Law and legal studies degrees benefit more than just aspiring lawyers. Jobs in law include many other career opportunities with strong growth rates and earning potential. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects above-average employment growth of 12% for paralegals from 2020-2030.
Law graduates may also qualify for careers in management consulting, human resources, and political science. This page explores the many paths law graduates can take as they transition from school to their careers.
What Are Legal Studies?
In the United States, the legal profession grew quickly after the American Revolutionary War. Lawyers grew more visible in government and frontier expansion during the early history of the U.S. The American Bar Association (ABA) was founded in 1877 to establish professional standards and protect public trust in attorneys.
Today, law has become a specialized field with many branches and applications in the public and private sectors. Common jobs in law include well-known paths such as criminal and personal injury advocacy. Other law professions fill specific niches, such as civil rights, intellectual property, and employment law.
Lawyers and paralegals typically work in office settings. Some duties include fieldwork and courtroom appearances. Most professionals hold full-time positions with law firms, private companies, or government institutions.
Legal studies programs generally attract analytical, detail-oriented thinkers interested in advocacy and problem-solving. As such, professionals in numerous other fields also hold law degrees. Corporate recruiters, journalists, government policymakers, investment bankers, human resources managers, and management consultants can all benefit from college-level law education.
Why Get a Degree in Legal Studies?
Transferable Skills: Law school delivers specialized, valuable knowledge applicable to many fields. It also provides a strong base for future studies in business, finance, and government.
Access to Multiple Career Paths: Law school and legal studies graduates qualify for many career tracks. Deep legal knowledge delivers strong benefits for professionals throughout the public and private sectors.
Develop Soft Skills: Legal studies students develop strong communication, researching, and writing skills useful in many careers.
Network Building: Law schools deliver excellent networking opportunities, both within and outside the legal profession.
Social Impact: Law degrees equip socially conscious individuals with the knowledge and credentials to become leaders of change.
Types of Law Degrees
Law programs lead to various credentials, including diplomas, certificates, plus undergraduate and advanced degrees. Each level appeals to learners with particular learning and career goals.
For instance, certificate and associate programs generally prepare students to become legal assistants or paralegals. Professionals in other fields also pursue these legal programs to supplement their existing credentials, especially to pursue advancement opportunities.
Bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in law best serve students planning careers as paralegals, lawyers, or judges. These degrees also benefit learners looking to enter professions in government or business sectors.
The following subsections explain the various learning levels. Descriptions specifically focus on the types of law careers associated with each program.
Certificate programs in law and legal studies come in two main types. The first type covers basic legal concepts and equips learners with foundational knowledge and skills. The second type allows students to build on existing schooling to explore concentrated legal areas and specialized content.
Admission standards depend on the certificate type. A high school diploma may suffice for some basic programs, but many require at least a bachelor's degree. More specialized certificate tracks could demand a law degree, another type of professional degree, and/or related work experience.
Schools increasingly offer flexible and remote learning options in addition to traditional campus-based sessions. These include online and hybrid formats, which appeal to students with prior commitments.
General certificates typically lead to support roles and entry-level jobs in law. Specialized certificates can boost an established professional's advancement potential.
Learners should note that certificate programs are not the same as legal certifications. Certificates refers exclusively to school-based academic programs. Certifications are voluntary exam-based credentials offered by professional organizations.
Read about paralegal programs:
Associate degrees in legal studies function as both standalone programs and foundations for a bachelor's. An associate usually consists of about 60 credits — half of what it typically takes to earn a bachelor's degree.
At this level, programs usually lead to one of three degrees types. These include associate of arts (AA), associate of science (AS), and associate of applied science (AAS). Each represents a slightly different focus, which you should consider when researching law program options.
In general, AS programs concentrate more on quantitative areas like research and statistical analysis than AA programs. Meanwhile, AAS degrees usually train students for entry-level career tracks. AAS degrees typically emphasize career-oriented learning.
At most schools, applicants will need a high school diploma or GED certificate and ACT or SAT test scores. Research assistants, court messengers, law clerks, and paralegals count among the jobs in law you can pursue with an AA, AS, or AAS in legal studies.
Learn more about associate programs:
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Most bachelor's in law lead to bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS) degrees. Another common designation is the bachelor of laws (LL.B.).
BA tracks adopt a broader focus, including courses in non-law subjects like the humanities. BS programs usually concentrate more on technical aspects of the law and research methods.
LL.B. programs are sometimes called "pre-law" degrees. They prepare learners for entry into professional programs for aspiring lawyers. Graduates also qualify for jobs in legal support, law enforcement and corrections, social work, and advocacy.
Schools increasingly offer bachelor's law degrees in various formats. Learners can pursue traditional campus-based programs, fully online degrees, and hybrid models that blend the two. Bachelor's programs typically include the equivalent of about 120 credits (40 courses) and can be completed in four academic years.
Learn more about bachelor's programs:
Master's-level law degrees include two main learning tracks. The first track prepares students for specialized careers as lawyers. The other develops an advanced understanding of the law and legal systems for professionals pursuing jobs in other fields.
Practicing lawyers who already hold their juris doctor (JD) degrees sometimes choose to earn master of laws (LL.M.) credentials. LL.M. programs train established lawyers for advanced specializations in particular practice areas. U.S. applicants typically need an existing JD before applying.
