Welcome to part 4 of this series, which will discuss alternative careers in the law to being a lawyer which can pay well, do not require a law degree, and have lower barriers to entry than being a lawyer. (Links to the previous three posts in this series are provided at the bottom of this post.)
If you have considered going to law school but are put off by the debt and the demands of lawyering, remember that there are plenty of other careers to be had in the legal field. You do not need to get an expensive degree, or put up with ridiculously long hours, in order to help people with legal problems. Here are some alternative legal careers to think about:
A paralegal can be thought of to a lawyer as a nurse is to a doctor. Paralegals play an important role in helping lawyers do their job, and they do many of the same tasks that lawyers do. Paralegal duties typically include conducting legal research, writing legal documents and reports for lawyers, communicating with clients, performing administrative duties for law offices, gathering and arranging evidence, and getting affidavits and other formal statements.
As is the case for lawyers, job prospects will vary by location, and paralegal jobs will tend to be available where there are lots of law offices. However, some paralegals go the self-employment route, and offer many simple legal services to clients at a lower cost than lawyers would charge.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2018-19 current Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for paralegals is $49,500.00. The median annual salary for California paralegals is $56,950.00. Of course, salaries vary based upon experience and location, and a variety of other factors.
No specific education or training is required in order to become a paralegal. However, to have a good chance of getting a job, an aspiring paralegal should pursue an Associate’s degree in paralegal studies, and/or a paralegal certificate (both of which can be obtained from community colleges).
Legal investigators work with civil and criminal attorneys in order to gather the evidence needed to present a winning case. A legal investigator’s job duties typically include gathering and verifying evidence, finding and interviewing parties and witnesses, putting together exhibits and other evidence for trials, reconstructing crime scenes, preparing and serving legal documents, performing legal research, and working with lawyers to come up with case strategies. Legal investigators may also work for law enforcement departments. Many of these job duties are more exciting than what most lawyers do on a day-to-day basis. The nature of this job might also get one out of the office more than other legal jobs, if that is a plus for you.
No specific education or degree is required in order to become a legal investigator, although an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree will be helpful in getting a job. General knowledge of the law and legal procedure is important for a legal investigator. Experience and licensure as a private investigator is also helpful in getting work as a legal investigator.
According to PayScale, the average annual salary for a legal investigator is $63,871.00. Of course, as always, this is subject to experience, location, and the usual factors.
A court reporter creates a written record of court hearings, depositions, and other legal proceedings which require a record. Court reporters use special equipment to create a transcript for the attorneys and parties in a case, as well as the courts. Court reporters must record the proceeding exactly as it occurs, word-for-word (including non-verbal gestures). Therefore, they must be very focused and detail-oriented, for long periods of time. They might work in a courtroom, or travel to various locations.
Court reporters must typically have an Associate’s degree specific to court reporting, and some states also require a license. Such a degree can be obtained at community colleges.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a court reporter in 2017 was $55,120.00. Given the nature of this job, the likelihood of eventual automation of such positions should also be considered.
Legal Mediator and/or Arbitrator:
These two roles are discussed together, as they have a lot in common.
Whereas a litigation lawyer advocates for a client in the trial process, a legal mediator helps parties to a lawsuit reach an agreement without going through further litigation. A mediator is neutral, and does not advocate for either of the parties. A mediator facilitates dialogue between the parties in order to foster settlement, and may help the parties brainstorm creative solutions which could be satisfactory to both/all of them. In recent years, the use of mediation has become especially popular in resolving family law matters.
An arbitrator is also neutral in resolving legal cases outside of the court process. However, an arbitrator is a private judge, and will make a decision for the parties as a means of resolving their dispute. Depending upon the agreement of the parties to arbitration, the arbitrator’s decision may or may not be binding upon the parties.
Sometimes mediation is like this, and it is deeply gratifying:
At other times, mediation is like this, and it is deeply frustrating:
Many legal mediators have a background in law, and/or mental health. Arbitrators should have a significant background in law. Few regular mediator or arbitrator jobs exist. If you become a mediator or arbitrator, it is probably best to go the self-employment route. Most mediators and arbitrators do not mediate or arbitrate full time, and it is probably a better way to supplement income rather than as a primary source of income for most practitioners. Self-employed paralegals sometimes offer mediation services.
No specific education or training is required in order to become a mediator or arbitrator (although some specific jobs may have requirements). Mediation and arbitration training programs are available at some community colleges, and from various non-profit and private for-profit sources. Such training programs typically range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. As a tip, more expensive trainings are not necessarily better – consider instead the experience and reviews of the person conducting the training. Also note that non-profit mediation training tends to focus on community mediation, whereas training specific to legal mediation will be found more readily with private for-profit providers. Training specific to legal mediation is highly recommended for someone serious about providing legal mediation services.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics for May 2018, the median annual wage for arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators was $62,270.00. However, remember that since many mediators are self-employed and/or mediate part time or sporadically, this statistic may not present a full picture. Mediators with a strong background in law or mental health, and/or who have years of experience with mediation and a strong track record of successful mediations; often command rates of several hundred dollars per hour.
So, as you can see, lawyering is not the only way to work in the legal field. It is possible to have a career in law which is satisfying, offers potential work-life balance, and earns a decent living without taking on the debt of law school. If you like the law but do not want to become a lawyer, hopefully one of the above alternatives will give you some inspiration.
Previous posts in this series: Part 1 of the series discussed financial aspects of becoming a lawyer that anyone thinking about going to law school should read:https://freerangelaw.net/2019/04/30/should-you-go-to-law-school-arguments-for-and-against-part-1-of-4/. Part 2 of the series discussed what it is like to work in the legal profession: https://freerangelaw.net/2019/05/10/should-you-go-to-law-school-arguments-for-and-against-part-2-of-4/. Part 3 of the series discussed why going solo could be a lawyer’s best shot at personal satisfaction and financial success: https://freerangelaw.net/2019/05/19/should-you-go-to-law-school-arguments-for-and-against-part-3-of-4/.
As always, dear readers, thank you for following me. I hope you enjoyed this, and learned something valuable.
** Got a legal subject or question you are curious about? Email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your question may be discussed in a future blog post!
Please note that the above is offered for educational purposes, and as a means of encouraging intellectual curiosity about the law. The information presented may not take into account every exception, variation, or complication which could apply to someone’s legal matters. Accordingly, nothing in this post or blog is ever intended as, nor should be construed by or relied upon by anyone, as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney who can give you assistance specific to your needs.