Outlining the Lawyer Career Path (and other legal options to consider)

Posted by Texas A&M School of Law on Oct 18, 2022 9:00:00 AM

Going to law school does not mean the same thing to everyone. Whether you are studying to be a paralegal or a lawyer, you will need the right training to launch a legal career. Exactly what do you need? Here are some of the legal school options if you wish to work in the field of law.


What Degree Do You Need to Be a Lawyer?

If you wish to practice law in the United States, you almost always need to start with a law school degree. Specifically, you will need a Juris Doctor degree.

Juris Doctor (JD Degree)

A Juris Doctor or J.D. degree is a graduate school program that you start after earning a bachelor’s degree. This degree is technically a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree, and it is the required degree for you to practice law. In most instances, this is the minimal degree required to practice law in the United States. After completing a J.D. degree, you will need to take the bar exam and become licensed to practice law in your state. The LSAT is a prerequisite to most law school programs.

How Long Does It Take to Graduate Law School?

Law school typically takes three years of full-time study after completing an undergraduate degree. Part-time programs are available but will usually take longer to complete. Some schools offer accelerated programs If you already have some law training or work experience.

Graduate Law Degrees

In addition to the J.D. degree, you may also pursue a graduate law degree. These help a lawyer fine-tune their skills or develop an area of specialization:

Master of Laws

Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree is designed for someone who already has a J.D. degree or a law degree from outside the United States. These 24-credit programs allow a lawyer to focus on a specific area, such as intellectual property, tax law, risk management, or wealth management. It provides the opportunity to add credentials in a specific area of law. It can also help international students get exposure to the U.S. legal system and prepare themselves for practicing law here.

Doctor of Juridical Science

A Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) program is a research-based doctoral degree similar to a Ph.D. but in the legal field. This is the most advanced law degree and typically comes after a J.D. and LL.M. degree, though each school has its own credentials required for these programs. To apply, students must have strong academic credentials.

Legal Degrees and Certificates for Non-Lawyers

Not all who wish to work or study in the legal field want to be lawyers. The legal world has many potential career paths, including those of paralegal, legal assistant, legal secretary examiner, and legal researcher. There are different types of law degrees and certificates if you want to enter the legal field without actually becoming a lawyer or gain legal expertise in the policies and regulations in your professional industry, including:

Paralegal Certification

Paralegals must have some legal knowledge to assist their lawyers well. This requires some training but may not require a full degree program. Paralegals can get certification in a very short timeframe. Some programs take as little as three months, giving these professionals the foundational training they need to start a legal career. You might work as a paralegal while working your way through law school, or find the career of a paralegal to be rewarding in and of itself.


Pre-law programs can be degrees or certificate programs that give you the chance to explore law without committing to the full law school experience. This can open the door to more training later while giving you a taste of what working in the legal world would entail. A pre-law degree may give you enough training to work as a paralegal or legal secretary, or it could serve as the undergraduate degree you earn before entering a J.D. program.

Master of Legal Studies (MLS) / Master of Jurisprudence (M. Jur)

The Master of Legal Studies or Master of Jurisprudence options are graduate degrees for people who want training in law, but who do not plan to practice law. These are 30-credit hour programs that cover many different areas of law, and you can often customize your training to focus on the specific areas where you wish to have additional training, such as cybersecurity, business, real estate, or tax law. This training can help you learn what you need to do to be compliant with the law in your field, even if you are not planning to practice law directly.

Different Fields of Law

These different types of law degrees can lead to different career paths. While a lawyer's career path is one of them, there are others. If you feel led to a career in law, here are some of the occupations you could pursue after graduation:


The most obvious career path for those that go to law school is to work as a lawyer. Working as a lawyer, attorney, or counselor involves advocating for the rights of clients, whether they are individuals, corporations, or even whole communities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates a median pay range of $126,930 per year for this profession.


The paralegal performs many of the tasks an attorney needs to build a successful case. They handle matters that do not require a legal degree, so the attorney can focus on delivering legal advice or taking the time to appear in court. A paralegal needs to understand the law so they can do legal research and draft pleadings, but they always work under an attorney. Paralegals make an average of $52,920 a year, and the BLS expects to see job growth of about 12% between 2020 and 2030.

Legal Secretary

A legal secretary has less responsibility than a paralegal but still needs to understand the legal world to do their job well. They will handle typical secretarial tasks but may also draft legal correspondence. The BLS estimates an average pay of $40,990 a year for all secretaries and administrative assistants, but those working in the legal world are likely at the higher end of the salary range.

Compliance Specialist

The compliance specialist works with a corporation to make sure they are compliant with laws and policies. They must understand the laws that apply to their particular business field in order to help the company remain compliant. Compliance managers make an average of $116,350 a year according to O-Net Online. Pursuing training in regulatory law can open the door to this career path.

Law Firm Administrator

A law firm administrator handles the day-to-day operations and finances of a law firm. While legal training is not always a prerequisite as much as business training, a law firm administrator benefits from some professional training in the legal world. Though the BLS does not have specific data for law firm administrators, it indicates administrators across all areas earn an average of $98,890 a year.

Business and Transaction Law Professionals

Some legal professionals will pursue training in business and transaction law. These legal professionals work with businesses and real estate professionals to oversee complex transactions and ensure they are legally compliant and understandable. Business lawyers and other legal professionals may work in companies or in private practice.


Litigation is a specialized type of law that involves taking cases to criminal or civil courts. Not all lawyers are litigators, as only about 3% of criminal cases and 1% of civil cases actually make it to court. This area of law requires tenacity and a specialized set of training.


Learn More about Law Degrees at Texas A&M University School of Law

Texas A & M University School of Law has a number of law degrees to help you pursue your passion in the field. Whether you are interested in a J.D., LL.M., or MLS, you will find a program that fits your needs. Reach out to an admissions counselor today to learn more about your legal training options at Texas A&M University School of Law.





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About Texas A&M School of Law

Texas A&M School of Law is an American Bar Association-accredited institution located in downtown Fort Worth. Since integrating with Texas A&M University in 2013, the law school has sustained a remarkable upward trajectory — dramatically increasing entering class credentials; improving U.S. News and World Report rankings; hiring more than 30 new faculty members; and adding more than 10 clinics and six global field study destinations. In the past several years the law school has greatly expanded its academic programs to serve the needs of non-lawyer professionals in a variety of complex and highly regulated industries such as cybersecurity, energy and natural resources, finance, and healthcare.

For more information, visit law.tamu.edu.

About Texas A&M University

Texas A&M, established in 1876 as the first public university in Texas, is one of the nation’s largest universities with more than 66,000 students and more than 440,000 living alumni residing in over 150 countries around the world. A tier-one university, Texas A&M holds the rare triple land-, sea- and space-grant designation. Research conducted at Texas A&M represented annual expenditures of more than $905.4 million in fiscal year 2017. Texas A&M’s research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting, in many cases, in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.

About Research at Texas A&M University

As one of the world's leading research institutions, Texas A&M is at the forefront in making significant contributions to scholarship and discovery, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represented annual expenditures of more than $905.4 million in fiscal year 2017. Texas A&M ranked in the top 20 of the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development survey (2016), based on expenditures of more than $892.7 million in fiscal year 2016. Texas A&M’s research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting, in many cases, in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.

To learn more, visit http://research.tamu.edu.