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This page describes some legal careers. The information is based on the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook. This book is an excellent resource for locating basic information on all types of careers. Updated annually, the Occupational Outlook Handbook contains information for each major profession on the nature of the work, working conditions, qualifications and training, job outlook, earnings, and related occupations, as well as additional sources of information. The Occupational Outlook Handbook is usually available in school and public libraries or on the Web.

Salaries for some legal careers are listed with the job descriptions. These are average starting salaries. Salaries for all legal careers can differ widely depending on the geographic location, the type of business, and the experience and education of the candidate. Just click on any of the careers listed below for salaries and other information.

Corrections Officer  
Court Reporter  
Forensic Scientist  
Legal Assistant (Paralegal)  
Legal Secretary  
Local Law Enforcement Officer
  • Police Officer
  • Deputy Sheriff
    Private Detective/Investigator
    Private Security Guard
    Probation or Parole Officer
    State Law Enforcement Officer
  • Highway Patrol Officer
    U.S. Government Law Enforcement Officer
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) Agent
  • Drug Enforcement (DEA) Agent
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Agent
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Agent
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Agent
  • Secret Service Agent
  • Deputy U.S. Marshall

    Local Law Enforcement: Officers: Police Officer, Deputy Sheriff ($20,000-26,500)

    Job Description
    Police officers and sheriff's deputies help enforce the law. They are a community's primary defense against criminals. These law enforcement officials investigate crimes, gather and secure evidence to help prosecute criminals, make arrests, write detailed reports, assist citizens with specific emergencies, and testify in court.

    Police officers work primarily in cities or towns, while the jurisdiction of deputies extends primarily to rural areas outside of cities where no police department exists. In larger cities, police work can be quite specialized, with officers specifically assigned to areas such as homicide, rape, or traffic. In smaller towns and in rural areas, where the incidence of crime and the number of law enforcement personnel are much lower, a police officer or sheriff's deputy often becomes a "jack of all trades," responding to a variety of emergencies.

    The education necessary to become a police officer or sheriff's deputy varies from area to area. In some larger areas, a four-year degree in criminal justice is required. In some small towns, only a high-school education is necessary. Increasingly, most areas are requiring some formal training, often a two-year associate degree. Classes taken often involve the study of criminal law, the criminal justice system, criminal investigation, corrections, community relations, and administration. Once hired, a law enforcement officer usually receives additional training at a state or federal law enforcement academy.

    Special Skills
    A law enforcement officer must have excellent communication skills. He or she must be able to speak clearly at the scene of a major accident and be able to write precise, understandable reports that can be explained in court. The officer must also be a good listener and decision maker and be able to use good judgment in stressful, dangerous situations. A background in foreign languages, accounting, business practices, and computers can be helpful. Knowledge of weapons and special driving skills are also important. Finally, law enforcement officers must be able to pass physical examinations involving agility, vision, and strength.

    Salary and Benefits
    Most police officers' salaries start somewhere between $22,000 and $26,000. In some locales, beginning salaries are as low as $18,000. The average salary within six years is about $34,000. Most departments provide medical and life insurance benefits, and many offer 20-year retirement plans.

    Working Conditions
    The duties of a police officer or sheriff's deputy may take that officer anywhere within his or her jurisdiction. This means an officer may patrol a regular beat; visit businesses, courts, and jails; assist at community functions; and write reports at the office. Law enforcement officers are increasingly asked to work in schools where they are sometimes given the title of school resource officers (SRO). Police generally work 40-hour weeks but are sometimes called on to put in overtime.

    The job of a law enforcement official can be quite stressful. Sometimes the work can be physically taxing. In large municipal areas, danger is ever present on some beats. Even in the smallest town, an officer must live with the threat of unexpected violence.

    With increasing crime, the job outlook for sheriff's deputies and police officers is excellent. However, any forecast must take into account the budget limitations that have beset government at every level.

    For More Information
    International Association of Chiefs of Police
    515 N. Washington St.
    Alexandria, VA 22314-2357
    (703) 836-6767
    (800) THE-IACP

    National Association of Chiefs of Police
    3801 Biscayne Blvd.
    Miami, FL 33137
    (305) 573-0070

    This Web site gives information about law enforcement careers and crime prevention.

    National Association of School Resource Officers
    P.O. Box 2390
    Rowlett, TX 75030

    This Web site gives information pertaining to the training of school resource officers.

