The practice of law can be demanding, but most people would agree that it’s intellectually very rewarding. Advocating for people, proposing answers to questions never before considered, championing causes, helping people to solve complicated problems … there’s a lot to love about it. What about legal jobs for those who don’t want to spend the time and money to go to law school?
If you love law, but years of law school isn’t in the cards, you still have plenty of options.
Six legal jobs that don’t involve law school
Want to work in law without a law degree? Here are just a handful of legal careers for non-lawyers.
Paralegal — Less glory, a lot less debt.
Legal secretary — Good pay, predictable schedule.
Jury consultant — Flexible work, high stakes.
Law firm marketer — Creative legal work.
Law enforcement — Uphold the law.
Mediator — Flexible schedule, lots of interaction.
Interested? Read on for details on each legal job, including salaries and education needed.
1. Paralegal — Less glory, a lot less debt
Annual salary range: $47,351 to $60,462
Education required: Bachelor’s degree and paralegal certification.
If you don’t want to spend three years getting a law degree but enjoy legal research and writing and helping people solve legal problems, you could become a paralegal. You might not get a corner office or a big parking space, but you will be able to leave on time (mostly) and schedule vacations without cancellation insurance.
As a paralegal, you’ll:
- Research legal issues.
- Prepare legal documents (contracts, wills and trusts, deeds, etc).
- Assist clients by answering their questions and gathering supporting documentation for their cases (at a lower hourly rate than an attorney would have to charge).
And paralegals can specialize in a specific area, like real estate or mergers and acquisitions. For instance, if you want to help with real estate closings, join a firm that specializes in real estate.
Paralegals need top-notch writing skills, excellent interpersonal communication and project management experience. Just as lawyers have deadlines they must meet, so do paralegals: this career is a good fit for smart, diligent and organized people who enjoy intellectual stimulation.
2. Legal secretary — Good pay, predictable schedule
Annual salary range: $40,372 to $53,522
Education required: High school diploma. Some knowledge of legal terminology and procedure.
If you’re friendly, organized and interested in law but you need a job with regular hours, consider becoming a legal secretary. Legal secretaries handle administrative tasks for a lawyer (or team of lawyers). They prepare legal filings and documents, briefs and memoranda, contracts and handle correspondence. As a legal secretary, your focus would be on formatting documents and filling in basic information, not legal writing or analysis.
Legal secretaries also help with time tracking, document production and documentation, as well as managing calendars and schedules.
But here’s where a good legal secretary can be invaluable: keeping clients informed of case status and developments in a timely manner.
Everyone facing a legal challenge feels anxious and wants constant updates, but no one wants to pay their lawyer’s hourly rate just to find out that their pleadings have been filed and the court will schedule a hearing sometime in the next two weeks. That’s where the legal secretary comes in: a well informed secretary can reassure clients without racking up charges.
3. Jury consultant — Flexible work, high stakes
Annual salary range: Varies based on background
Education required: Bachelor’s degree (though you’ll likely earn more with an advanced degree) in psychology, social science, criminology or a related field.
If you’re a student of human behavior and can often predict how people are going to act (or react) in a particular situation, consider becoming a jury consultant. The job requires good instincts and a strong intuition about human behavior; legal knowledge is helpful, but not necessarily required.
If you have a background in sociology, psychology, criminology or some other social science, you should look into this type of consulting.
Litigation attorneys can’t afford to leave jury selection to chance. In high-stakes cases, the legal team will often engage a jury consultant to aid them in the jury selection process. Sometimes they keep consultants on through the trial to help the legal team formulate strategies based on how the jurors are likely to respond.
In this instance, having a law degree is an asset, but you can certainly become a successful jury consultant without one.
4. Law firm marketer — Creative legal work
Annual salary range: $24,000 to $65,000
Education required: Bachelor’s degree in marketing or a related field, training in legal ethics rules recommended.
If you’d enjoy helping to connect people with the right attorney for them, consider a career in law firm marketing.
Creative people sometimes feel hemmed in by the constraints of legal careers; no matter how many arguments there are on both sides, you must focus on promoting those arguments that help your client to achieve the desired outcome. In fact, getting too creative as a lawyer might get you into trouble.
Salary and hours will vary based on the size of the firm and the city you live in, but count on some evening and weekend hours. There’s a good chance your job will include networking events, receptions, community projects and other kinds of outreach.
5. Law enforcement — Uphold the law
Annual salary range and education required: Varies based on position, location and agency or municipality.
If you love the law, there are plenty of positions within law enforcement that will allow you to serve your community without practicing law as an attorney. You could become a:
- Police officer
- Forensic scientist
- A victim advocate
- Probation officer
The possibilities are almost endless! If you have a background in criminal justice, you’ll find no shortage of options.
Law enforcement salaries and requirements
Salaries and educational requirements for legal jobs like this vary widely, but you’ll find quite a few career alternatives in the wide ranging area of law enforcement. Police officers, for instance, earn $33,019 to $86,382 and must pass a police academy program and a background check. A certificate or degree in criminal justice is often required, as well.
Forensic scientists earn $36,029 to $90,721 per year and need at least a bachelor’s degree.
Once you have a position in mind, you’ll be better able to research salary and requirements in your geographic area.
6. Mediator — Flexible schedule, lots of interaction
Annual salary range: $33,489 to $349,049
Education required: No specific degree required.
If you enjoy helping people settle arguments and reach an agreement, you might enjoy working as a mediator or arbitrator, known in legal circles as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Some knowledge of the law is helpful in convincing people to compromise rather than risk a trial, but you don’t necessarily need a law degree. As the broad salary range indicates, however, an advanced degree (whether in law or a related field) could help you to land better-paying positions.
A paralegal certification or law degree can help you to land some ADR legal jobs, but you can become a mediator or arbitrator without a legal background. There are some training programs that offer certification in ADR, as well. A background in psychology, human behavior, business or negotiation strategy can also help you to qualify for a position in alternative dispute resolution.
Not all legal jobs require a J.D.
Law-related careers abound: we’ve barely scratched the surface here. So don’t despair if you’re interested in law, but can’t undertake years of postgraduate education.
Do some soul searching and figure out what role you’d like to play in the legal system. If you enjoy working with people one-on-one, you could become an advocate and help victims or witnesses in criminal cases. If working behind the scenes is more your style, maybe forensics or analysis is a better fit for you. Or perhaps you prefer delving into the fine print, in which case a paralegal career might work.
With a little research, you can find a position uniquely suited to your interests and abilities that is legal-ish without requiring a law degree.