If you are interested in the law, there are a number of career options open to you. We have listed below a few law-related careers, with basic information on educational requirements and vocational possibilities.
Becoming a lawyer
Fortunately, there are no educational prerequisites for applying to and succeeding in law school. Instead, law students hail from a variety of undergraduate majors. While some believe a liberal arts education is beneficial, those with educational backgrounds in accounting, business, health care, engineering, or philosophy become effective and successful attorneys as well. Instead, the most vital aspect of the undergraduate education for law school is achieving good grades and developing your communication and interpersonal skills.
The most important function of an attorney is the communication of ideas, both verbally and in writing. Other skills that you should be working to develop include a good vocabulary, a good memory, ability to listen, ability to express ideas and thoughts concisely and articulately, be able to comprehend complex written materials, and more.
In order to apply to law school, the LSAT admissions test, administered by the Law School Admission Council (http://www.lsac.org/), must be taken. Similar to the ACT or the SAT, the test is used by law schools in the admissions process. Law schools determine admissions by considering both undergraduate grades and your LSAT test score, as well as other factors such as employment experience and extracurricular activities.
If you are seriously interested in a legal career, you may wish to consider contacting local law offices, legal service organizations, or other law-related entities to see if they require any assistance, even as a volunteer, during what time you have available. Any exposure you can gain in the field will benefit you in your future career.
Law school routinely takes three years of full-time study; however, many of the law schools in Illinois accept part time students. Applicants to the Bar in Illinois must:
1) be at least 21 years of age; 2) have a high school diploma or the functional equivalent; 3) complete 90 semester hours in attendance at a qualified university; and 4) successfully attend and graduate from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. Having met these requirements, the applicant must be of good moral character and general fitness to practice law, pass the bar examination and the "ethics test," register with the Illinois Supreme Court, and be sworn in.
Board of Admissions to the Bar
625 South College Street
Springfield, Illinois 62704
Becoming a judge
The Illinois Constitution provides that eligibility to become a judge of the state court system of Illinois includes United States citizenship, an Illinois license as attorney-at-law, and residency in the geographic area that selects the judge.
Candidates for a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court, for most seats on the Illinois Appellate Court, and for the Illinois Circuit Court are nominated in the primary election and elected in the general election. The Illinois Supreme Court appoints a small, designated number of Appellate Court Justices. All Associate Judges of the Circuit Courts of Illinois are appointed by the Circuit Judges of each circuit.
Supreme Court Justices and Appellate Court Justices are elected for 10-year terms. Circuit Court Judges are elected for 6-year terms. Associate Judges are appointed for 4-year terms.
Elected judges may seek additional terms by running for retention on the non-partisan portion of the ballot in general elections. Voters are given the option of voting "yes" or "no" to retain a judge in office for another term. To win retention, a judge must receive 60% "yes" votes. Associate Judges may seek reappointment through the vote of the Circuit Judges. To win reappointment, an associate judge must receive 60% of the votes of the Circuit Judges.
The Illinois Supreme Court may fill vacancies in elected judicial positions by appointment until the vacancy is filled by election. This includes vacancies for the elected positions on the Supreme Court, Appellate Court, and Circuit Court.
The State of Illinois is divided into 5 districts, which are subdivided into 22 judicial circuits. The first district (Cook County) elects 3 Supreme Court Justices. The other 4 districts each elect 1 Supreme Court Justice. Each district elects a number of appellate court justices. Every county of the State of Illinois elects at least 1 Resident Circuit Judge. Each circuit, as a whole, elects a number of at large Circuit Judges.
Becoming an administrative law judge
Administrative law judges are normally employed in a civil service position by a public sector agency (e.g., a federal, state, or municipal agency), thereby placing their work functions under the "executive" branch of government, instead of the "judicial" branch. In handling an administrative case, and Administrative Law Judge (sometimes referred to as a "hearing officer," "referee," or "examiner") must exercise functions which are similar, but not identical to the role of an elected or appointed circuit court judge.
