If you've always wanted a challenging career in the legal field but the long years and heavy debt of law school were not right for you, there are alternatives. You can work closely with attorneys and immerse yourself in the law by pursuing several interesting careers with an Associate's degree or specialized training. Three legal careers that are hot right now are Paralegal, Legal Secretary and Court Reporter. All of these are in demand, have excellent salaries and promise continued growth in the future.
Paralegals work closely with attorneys, assisting them in preparing everything from legal briefs to depositions. Most paralegals spend a great deal of time researching court cases and reading about current legal research and trends in order to stay abreast of what's going on in the legal community. Paralegals are also entrusted with interviewing clients, interviewing witnesses and investigating the facts of a case. They may follow leads in order to confirm information or make arrangements to question witnesses in the event of a criminal investigation.
It is a paralegal's job to make sure that the attorney he or she works for always has the most available research on case law available at their fingertips, and that all pleadings and other necessary paperwork is ready at all times. He or she should also be prepared to obtain sworn affidavits at all times. To that end, most paralegals are also Notary Publics. Paralegal programs typically last two years and result in an Associates degree or certificate. Course work will cover proper research techniques, preparation of legal documents, state and federal statutes, proper investigative techniques, court structure, legal terminology, rules of hearsay, preparation, discovery and a host of other issues.
Legal Secretaries do less research but have more generalized duties in a law office. These are the secretaries who do everything from handling correspondence for the attorneys to scheduling depositions, meetings and hearings. If you work for a corporate legal department, you may also verify, quote, review and summarize the content of legal journals for busy executives. Legal secretaries generally receive secretarial training that focuses on legal terminology and the use of a wide range of office equipment, including transcription machines and computers. Legal terminology and administrative skills are also taught, and you will generally receive a certificate at the end of the program.
Court reporters are currently in high demand, and it appears that this trend will continue in the next several years. It's a face that more positions will open up than there will be trained people to fill them. Court reporters must be able to pay attention to the details of events, particularly the conversations taking place at all times. And, they must be able to record them with precise detail and accuracy. The training for a court reporter is strenuous. A typical court stenographer can record over two-hundred words per minute by the end of their training. He or she will also be able to translate the information transcribed into accurate legal documents for use by the court system.
Most court reporters work in either the criminal or civic court systems. You may work for a particular judge or be a part of a team of reporters regularly hired by attorneys or law firms for anything from depositions to trials. Some corporations also have court reporters on staff to record meetings. There are now several methods of court reporting available. The most widely used and most traditional is still court stenography. This also requires the most training (generally about 33 months) in order to become proficient on the stenographic machine. Voice writers (using a voice recording machine and transcribing the text later) can usually complete training within a year. Both courses are certificate programs. The National Court Reporters Association offers certification for those who can prove proficiency at recording over 225 words per minute. A Certified Court Reporter (CCR) classification and Notary Public license is required in some states.
With new laws passed every year and family law and civil litigation steadily increasing, the need for qualified legal professionals is growing. An Associate's degree as a paralegal or legal secretary or a certification as a court reporter may be the key to your successful legal career.