Legal Career Guide

A law or legal degree is among some of the most versatile academic credentials, as some industries would fail to operate effectively without legal or regulatory oversight. This means there are wide-ranging career opportunities for people with legal training.

Lawyers, paralegals, and legal assistants are often sought after by large corporations. Hospitals, pharmacy chains, insurance companies, medical-equipment manufacturers, and a slew of other employers beyond the healthcare industry also hire law professionals to help them navigate the nuances and intricacies of new and existing laws that have far-reaching implications.

Showing employers and recruitment specialists that you have a unique insight into a particular specialty area may help you stand out in a large pool of job candidates. And one way to acquire specialized expertise and skills is to earn a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) or a Master of Laws (LL.M.), which requires an earned Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree.

The job titles for law and legal studies graduates are numerous, so we compiled some legal career options and a guide by work setting, job title and type of degrees for students to browse:

Career Guide by Job Title

The legal career guides below share general steps to begin or continue your legal career. Be sure to check with relevant universities and states for credentials, licensure and other information.

How to Become a Paralegal

The prefix “para” means beside or side by side. Paralegals work closely with attorneys. Paralegals conduct client interviews, locate and interview witnesses, conduct legal research, draft legal documents, summarize depositions, and more.

Law firms and their clients are cutting costs by shifting more work to paralegals, making this legal profession a growing one. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the U.S. will add 41,400 new jobs for paralegals from 2020 to 2030. That’s 12% growth and more than twice as fast as the rest of the economy.

If you’re interested in working as a paralegal, explore our career guide on how to become a paralegal or our other resources on:

How to Become a Compliance Officer

These specialists ensure that projects and tasks are carried out and completed “by the book.” In other words, compliance officers have the responsibility of carefully examining and evaluating all aspects of a project and making sure all stakeholders adhere to all laws and regulations within a governing contract.

This profession can take you to a variety of settings including the financial services industry, telecommunications companies and healthcare facilities. Tax examiners and construction and building inspectors are just two types of compliance professionals.

Learn more on how to become a compliance officer or our other resources on:

How to Become a Lawyer

A Juris Doctor qualifies you to sit for the bar exam to become a practicing attorney – and may open the door to a challenging but rewarding legal career. Lawyers have the opportunity to provide services in a specialty area of their choosing such divorce law, property law, and tax law.

Learn more on how to become a lawyer or our other resources on:

How to Become a Mediator

A mediator, as a neutral third person, facilitates communication and negotiation between different parties and helps them reach a mutually favorable solution. Mediation areas may include business, family, employment, intellectual property, and more. 

Learn more on how to become a mediator or our other resources on:

While different types of law degree programs may appear to have some similarities when it comes to the foundational courses offered, each degree has its own set of requirements,unique elective course offerings and career options. Read the guide below to learn more about legal career options associated with each degree type.

What Can You Do with a Master’s in Legal Studies?

An MLS is a graduate degree for people who’re interested in working in law but who don’t want to become a licensed attorney. With a master’s in legal studies, you can pursue a career in many of the same niches as those with a J.D can, such as taxation, labor law, or intellectual property.

Learn about what you can do with a master’s in legal studies.

What Can You Do with a Law Degree?

A Juris Doctor degree may qualify students to sit for the bar exam in most states. Apart from becoming a lawyer, there are a number of careers you can pursue with this degree, even without passing the bar exam.

Learn about what you can do with a law degree.

Career Options with a Master’s in Tax Law

This graduate degree equips you with the expertise to go beyond handling accounting matters to advising businesses and individuals on tax strategies. You may help corporations legally limit their tax liabilities, or work with families to flesh out estate and retirement plans.

Learn about career options with a master’s in tax law.

Careers in Dispute Resolution

Arbitrators. Claims adjusters. Mediators. Ombudsmen. Jobs in dispute resolution have many labels. But what they tend to have in common is that they call for someone with diplomacy, strong communication qualities, deep listening skills, problem-solving chops, and emotional intelligence.

Learn more about career options in dispute resolution.

Below is an overview of three common work settings where students can pursue a career in the legal industry.

Work in Law Firms

Law firms hire people with varying levels of legal training, from attorneys with Juris Doctor (J.D.) degrees on their walls down to legal assistants with two-year associate degrees. Hires may be expected to complete tasks including researching case law, writing briefs, and preparing cases for depositions and trials. The responsibilities you are given is typically based on your level of education, years of experience and whether or not you are a licensed attorney.

Legal practices can be small with less than 100 employees, or multinational. They may handle civil or criminal cases, or both. Some law firms specialize in acquisitions and mergers, environmental issues, estate planning, divorces, tax law, or a myriad of other niches.

To learn more about the scope of work at law firms, explore our Guide to Law Firm Work.

Work in Government

Government bodies enact, adjudicate, and enforce laws and regulations. In 2020, local, state and federal government agencies directly employed 18% of the country’s 804,200 lawyers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Here is a sampling of U.S. executive agencies legal professionals can consider working for:

With so many agencies to choose from, the key is to look for roles that match your interests, educational training, or professional background. If you’re an MLS graduate who’s passionate about urban planning, for example, you might decide to work for your city’s zoning board. If you have a desire to help abused or neglected children, you can become a member of your state’s child welfare services department, helping to write and review statutes that protect vulnerable children. Other career options include becoming a workplace inspector for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or patent attorney for NASA.

To learn more about legal careers in government, explore our Guide to Government Work.

Work in Private Sector

Private employers include businesses, health organizations, educational institutions, consultancies, nonprofits, and more. Depending on the employer, certain positions may require a J.D., a master’s-level law degree such as an MLS, or simply a bachelor’s or degree with or without legal concentration.

Types of legal jobs in the private sector include:

  • Lobbyist
  • Arbitrator
  • Policy Researcher
  • Compliance Officer
  • Patent Expert
  • Mediator
  • Paralegal
  • Administrative Manager
  • Legal Journalism

No matter the job title, legal professionals in the private sector act as legal advocates on behalf of their employers, employing sharp thinking, attention to detail and their robust knowledge of legal terminology and best practices. If you’ve earned an MLS degree, your program may have taught you compliance skills, which can be particularly useful in contracting and sales departments of large firms — or, conflict resolution skills, which can come in handy if you end up working in the human resources or labor relations department of a company.

Information on this page was last retrieved in November 2021.