10 Exciting Legal Jobs That Don't Require a Law Degree
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While we might all fantasize about being Elle Woods—shocking the courtroom when we trick the suspect into confessing to a high-profile murder—the legal world isn’t quite as dramatic on a daily basis. Don’t forget the first hour of the movie where Elle learns that even someone as fabulous as her needs to put in some serious work and time to become a great lawyer (and it’s not cheap either!).
But Legally Blonde (and all those lesser movies) leave out the many other professionals who make the legal system function. So there’s room for you—even if you don’t want to go to law school or even work for a law firm or in the justice system.
I started working in law almost six years ago, when I used my customer service experience to transition to a legal assistant role at a small law firm. Later on, I joined a midsize law firm as a talent acquisition and professional development coordinator. I’ve screened resumes and onboarded a variety of legal professionals and seen firsthand what the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring process was like for these roles—so I’ve learned what sets some job applicants apart from others.
Read on to learn more about the types of legal jobs available for non-lawyers in law firms or other organizations as well as some of the skills you’ll need across jobs.
Skills you’ll need to succeed in law-related roles
Working in law typically means you have to be on top of competing priorities, collaborate with attorneys and clients during legal proceedings, and/or ensure that all applicable rules and regulations are being followed throughout any process. It can be stressful and require you to meet strict deadlines and handle heavy work loads. In order to succeed, you’ll need the following skills:
- Attention to detail: Being aware of the small—but still important—points is crucial. You may be asked to keep track of the schedules for deadlines and hearings (a missed deadline can mean losing a lawsuit or an important client) and produce legal documents—which must be error-free and follow specific formatting guidelines. In many professions, you’ll also have to keep on top of current standards and regulations on the federal, state, and/or local levels.
- Communication: You should be a solid writer in order to correspond with clients and opposing counsel, as well as create different reports and legal documents. You may be asked to draft pleadings, memos, or statements. In addition, you need to demonstrate tact and discretion when speaking with clients over the phone and face-to-face or collaborating with your colleagues.
- Organization: In addition to keeping a calendar, you may need to organize digital and physical files. You must also be comfortable keeping track of several projects at a time and changing direction quickly.
- Computer literacy: A job in law requires you to use computers to create documents and spreadsheets or navigate databases. In some jobs, you may even be editing photos or conducting social media research. If you’re not familiar with a program your employer uses, you’ll need to be comfortable learning.
With those skills in mind, here are 10 jobs you can land in law without a law degree, along with what each job entails and salary info.
Median pay: $56,230/year
Paralegal is probably one of the most recognizable non-lawyer jobs in the legal field. Paralegals largely work in law firms but may also work in the legal department or general counsel offices of corporations and other organizations. The job involves preparing legal documents; assisting in trial preparations (by compiling exhibits and evidence, for example); conducting legal research; and attending trials, real estate closings, or other legal proceedings with attorneys.
Much like attorneys have specific practice areas, paralegals can also specialize in areas such as family law, estate law, or criminal law, just to name a few. The profession generally offers better work-life balance than being an attorney, but long hours may still be required if paralegals are assisting with trial preparation or handling management duties.
Paralegal certification requirements vary by state. Some employers may prefer a certification, while others are willing to train on the job. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers paralegal certification once you pass their exam. To take the NALA-Certified Paralegal Exam, you’ll need to graduate from a paralegal program accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) or have a certain amount of legal coursework and/or paralegal work experience depending on if you have a bachelor’s degree or a high school diploma.
2. Legal secretary
Median salary: $61,563/year
The title legal secretary is often used interchangeably with paralegal, but the jobs actually differ in a few ways. While a paralegal focuses more on legal duties supporting attorneys, legal secretaries handle more administrative tasks that need to be tackled in many types of offices. For example, a legal secretary may answer client calls as a receptionist and greet visitors coming into the law office. They also process incoming mail and client payments or help with scanning and organizing documents to be filed. In some firms, legal secretaries may perform office management tasks such as ordering supplies or scheduling appointments.
Working as a legal secretary is a good stepping stone to a paralegal position, as it introduces you to law and gives you a sense of the types of documents and phone calls that come into a law office. Legal secretary jobs don’t require a specific degree program. Some firms will require a bachelor’s degree, while others will only ask for a high school diploma.
3. Court reporters
Median Salary: $60,380/year
Court reporters play a critical role in trials, hearings, and depositions. They create a real-time, word-for-word record of everything said during legal proceedings using a steno machine, a special keyboard that has shortcuts for typing different letters. Once the proceedings are complete, they clean up their transcript and provide it to the attorneys for the case file.
Transcripts are frequently used as exhibits in a trial, meaning typing accuracy is key for a court reporter. But so is speed: Court reporters have to type fast enough to keep pace with multiple people talking—or about 225 words per minute. Not only do they need to keep up with back-and-forth conversation, but they should also be able to understand different accents or speaking impediments.
Court reporting programs are offered at community colleges and technical schools, and students will generally need to purchase a steno machine. Certification requirements vary by state, but in many cases you’ll have to take a written exam and skills test to become a Registered Professional Reporter (RPR).
Once court reporters are trained, they can work as freelancers and for the various local, state, and federal court systems. Some may even work in Congress or other legislatures and record law-making proceedings. Court reporters can also work outside the legal system as closed captioners or providing Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) services for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
4. Legal transcriptionist
Median Salary: $41,513/year
While a court reporter transcribes legal proceedings as they’re happening, a legal transcriptionist takes audio recordings made by attorneys and creates text files (such as letters and memos) after the fact. Much like a court reporter, they should be able to pick up on different accents or speaking patterns. A transcriptionist should be able to type about 75 words per minute with a high level of accuracy.