Other master's degrees appeal to learners who do not plan to become attorneys, but need an advanced understanding of legal systems. These programs are less technical, and function as a strong complement to other professional credentials.
Other master's in legal studies are available, including master of legal studies (MLS), master of science in law (MSL), and juris master (JM).
Like master's programs, doctoral degrees in law include two main types: juris doctor (JD) degrees for aspiring lawyers and Ph.D. degrees for law academics and researchers. Other degree designations include doctor of juridical science, doctor of comparative law, and doctor of jurisprudence.
Most state bar associations require candidates hold JD degrees to take the exam leading to professional licensure as a lawyer. JDs belong to a class of credentials known as "professional doctorates," which serve as both professional and doctoral degrees. Full-time JD programs usually take three years to complete.
Ph.Ds and other doctoral degrees in law do not qualify graduates to become practicing lawyers. Instead, these credentials lead to careers as law professors, law historians, academics, and advanced legal researchers.
Types of Law Majors
Beyond degree levels, schools also group their law degrees into general and specialized (or concentrated) programs.
General programs maintain a broad focus on legal topics. They exist at all levels, from certificate programs to doctorates. For instance, standard JD programs represent an advanced type of generalist law degree.
Specialized and concentrated programs build targeted skills in niche areas of professional practice. For example, LL.M. degrees allow learners to enhance their command of a specific technical area, such as constitutional law or patent law.
Concentrated degrees become more common at the master's and doctorate levels. Some schools also offer specialized LL.B. degrees. Institutions may limit specializations to a few concentrations, such as business, constitutional, or criminal law.
The decision between a generalist and specialized law degree can be difficult. General degrees may offer students career flexibility and transferable skills. However, specialists possess deeper, more detailed knowledge of niche areas.
How to Select a Concentration
Choosing a law concentration can profoundly impact learning opportunities and career options. Your decision-making process should cover both personal and practical factors. If you are unsure about a specialization, these four questions can offer a jumpstart:
Considering your personal strengths, weaknesses, and interests is a good start. Many legal concentrations dive deep into dense, highly technical material. They demand an aptitude for highly detailed research and a strong, genuine interest in the subject matter.
An alternate approach is to consider your personal learning objectives. A specialized option might be a better fit if a generalized degree will not help you meet them.
You can also assess specialized learning opportunities through the lens of your career goals. Envision where you hope to end up in your career, then look for programs that lead to matching jobs in law.
Practical metrics like job numbers and growth potential impact your future employability. Specializations that are declining in demand feature greater competition due to fewer openings. The opposite applies to growing, high-demand jobs in law.
Jobs in Law
Available law careers depend on the type and level of your legal studies degree. For instance, many paralegals have a specialized certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor's degree. Career options advance with master's and doctoral degrees. For example, licensed attorneys require at least a JD.
Similarly, emerging legal professionals require concentrated education to enter into certain specializations. Tax attorneys offer a strong example. Generalists typically lack the depth of technical knowledge needed to advise clients on the complexities of tax law.
Non-practicing law credentials match best with degrees in adjacent areas. For instance, MBA holders may benefit from advanced knowledge of legal processes. Thus, you may choose to complement an MBA with an MLS, MSL, or JM degree.
Statistics for Types of Law Careers
The National Association of Law Placement (NALP) tracks key employment trends for law school and legal studies program graduates. NALP's Class of 2020 report highlighted several key facts and figures that aspiring law students should consider.
Overall, law school graduates reported average median salaries of $75,000 per year in 2020. This marked an all-time high for data tracked by NALP. Those hired by law firms reported median earnings of $130,000 per year, a 4% improvement over 2019.
Overall, law school graduates reported average median salaries of $75,000 per year in 2020.
Other key stats from NALP's Class of 2020 report include:
- 72.4% of survey respondents obtained permanent positions requiring passage of a state bar exam
- Leading employment types included private practice (56.8%), public interest, education, government, and military (21.7%), judiciary support (10.9%) and private industry (10.5%)
- Of the 33,235 graduates surveyed, only 8.1% self-described as not employed but seeking work
While these employment numbers are strong, the NALP warns of possible oversaturation in the years ahead. As such, high achievers and those who specialize in high-demand law concentrations may enjoy competitive advantages. You can also consider adjunct career paths, including those profiled below.
Learn more about areas of study in law:
Frequently Asked Questions
The term "legal studies" can have a general or specific meaning. Generally, it refers to any law-oriented academic program. More specifically, it can also describe programs that do not qualify degree-holders for bar exams leading to attorney licensure.
The legal profession covers all jobs in law, including paralegals, lawyers, judges, and law professors. Any role that requires an advanced understanding of the law and legal systems qualifies.
Master's in legal studies jobs include all career paths open to candidates with an MLS, MSL, or JM degree. Examples include human resource managers, compliance officers, law librarians, legal assistants, and paralegals.
Lawyers rank among the top-paying law jobs. The BLS stated in May 2020 that lawyers earned a median pay of nearly $126,930 per year. PayScale data from 2021 indicates that the top 10% of U.S. lawyers make $157,000 per year or more.
According to PayScale data from 2021, the salary for professionals with Ph.D. degrees in law was $93,000 per year. Note that this excludes JD degrees, which are the doctorates required to become a licensed lawyer.