For example, certain "similar" judicial functions performed by Administrative Law Judges include authority to perform the following "case" responsibilities:
- administer oaths and affirmations
- issue subpoenas authorized by law
- rule on offers of proof and receive relevant evidence
- take or cause depositions to be taken
- regulate the course of the hearing
- hold conferences for the settlement or simplification of the issues, and
- rule on procedural requests or similar matters.
However, certain differences include the fact that many Administrative Law Judges do not make final or binding decisions in their cases. Rather, these judges issue findings or recommendations based on the evidence presented in the proceeding.
Furthermore, administrative law judges tend to take a much more active part in the case in which they preside than do judges in the courtroom. Part of the administrative function in this regard includes active fact gathering from all parties involved in the case, fulfilling their obligation to make a clear record to anticipate a review of the findings by a higher agency authority, and/or judicial authority. As a result of this mandate, these administrative officers will often be more actively involved by asking more direct questions of the parties and witnesses than their judicial counterparts in the circuit courts.
Many federal and state agencies hire administrative law judges pursuant to civil service regulations and merit selection guidelines. Federal agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, National Labor Relations Board, and the Office of Management and Budget, employ many administrative law judges. State agencies such as the Department of Employment Security, Department of Revenue, and Department of Children and Family Services, also hire these administrative professionals. All of these agencies require that an administrative law judge possess a law degree from an accredited institution and be a licensed attorney in good standing.
Becoming a law librarian
Law librarians work in a variety of legal settings, but most commonly in law schools, large private law firms, or government libraries. This profession demands specialized training. The American Association of Law Libraries states that "85% of those working as law librarians have a graduate degree in library science," with most jobs requiring a master's degree from an American Library Association accredited institution. Nearly 30% of all law librarians also have a Juris Doctor or Bachelor of Laws degree. It is often the case that law librarians at law schools also hold faculty status, so they must have a law degree. There is usually no law degree requirement for law librarian positions in large law firms, corporations, or public, county or governmental law libraries.
American Association of Law Libraries
105 W. Adams St., Ste. 3300
Chicago, IL 60603-6225
Becoming a legal secretary
Being a legal secretary can be demanding and rewarding work. While college degrees are helpful, they are not necessary. What is needed is a good work ethic with attention to accuracy and detail-oriented proficiency. This isn't just a typing job. You may be asked to complete complicated tax documents or important divorce or child custody papers to be filed in the court. Taking this work seriously is paramount. Accuracy, grammar, and spelling are all important. It is also important to have a working knowledge of basic accounting skills, as you may be responsible for billing clients. Be familiar with a variety of office machines, computers, and other technologies. Legal secretaries in small firms may be responsible for answering phones, making appointments, preparing documents, and creating and maintaining complex filing systems so the lawyers are able to check for conflicts between clients. This position requires a high degree of time management skills, organization, confidentiality, and professionalism.
Becoming a sign language interpreter for the courts
Sign language interpreters facilitate communication between the deaf and/or hard of hearing population and people who can hear. Courthouse interpreters must remain detached and unemotional and must translate accurately and take great care to not modify meaning or tone. Court interpreters may work in a variety of settings, including attorney-client meetings, depositions, trials, sentencing hearings, and more. Court interpreters may interpret verbal conversations or may be asked to interpret written documents into American Sign Language (ASL). This profession usually requires specialized training. Interpreters must pay careful attention and understand what is being communicated, which means being familiar with courtroom procedures and terminology. Mental dexterity and a good memory are vital. High levels of professionalism and confidentiality are required. This profession is one that allows great flexibility in work hours and you may be asked to visit a variety of law offices or courtrooms. It should be noted that American Sign Language has its own grammatical rules, sentence structure, cultural nuances, and idioms, and involves much more than a simple literal translation.
There is currently no state certification or licensing of sign language interpreters; however, both the National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf offer certification for sign interpreters and have developed an exam.
National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators
2002 Summit Blvd.
Atlanta, GA 30319
Becoming a court reporter
Court reporters have the responsibility of recording everything that is said by all of the parties participating in formal trials or depositions. Courses on becoming a court reporter are taught at community colleges, four-year universities, and at private business schools. These training programs can take two to four years. High school graduation is required, and it is important that court reporters have strong language skills with a good vocabulary. The National Court Reporter's Association has lists of schools that offer courses in court reporting.
