Legal and Paralegal

The great Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously-structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

Those responsible for creating and maintaining the law, as well as those who are tasked with prosecuting and punishing individuals who break it, are part of the legal profession. Attorneys, court reporters, judges, paralegals and law enforcement officers are just a few of the job descriptions included in this industry.

Required Education

The level of education required for legal professions depends on the job being pursued.
Lawyers, for example, must complete roughly seven years of schooling and pass a bar exam prior to being allowed to practice law. Four years of undergraduate study, followed by at least three years of law school, is the norm for education requirements for attorneys of law. The American Bar Association requires lawyers to receive a juris doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school which has been accredited by the Bar Association.

Paralegals and legal assistants require only an associate degree in paralegal studies in order to work in the field. Those who hold a bachelor’s degree in another field and a certificate in paralegal studies also are eligible to work as a paralegal or legal assistant. Most quality paralegal programs include an internship opportunity as part of the required course of studies.
Internships provide prospective paralegals with the opportunity to gain crucial experience in the field, while making valuable contacts in the legal profession. Some candidates earn their paralegal certification and then go on to pursue law degrees while working as paralegals in the field.

Regardless of whether one plans to become an attorney or a paralegal, there are skills which are important for success in the field. They include excellent communication skills, familiarity with computers, interpersonal relationship skills, organization and detail-orientation and the ability to conduct sound research.

Future Outlook

According to data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for attorneys is expected to grow by 10 percent between now and 2020, which is average for all occupations tracked by the bureau.
The need for trained paralegals is expected to be higher, at 17 percent, which is faster than the average for all other professions. The higher demand for paralegals and legal assistants is attributed to the cost-cutting measures many law firms are enacting. Paralegals often can perform the same work as attorneys – including drafting and reviewing legal documents – at significantly reduced costs.
The average annual salary for lawyers as of May 2012 was $113,530. Lawyers who own their own practices usually earn less than those who work for firms.

The average annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants as of May 2012 was $46,990.

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