Legal transcription programs are offered at community colleges and vocational schools, and some four-year schools offer courses online through Ed2Go and other remote learning sites. The Certified Electronic Transcriber (CET) designation is available through the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT). In order to earn the CET, candidates need to pass a multiple-choice exam with an 80% score and prepare a transcript from an audio recording with 98% accuracy.
5. Legal recruiter
Median salary: $108,330/year
Legal recruiters find job candidates who closely match open positions at law firms and submit candidates to hiring partners or their recruiting team. They may focus on only recruiting attorneys or they might also place paralegals and other business support positions. Legal recruiters might find applicants by cold-calling or emailing possible candidates or responding to candidates who apply or reach out. Some recruiters work at an established recruiting agency or directly for law firms, while others start their own businesses.
Some legal recruiters may have started their careers as attorneys or go to law school and decide not to practice law. Some legal recruiters may have held other roles at a law firm, government agency, or corporate legal departments. However, you don’t have to go to law school to enter this lucrative field. Anyone with self-motivation and strong sales skills can be successful in this role. You’ll need to be able to showcase your candidates in a way that makes them desirable to hiring managers, while also proving to candidates that they should work with you or for your company.
Legal recruiting jobs, like other recruiting positions, don’t require specific certifications or formal training. However, most employers will ask for a four-year degree.
Find legal recruiter and other recruiting jobs on The Muse.
6. Compliance officer
Median salary: $89,500/year
Compliance officers work not just in the legal industry, but in a variety of industries such as healthcare, insurance, or finance. It’s their responsibility to understand the regulations and ethical standards in their industries and location and make sure employees and companies follow them. For example, a compliance officer for a healthcare organization should be up-to-date on HIPAA and they’ll likely arrange employee training on privacy standards. Compliance officers also make sure companies are following their own policies and procedures and analyze current regulations and industry standards.
Some compliance officers have advanced degrees (e.g., accounting) and may need specific licenses, such as a securities license if they work in finance. Regardless of degree, compliance officers should have strong analytical, investigative, and decision-making skills.
7. Private investigator
Median pay: $59,380/year
Imagine trying to blend in with a crowd to keep an eye on someone who can’t know you’re watching them. This is a typical task for private investigators—who are responsible for researching legal matters involving individuals or businesses. They might also monitor suspects or an opposing party in a case through surveillance methods such as taking photos and video and tracking an individual’s movements. Additionally, they interview people close to a case like witnesses or a victim’s relatives to gather more information. Private investigators can also help businesses by looking into fraud and tracking cybercriminals. Private eyes may be hired by attorneys, corporations, or individuals and can work for themselves or with an agency.
To become a P.I., you’ll need a strong slate of technical skills in order to monitor social media, navigate databases, or create and edit webpages. You may also have to edit photos and videos. If you want a straight 9-to-5, this isn’t the job for you. Private investigators may have to work long hours to keep track of their subjects or do research.
Private investigators can enter the role with a high school diploma, but some jobs may require degrees depending on the industry the investigator works in. Some examples of degrees include business management, criminal justice, political science, or computer forensics. Many states also require private investigators to obtain licenses, so be sure to check the local regulations where you’d like to work.
8. Process server
Median salary: $40,483/year
You’ve probably watched at least one TV or movie scene where a character finds out they’re being sued after someone seemingly innocuous asks for their name, then hands them an envelope of papers at their home or workplace and hits them with the classic, “You’ve been served.” The person who hands over the envelope is a process server, someone who delivers court and legal documents such as subpoenas (an order to appear in court or produce documents) or a complaint (a notification that they’re being sued).
In reality, process servers have to understand their state’s regulations surrounding what they can and can’t do on the job. For example, they can’t lie about who they are or impersonate law enforcement to serve someone. In a typical day, process servers spend long periods of time on the road to track down people they need to serve and may have to work outside of normal business hours. Process servers should have strong research skills to conduct interviews, locate individuals, and run database searches.
There is no national accreditation for process servers, but some states or counties require a license, so check your local regulations. Training programs also vary by state. A background in law enforcement is helpful but not required.
Median salary: $54,011/year
A mediator assists in solving disputes outside of court by meeting with the parties involved to discuss the matter and encourage cooperation—although they don’t make any legally binding decisions on the issue at hand. They may have their own practice or work in a variety of environments such as legal departments of larger companies, government agencies, or alternative dispute resolution firms.
Depending on the state, some mediators are practicing lawyers or may be required to practice for a certain amount of time—but you don’t always need a law degree. A 20- to 40-hour training course is required, and other court requirements vary. Certification is available through the National Association of Certified Mediators (NACM).
10. Title examiner
Median salary: $46,651/year
Title examiners search mortgage records, financial records, and sales contracts to determine if a property can be sold. If there are any hurdles like back taxes or a foreclosure, they document what needs to be done before the sale can go through. Title examiners work closely with real estate agencies, insurance companies, or law firms.
Title examiners should have a good understanding of property laws, and they can get started with a short amount of on-the-job training upon being hired. While some employers prefer to hire title examiners with a bachelor’s degree, some only require a high school diploma. As you gain work experience, you might choose to pursue certification to progress in your career.