National Court Reporters Association
12030 Sunrise Valley Dr., Ste. 400
Reston, VA 20191
Becoming a law-enforcement professional
Most law enforcement officers must meet certain minimum requirements to serve as police or state troopers. Applicants may be required to be at least 21 years of age, be a citizen of the United States, have a valid driver's license, not have been convicted of a felony, be a high school graduate, and may require an associate of arts or sciences degree or other college credit and/ or work experience. Applicants may also have to pass physical examinations (including agility, vision, and strength) and written tests.
Illinois Law Enforcement Training
and Standards Board
4500 S 6th Street Road, Room 173
Springfield, IL 62703-6617
Becoming a court clerk or bailiff
Court clerks administer oaths in courtrooms, take responsibility and custody of physical evidence introduced at trial, and help in the general administration of the trial by providing assistance to the judge and the attorneys. Court clerks should not be confused with the Clerk of the Court, usually an elected position. The Clerk of the Court is responsible for the court complex and is custodian of all court records, maintains dockets, collects fees, keeps minutes of court proceedings, files documents like licenses and wills, etc.
Bailiffs are often law enforcement officers, assigned to a courtroom to keep peace and assist the judge, courtroom clerks, witnesses and jury, and whose duties vary according to jurisdiction and judge but often include maintaining order in the courtroom. See "becoming a law-enforcement professional" above.
Mediators do not decide cases; rather, mediators facilitate decisions between parties to help reach a fair and equitable settlement acceptable to both sides of an issue. Resolving disputes through mediation, or other forms of alternative dispute resolution, is becoming more and more popular as an economical and efficient means to settle disputes outside of the courts. Mediation is a voluntary procedure that requires full disclosure of all facts related to the dispute at hand. A mediator's role is to assist in discussions and help elicit as much information as possible.
Becoming a mediator
Mediators should undergo specific training in mediation procedures and practices, through a trained and qualified organization. Mediators are held to strict standards of confidentiality, though there are no official licensure or registration procedures. The Mediation Council of Illinois has set professional standards of practice for mediators, which states that "Mediators should hold either a bachelor of law degree; a J.D. degree, a master's degree, or equivalent training or experience in mental health or related disciplines. Mediators shall be in good standing in the professional organizations of their disciplines." In addition, their standards state "Mediators shall have undergone at least forty hours of training specifically in mediation, led by qualified mediators and/or by a recognized training organization before representing themselves to the public as mediators."
Mediation Council of Illinois, Inc.
111 N Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60602
Becoming a legal assistant or paralegal
The ABA Standing Committee states that "A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible." While Illinois does not license or regulate legal assistants or paralegals, there are courses of study that you can take at a range of community
colleges, universities, or specialty schools in Illinois. The American Bar Association can provide a list of accredited paralegal/legal assistant programs across the country.
It is important to stress that Illinois legal assistants/paralegals must work under the direct supervision of a lawyer licensed to practice in Illinois. As a legal assistant/paralegal you will be expected to adhere to a code of professional ethics, including maintaining confidentiality with regard to the lawyer's clients and business. You will, in effect, be accountable to the lawyer for all your professional work.
Working for the federal government as a lawyer, paralegal, or other legal professional
There are various options for those who are interested in pursuing careers with the federal, state or unit of local government, including any one of their numerous agencies and departments. Some individuals prefer government employment because of the allure of working in the ‘public service’ sector, investing in one’s community, and advocating for the legal rights of and protections for members of the public (e.g., victims of fraud or crime, including the elderly and the disabled). In addition, those who work for the government providing legal support inclined to speak positively about the team environment in their respective offices.
Another factor that makes government work attractive is the sense of greater job security and other financial benefits such as reliable sick leave, health care insurance and retirement programs that may outweigh the lower salaries which some public sector positions offer to their employees in comparison with salaries one might find in the private sector. Having the experience of government service on one’s resume is also likely to garner some respect during your interviews for subsequent positions due to the degree of responsibility you were given in your government job.