    National Sheriffs Association
    1450 Duke St.
    Alexandria, VA 22314
    (703) 836-7827

    This site will give information about crime prevention, publications, jail operations and research and development.

    Private Detective/Investigator ($20,000-40,000)

    Job Description
    Private detectives and investigators work with attorneys, businesses, government agencies and the public to gather facts, conduct investigations, and locate people. About half of private investigators work in detective agencies or are self-employed. Others work for private companies. Some investigators specialize in a specific area such as infidelity, missing persons, or developing financial profiles. Many investigators spend a lot of time conducting surveillance in order to observe a person's behavior. Often an investigator will spend a lot of time verifying facts about an individual, which might include interviewing employers, checking data bases, or videotaping an individual.

    Training requirements for private detectives vary widely from state to state, although many states require private detectives to be licensed. Usually most private detectives have a background in police work. Many have been through two- or four-year law enforcement programs and law enforcement academies. Others have served in the military where they received law enforcement training.

    Working Conditions
    Although detectives employed by large businesses usually work normal hours, some investigators, due to the necessity of conducting adequate surveillance and the pressure of meeting deadlines imposed by their employers, may work long and irregular hours. Places of work can vary widely from the office to an automobile parked on a public street or to a public arena.

    Special Skills
    Private investigators must be persistent and, if necessary, confrontational. They must be independent thinkers who can communicate clearly. Knowledge of law enforcement procedures, computers, accounting, computer data bases, and electronic and video equipment is important.

    Salary and Benefits
    Depending on experience and place of employment, beginning salaries can range from $20,000 to $40,000 per year. With the exception of those detectives working for large corporations, many investigators do not receive medical and/or life insurance or paid vacations.

    According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the employment of private detectives and investigators is expected to increase much faster than average for all occupations through the year 2005.

    For More Information
    Contact your local police department or state law enforcement agency, or visit the directory.

    This Web site contains links to several detective agencies within the United States that explain specifically what they do. One link also lists news relating to detective agencies.

    Private Security Guard ($15,600-40,000)

    Job Description
    One of the fastest growing career areas is that of private security. Private security guards provide protection for private businesses and for individuals. Security guards not only personally monitor what goes on in a particular place, such as hospitals, banks, and department stores, but they also work with a variety of electronic surveillance devices to insure the safety of individuals, businesses, and their property. Some private security guards work for private security services which then contract their services to businesses, while others work directly for business organizations or individuals.

    The education and qualifications of private security personnel are extremely varied. Depending on the type of business, some security personnel are hired when they complete law enforcement school, others from local, state, and federal agencies. Others are hired with no experience. Usually a security guard must be at least 18 years old and have no convictions for perjury or acts of violence. The amount of education received varies widely from several days of on-the-job training to several months and involves instruction in protection, public relations, report writing, crisis deterrence, weaponry, and use of electronic surveillance devises.

    Working Conditions
    Working conditions for security officers depend greatly on the hiring organization or individual. Some security guards work 35- to 40-hour weeks on eight-hour shifts. Other guards are hired by the hour or the day. Some officers work long hours outside, patrolling on foot under difficult conditions. Others are stationed indoors, watching electronic security monitors. The work of a private security can take a guard anywhere-to a client's home, business, or a public event.

    Special Skills
    The skills needed to be an effective security officer are similar to those of a policeman. Good communication skills, a willingness to adjust to the personality of the client, good judgment, and good vision are important. Also, an ability to work alone and deal with electronic surveillance systems, photography, and computers can be critical in getting certain types of security jobs.

    Salary and Benefits
    As with education requirements, salary and benefits vary widely. Some security firms hire guards for as little as $7.50 per hour, where they might make only $15,000 annually. Other firms pay officers (depending on the responsibilities) $40,000 to $50,000 per year including medical insurance, life insurance, and paid vacations.

    The future of private security officers looks very bright. Private security expenditures are presently about 1.7 times that of law enforcement and over the next ten years the rate will increase to 2.4 times that of law enforcement. The number of private security companies is expected to more than double over the next five years. These statistics translate into many more opportunities for those wishing to enter the field.

    For More Information
    Security Industry Association
    635 Staters Lane, Suite 110
    Alexandria, VA 22314
    (703) 683-2075

    This Web site contains a variety of information relating to private security including information on the training of security agents, the growth of the security industry and problems facing the industry.

