studies professional is the latter can’t practice in a Court of Law. Coursework for these programs usually includes, among others, writing, drafting, legal documentation, legal processes, legal history, and computer training.
These programs are available through campus and online modes. The Bachelor’s degree usually spans around 4 years with Associate’s, Master’s, and Doctorate degrees lasting 2 years. Diplomas and certifications are of even short duration sometimes. Legal studies is assuming more and more importance with employers and companies looking to bring down their legal expenditure. As a result, many of the jobs that were originally done by solicitors are now being performed by paralegals. For greater acceptance, credibility, and improvement of salary and career prospects, several graduates in legal studies also go through the accreditation process to get certified. Examples of such certifications are Certified Legal Assistants [CLA] or Advanced Paralegals [AP] through the National Association of Legal Assistants [NALA]. There are also other specializations available in legal studies such as civil litigation, real estate law, torts, family law, and estates.
The career outlook is very positive for the legal studies discipline. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that job growth in this field is expected to be faster than average for all occupations. In fact, growth in employment in the paralegal field is pegged at 27% over the next 5 years as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Salaries can be lucrative and are dependent on education, experience, location, and employer. Specializations also make a difference. In 2007, paralegals and legal assistants earned a median annual income of $47,600. Additional fringe benefits may include bonuses and reimbursement of tuition fees from employers. Employment avenues in legal studies may span paralegals, legal assistants, and court reporters, no name a few.