How to Make It: 5 Legal Careers for the Nonlawyer

The legal job market is thriving—and not just for lawyers. Many compelling careers in the world of law don’t require a law degree or the desire to be a lawyer. Here are five of the most popular and lucrative.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants: Most people are familiar with the terms paralegal and legal assistant. These terms are often used interchangeably and with good reason. The tasks are similar and related, and there’s no legal difference between the two roles. However, in 2004 the National Association of Legal Assistants made a distinction between the two by adding Certified Paralegal to distinguish those who have passed the NALA certification exam.

Paralegals research, write documents, manage case details, help with trial preparation and interface with clients to answer questions without giving legal advice. Remember that neither role is comparable to that of a legal secretary.

Compliance Specialists: Since the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, regulatory compliance has been a significant area of the law; law.com has an entire section devoted to developments in the compliance field. A Compliance Specialist monitors and coordinates the plethora of regulatory documents required by federal law changes.

Electronic Discovery Specialists: With the incredible expansion of electronically stored information (ESI) and recent changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, e-discovery has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry. An e-discovery professional manages electronic data to facilitate legal discovery. This field includes such roles as e-discovery directors, managers, and analysts. All of these require a background in information technology and some knowledge of the law.

Mediators: Also known as arbitrators or conciliators, mediators help individuals and corporations settle their differences outside of court. The field of alternative dispute resolution is growing as litigation costs continue to climb sharply.

Mediators are not lawyers, and their functions are very different. Lawyers represent one side in a conflict, while mediators try to achieve consensus between the sides in an open dialogue. So, where a mediator’s role is to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, a lawyer’s role is to work toward his or her client’s best interests. Also, a mediator cannot provide legal advice.

Court Reporters: Court reporters, formerly known as court stenographers, have been part of the legal system since the 1700s, but today’s advanced technology has made the job more straightforward and more interesting. Court reporters use specialized equipment to transcribe at more than 200 words per minute. Court reporters also do real-time captioning for webcasts. Because of a shortage of individuals entering this profession, salaries have increased. According to Forbes.com, some court reporters earn six-figure salaries.

For career advancement advice and success stories, check out the “How I Made It” Q&A series on Law.com.  

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