By Dr. James Barney  |  01/31/2024


legal studies degree

 

What can you do with a degree in legal studies? Despite popular misconceptions, most legal studies degree holders want to pursue work in one of many law-related professions rather than attend law school. For example, becoming a paralegal or a legal assistant are the top jobs our students in the legal studies program commonly seek.

Legal Studies Career Paths

Many career paths are available to legal studies majors who complete a legal studies degree at the University. Graduates of our program commonly pursue different careers.

Let me give you an example. Imagine that a student wants to pursue a career in real estate, which involves some degree of understanding of contract, property, and discrimination law. That student may pursue a bachelor's degree in legal studies before seeking employment in the real estate industry, which includes the need to obtain state licensure.

Ideally, any student with a legal studies degree seeking to pursue a career in the legal field should obtain some practical experience. For example, obtaining a formal or informal internship at a law firm or a law-related company may provide students with useful business skills and the chance to build a professional network.

Students who graduate with a legal studies degree might pursue opportunities to work as compliance officers at banks and financial institutions or as human resources professionals at companies. They might also pursue various jobs as legal researchers or law clerks for judges.

Other students may choose to enter the state and federal court systems, handle contracts for real estate agents, or work as other contract administrators.

Here’s a short list of common career pursuits after students graduate with a legal studies degree:

  • Paralegal or legal assistant
  • Compliance officer
  • Human resource professional
  • Law researcher or law clerk at various governmental organizations
  • Contract administrator in various fields, such as a real estate agent
  • Social worker or other government worker

Other students with a legal studies degree might choose attend law school after graduation or work in law enforcement (we even have current police officers enrolled in our program). There are legal studies majors who go on to work in corporate legal departments. Still others work as mediators, who help opposing parties resolve legal disputes.

Given the diversity of jobs in the legal industry, it is hard to make generalizations about the average legal studies graduate's career path. But students should not consider a degree in legal studies to be an exclusively pre-law degree.

 

Paralegal

A paralegal is a legal professional who works under the supervision of an attorney and assists an attorney with a wide range of tasks. Paralegals provide attorneys with invaluable help; they maintain files, conduct research, and draft documents.

Paralegals work at all different types of law offices and firms. While there is a common public perception that most paralegals work in civil litigation firms, paralegals also assist attorneys in family, criminal, real estate, and corporate law firms.

In a civil litigation law firm, a paralegal may help an attorney during the discovery process (the process by which attorneys and parties determine the merits of a claim or defense) or prepare for a trial. Also, paralegals help with legal research and writing. In recent years, there have been discussions in various states to create a new class of legal professionals who will provide legal advice in certain limited practice areas.

The regulation of paralegals varies from state to state. As such, it is necessary for people entering the profession to research the laws of each state. In addition to continuing education, paralegals often complete formal education programs like certification or degree programs offered by the University.

It should be noted that in the past, legal secretary and paralegal had similar definitions. However, the term legal secretary is a bit outdated and reflects gender stereotypes, as paralegals come from all backgrounds.

 

Probation Officer

Other graduates with a legal studies degree might choose to work as probation officers, parole officers, or in other roles in the corrections field. I use the terms “probation” and “parole” interchangeably because various state, local, and federal criminal justice systems have different names for the systems that treat released prisoners.

In the federal system, a probation officer is an employee of the federal court system. A probation officer makes sure that people released from prison comply with the terms of their release orders.

For example, judges often enter a series of terms and conditions a person must satisfy to remain free (such as taking drug tests or obtaining employment). A probation officer works with a released person to ensure they comply with these terms.

Given the complexity of a probation officer's responsibilities, probation officers in the federal system must have a firm understanding of criminal law and federal laws pertaining to former prisoners.

 

Social Worker

Other legal studies graduates often opt to become social workers. A social worker is someone trained to protect the interests of various people and works in multiple settings.

For example, while some social workers work for governmental agencies at the state or local level, others work at hospitals, charities, mental health clinics, non-profit organizations, or rehabilitation centers. Social workers with training in human behavior must also navigate a complex legal system.