Because of the variety and complexity of job offerings within various government entities, we recommend using Google as a basic search engine—especially if you have a specific type of law-related career in mind. You will find a wealth of websites that are worth exploring, provided you proceed with care and with your antennae ‘up’ as to possible scam sites. We also suggest that you visit the following sites covering some of the varied types of government offices, the first four of which are well-known federal government agencies:
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) via www.fbijobs.gov
- The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) via www.jobs.irs.gov
- The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) via www.dea.gov/careers/occupations.shtml
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) via its website: www.atf.gov/careers.
- A comprehensive listing of openings in various state agencies, along with details about those positions, can be found at www.work.illinois.gov which identifies job categories and also shows Job Postings, Application Procedures, Forms and Examination Schedules.
- Information about careers with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, which is probably the largest public law firm in Illinois, can be found at www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/about/jobs. On this site you will discover three search categories: Attorney Positions, Non-Attorney Positions and Law Clerk Positions. Since the Attorney General is the chief legal officer of the State as provided in Article V, Section 15 of the Constitution of the State of Illinois, she or he has authority to prosecute offenders; defend government entities and their officials and employees; and pursue civil and criminal appeals of relevant issues related to the actions of government bodies and their officials as they affect members of the public.
- If you have an interest in working on appeals from (essentially, challenges to) trial court or administrative agency decisions that are unfavorable to one or the other side, you might also want to research the duties of lawyers and legal support staff employed by the State Appellate Defender’s Office.
- If you have decided upon a particular geographic location where you would like to live and work, you can find information about job opportunities within that county, township, city or village (the latter two identified as municipalities) by visiting the websites of those entities. There you will learn about the mission, structure and activities in which a particular local government office engages and can decide if that kind of law-related work appeals to you. Many municipalities in Illinois and in other states as well have established their own administrative hearing systems for code and ordinance enforcement purposes, while counties within states generally operate their own offices for prosecuting and for defending those individuals who are criminally charged with violating state law. For example, you may be interested in exploring the following:
- Opportunities for careers with the Public Defender’s Office within any of the counties throughout Illinois via: www.cookcountyil.gov/service/employment-public-defender.
- The Office of the Cook County Public Guardian is another government ‘law firm’ that employs attorneys and paralegals as well as staff in other professions, such as investigators, child interviewers and psychologists, to protect and defend the interests of wards of the State. As part of its mission, the Public Guardian serves the disabled, the elderly and juveniles classified as delinquent, to assure that indigent individuals are safe from physical, mental and financial abuse and are represented in court proceedings. This Office also provides law student internships. Offices with a similar mission can also be found in other Illinois counties and in other states.
- If you are interested in the other ‘side’ of the criminal justice system-that being prosecution of crimes from misdemeanors to felonies-you should explore opportunities within the State’s Attorney’s Offices (‘SAO’) of various counties across Illinois—or in any other state where you might wish to live, but be aware that some states, like New York, call those offices ‘District Attorney’s Offices’. Any SAO will also have a Civil Division which represents various county offices and their officials.
- At www.indeed.com you will be able to explore a broader range of careers in the public sector and search for job postings by employers who are invited to share their openings on the website.
- Another website that offers guidance on how to identify one’s interests and search for careers and resources within government offices that are relevant to those interests is: www.learnhowtobecome.org/career-resource-center/government-careers.
There are numerous other professions that could be considered law-related. For example, you could become a:
- Corrections officer
- Forensic scientist
- High school law/government/political science teacher
- Human resources/personnel director
- JAG (judge advocate general) officer or military lawyer
- Legal nurse consultant
- Legal researcher (for legal research companies such as Lexis/Nexus, Westlaw)
- Legislator or other elected official
- Legislative lobbyist
- Parole officer or probation officer
- Private investigator or private detective
- Transportation security screener/customs officer
- Victim’s advocate
- Staff member of a legal aid NFP organization
Additional information on many professions can be found through the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics at https://www.bls.gov/ and specific information for students can be found at http://www.bls.gov/k12/.
For more resources on law-related education, visit the Illinois State Bar Association’s career resource website at http://www.isba.org/career.