Is a Legal Studies Degree for You?

Legal studies degrees provide students with the knowledge, training and ethical principles they will need to excel in law-related professions and environments. In general, the courses in legal studies degree programs examine the fundamentals and foundations of the law, the court system, criminal justice, the rights of individuals and ethics. Through legal studies degree programs, students will learn to perform legal research, prepare statements and arguments, and conduct dispute resolution. The employment outlook for legal studies is favorable, as many occupations in the industry expect fast growth over the next several years.

Advice for Earning Your Legal Studies Degree Online

The legal studies bachelor's degree enhances students' analytical thinking, researching skills and writing abilities, all of which can make them more desirable candidates for the professional world. Online legal studies degree programs hold students to the same educational standards as campus-based ones. However, students enrolled in online programs must be self-motivated and willing to work independently. Students who wish to become lawyers may begin with a bachelor's degree in legal studies and then move on to a graduate program in law. In order to enter law school, students must take the Law School Admission Test. Those who are not interested in becoming a lawyer but would like to become a paralegal must attain paralegal certification by the American Bar Association.

Required Courses

A student entering a bachelor's degree program in legal studies can expect to take an array of liberal arts courses. Classes may include ethics, criminal studies, document drafting, advanced writing, anthropology of law, constitutional history, introduction to logic, American constitutional law and basic statistics. Students should expect courses heavy in reading, writing and research. Advanced course work will examine the history and development of law in the United States.

Common Career Paths

A bachelor's degree in legal studies is designed to help you establish a career in the law field. However, if you decide that you are no longer interested in working in law, you have several other options. The knowledge you attain as a legal studies student promotes strong problem-solving skills and a work ethic desirable to many potential employers. Common career paths for legal studies graduates include (but are not limited to):

  • Paralegal: Paralegals, also commonly referred to as legal assistants, work for lawyers and often perform many of the tasks attorneys do. Although paralegals are prohibited by law from setting legal fees and give out legal advice, they do assist lawyers in preparing for court, hearings, trials, closings and meetings. They often meet with clients and investigate the facts of cases. Paralegals prepare legal documents and draft pleadings and motions to be filed in court. Most paralegals have a degree in legal studies or another closely related discipline, such as criminal justice. Although specific hiring requirements will vary among employers, many will prefer that paralegals have some type of degree or certification in the field.

    Employment of paralegals and legals assistants is expected to increase 18 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their median annual salary was $46,680 in 2010. 

  • Law Clerk: Law clerks assist lawyers and judges by conducting legal research on all aspects of information that can be used in defense and prosecution cases. The research that a law clerk conducts is generally for use in trials, hearings and motions. Law clerks may also be required to act as a court clerk or bailiff during court hearings. Although the majority of law clerks spend most of their time conducting research for court and trials, they also draft, prepare and file legal documents, petitions, motions and pleadings. Most law clerks have experience in the field, have earned a degree or certificate in legal studies or a closely related discipline, and have worked as clerks while they were in law school.

    Although specific hiring and educational requirements will vary among employers, applicants with degrees and experience should have the best job opportunities in the field. The salary of law clerks can range greatly because of experience, education, location of job and employer. Annual salaries of entry level law clerks ranged from $28,969 to $61,277 in June 2012, according to Payscale.com.

  • Social Worker: Social workers care for those who have family and personal problems, as well as those dealing with disabilities and substance abuse. They also often work to improve the lives of those in inadequate housing conditions. They support families and children who are the victims of domestic abuse. Most social workers have at least a bachelor's degree in social work, legal studies or a closely related field, such as psychology or sociology. A graduate degree may be required for some employers. Social workers can be employed by schools; local or state government; individual and family services; rehabilitation centers; nursing and residential care facilities; and outpatient care centers.

    Employment of social workers is projected to grow 25 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their median annual salary was $42,480 in May 2010. 

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