For example, some social workers must act to protect children from abuse and neglect. These social workers must understand the laws related to child abuse and the court system, as well as any legal regulations that pertain to child abuse.

Note: The Legal Studies program at the University is designed for non-licensed positions and does not academically qualify graduates for any state professional license. It is not intended for those seeking employment as a licensed social worker.

 

Law Librarian

Some legal studies graduates can decide that they want to work as law librarians. Law libraries are in law schools, law firms, government agencies, courts, and other legal organizations, and they provide attorneys with specialized legal research assistance. Law librarians, who often have an advanced degree in library science, provide attorneys and other law-related professionals with invaluable help.

For example, if a paralegal is completing a research project, they may ask a law librarian for help locating a case, legal regulation, or other legal resource. Moreover, law librarians train attorneys and other law-related professionals to use the latest technologies, including research tools.

Law librarians are often invaluable resources for attorneys and other law-related professionals as they can help cite legal sources. Obtaining a job as a law librarian involves obtaining either a law degree or another advanced degree in library science.

 

Law Office Employee

Some students with a legal studies degree aspire to work at a law firm or office. These law firms or offices are composed of legal professionals with various backgrounds.

Attorneys who practice law depend upon the assistance of paralegals, legal assistants, law librarians, and other professionals who help them provide legal services to clients. For example, a law office may have an in-house court reporter to transcribe legal hearings.

 

Government Employee

Other students use their legal studies degree to pursue work with the government. These students can follow many different professional paths because working for the government can include a wide range of federal, state, and local government positions. Government positions range from working in an agency as a legal researcher to working as an administrative law judge or a law clerk in the state, local, or federal courts.

For example, administrative law judges work in agencies, conduct hearings, engage in fact-finding, and other tasks, while law clerks conduct research and help judges write judicial opinions. Other government employees, while not attorneys, must understand the complex regulatory and administrative law system to do their jobs.

 

Law Enforcement Officer

Some students with a legal studies degree might choose to become a law enforcement officer or work in another criminal justice capacity. Law enforcement officers who investigate crimes must have a firm understanding of the legal issues involved in that profession.

For example, law enforcement officers must ensure that they do not violate the rights of citizens, and this work requires an understanding of not only criminal and constitutional law but also the interplay between these laws and how legal issues impact their work. So while some law enforcement officers complete a criminal justice degree, a legal studies major is also a viable option for police officers who want to obtain a more profound understanding of the interplay between law and policy.

Note: The University’s Legal Studies degree is not designed to meet the educational requirements for professional licensure or certification in any states. The program has not been approved by any state professional licensing body and does not lead to any state-issued professional license as a Law Enforcement Officer. For further information on professional licensing requirements, please contact the appropriate board or agency in your state of residence. Additional education, training, experience, and/or other eligibility criteria may apply.

 

Legal Assistant

The terms paralegal or legal assistant are sometimes used interchangeability as the duties and roles of paralegals and legal assistants often overlap. However, there are differences between these two terms, depending on the employer or state laws.

For example, some paralegals undergo some training, certification, or completion of one of the many legal assistant programs launched by various states. Legal assistants may not require such training and certification. Other times, paralegals have broader responsibilities, while law or legal assistants may complete administrative duties.

 

Jury Consultant

A jury consultant helps lawyers pick a jury that will benefit their client the most. While a jury consultant does not have to be a lawyer, jury consultants must have a firm understanding of criminal law, including how decisions to exclude certain jurors must comply with case law that prohibits discrimination in the jury selection process.

 

Litigation Support Professional

The term litigation support professional includes a wide range of professions ranging from e-discovery specialists who assist lawyers during the discovery process, litigation paralegals, trial and jury consultants, court reports, as well as expert witnesses from various backgrounds, including medical and legal experts. All of these litigation support professionals are essential to help attorneys at various stages of a civil case.

 

Legal Studies Careers Are Often Inspired by Taking Courses

Some students interested in legal studies become interested in one of the many aspects of the law or an issue raised in a legal studies course. For example, a course in criminal law may encourage a student to further their studies in criminal justice.

Likewise, many students become interested in employment and labor issues after taking a course in that subject and then opt for a degree path in human resources because they develop familiarity with legal regulations. Still other students are intensely interested in politics or government work and may want to pursue a degree in political science or public administration.

Still, other students take courses in the Legal Studies department and realize they would rather pursue a degree in business administration. They know that their passions are more focused on non-law-related aspects of the business world.

Finally, some students who want to go on to law school may even opt to take a major like English, history, or international relations, as these majors align with their interests and provide students with the strong writing and research skills that law schools seek. For example, some students in legal studies programs become interested in international law after taking a course and opt to switch to international relations, hoping to go to law school after obtaining a bachelor's degree.

Luckily, our school has a wide range of programs to fit the diverse needs of our students in legal studies programs.

 

Coursework to Expect in a Legal Studies Undergraduate Program

The undergraduate students in the legal studies program at the University can complete a certificate program, an associate degree program, or a bachelor's degree in legal studies. Students taking courses for the bachelor's degree in legal studies must select a concentration. The current concentrations for a legal studies bachelor's degree include:

  • Criminal law support
  • Legal communications
  • Legal data analytics
  • Legal data security
  • Legal entrepreneurism
  • Legal ethics
  • Legal office administration

After picking one of these concentrations, students who pursue a bachelor's degree take a combination of courses, ranging from general school required courses, specific law-related courses for the legal studies degree, and elective courses. For example, bachelor's degree students must take courses in:

  • Legal writing
  • The court system
  • Legal ethics
  • Civil practice
  • Family law
  • Constitutional and criminal law

Moreover, students obtain exposure to various legal technologies that people in law-related professions use. At the end of the legal studies program, students complete either a capstone writing project or demonstrate their proficiency by completing a practical assessment of their legal skills.

 

What Skills Do You Learn in a Legal Studies Undergraduate Degree Program?

In the legal studies program, students are given the chance to learn a wide range of skills and many different types of law.

The legal studies program focuses on experiential learning, also known as learning by doing. Students not only explore various issues relating to the legal field, but also learn how legal proceedings work and the roles of various professionals in the legal process.

First, students get to work with multiple legal documents from contracts to cases in their classes. In a course on contracts, a student would discuss the various legal issues raised by contract law and learn how to draft legal contracts and certain legal documents.

Second, our students work with both primary and secondary sources to complete the types of tasks that people in the legal profession would normally do. For example, professors assign students to write legal memos and conduct research. These assignments help students to build their subject matter knowledge of the law but also develop critical and analytical thinking skills.

 

How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's Degree in Legal Studies?

It is tough to generalize how long it takes for our students to complete a legal studies program. Many of our students are professional adults who juggle work, school, and family responsibilities, and most of our students are not full-time.

As a rule of thumb, part-time students pursuing an undergraduate degree should take only a few classes at once, as each class requires a lot of time to complete each week. While many students are eager to finish their courses quickly, it is advisable to work with an advisor who understands the rigors of a degree in legal studies to determine a reasonable, manageable course load.

 

Seeking Employment as a Legal Studies Professional Requires Further Research

For anyone obtaining a legal studies degree and seeking law-related careers, it is advisable to do additional and independent research. Salaries and employment opportunities commonly vary by geographical area. For example, the job prospects, salary, and career path of a person aspiring to become a paralegal in New York City may differ greatly from that of a person wanting become a paralegal in rural Alabama or Georgia.

So as a part of determining what can you do with a degree in legal studies, be sure to do research and talk to people in the field, who can often be met through professional organizations. The University also offers student organizations such as the Model United Nations and the Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity, which help our legal studies students to develop useful business skills.


About the Author
Dr. James Barney

Dr. James Barney is a Professor of Legal Studies in the School of Security and Global Studies. James teaches numerous law classes, including constitutional law. In addition to possessing a J.D., James has several master’s degrees, including one in U.S. foreign policy. He recently obtained a Ph.D. in history from The University of Memphis. James serves as one of the faculty advisors of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity and the Model United Nations Club, and he is the pre-law advisor at the University.

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