    Probation or Parole Officer ($20,500-28,000)

    Job Description
    Probation and parole officers supervise two types of people: offenders placed on probation (people who fulfill the terms of court-ordered sentences) and parolees (people who are released from prison to fulfill parole-board-ordered sentences). In fulfilling these duties, these officers ensure the public safety while working to help rehabilitate their clients. Serving as links to a variety of social services, probation and parole officers try to help their clients secure the education, counseling, jobs, and housing necessary to become fully rehabilitated. They also write presentence reports for judges. Based on the officers' investigative work on the offenders' backgrounds, these reports provide judges with important information necessary to make an appropriate sentence for each offender. Probation and parole officers testify at pretrial and parole board hearings to help explain these reports. In addition, they are responsible for investigating any violations of court-ordered sentences.

    Generally, at the state level, probation and parole officers must complete a four-year degree program in a social science area such as sociology, criminal justice, psychology, or correctional counseling. Classes in writing and other communication arts, as well as in law, are considered helpful. At the federal level, the officer must also have at least two years of work experience in the field.

    Special Skills
    Probation and parole officers must possess excellent communication skills in order to write precise presentence reports and be able to defend them in court. They must also be able to relate to people from a variety of legal professions, as well as clients with different backgrounds. In addition, probation and parole officers must be able to deal with the stress that comes with large caseloads.

    Salary and Benefits
    Starting salaries at the state level vary from $20,500 to $28,000. Federal starting salaries average about $28,000. Both state and federal governments provide some health and retirement benefits.

    Working Conditions
    Probation and parole officers work in offices, courts, jails, and prisons. The nature of their work often takes them to both the places of business and the residences of their clients. These officers usually work a 40-hour week but may be called on to work overtime to investigate their clients and to meet court-ordered deadlines.

    The job outlook in this area is fair. The number of defendants is growing. However, parole has been abolished in the federal corrections system. Nevertheless, in some areas, the budgets for probation and parole officers are growing along with the number of prisoners. However, because of budget problems, it is still more common for probation and parole officers to have more clients than for government to hire more officers.

    For More Information
    American Probation and Parole Association
    P.O. Box 51017
    Salt Lake City, UT 84152

    This site contains information on publications, position statements, jobs, and training opportunities for probation and parole officers.

    State Law Enforcement: Highway Patrol Officer ($24,000-28,000)

    Job Description
    The authority of state highway patrol officers or state troopers extends past the major roadways of the state in which they serve. State patrolmen have the authority to arrest violators of the law anywhere within the borders of their state. Besides apprehending criminals their duties usually include patrolling highways, investigating motor accidents, controlling traffic, rendering aid in disaster situations, and enforcing commercial vehicle laws.

    In many states candidates need only a high school diploma or a GED equivalent. Several states, however, require that candidates have an associate or bachelor's degree. Successful applicants then go through a several-month training program at a state law enforcement academy.

    Special Skills
    State troopers must be able to work within a chain of command, listen and communicate well, drive skillfully, work alone and think independently, and become proficient with a variety of weapons.

    Working Conditions
    Highway patrol officers usually work alone. In large rural states their area of responsibility might encompass more than 1000 square miles. They can be far away from back-up if they are in the process of attending to an accident or apprehending a criminal. For this reason they must be able to think independently. Most highway patrol officers work 40-hour weeks.

    Salary and Benefits
    Highway patrol officers start between $24,000 and $28,000 per year. They receive medical and life insurance. Some officers receive a uniform cleaning allowance, as well.

    The outlook for the hiring of highway patrol officers is good, particularly in states experiencing a population increase or in states bordering Mexico.

    For More Information
    Contact individual state highway patrol offices.

    Official Directory of State Patrol and State Police Sites

    This site contains links to all 50 state highway patrol sites.

    U.S. Government Law Enforcement Officer

    Job Description
    The duties of law enforcement officers working for the U.S. government are similar in many respects to those of local police officers. These officers help their respective federal agencies enforce the law. In the process of doing so, they investigate crimes, help preserve evidence, write reports for government prosecutors, apprehend fugitives, and testify in court.
    However, the work of U.S. law enforcement officers differs from traditional law enforcement in that their authority in dealing with federal crimes extends throughout the United States and their work often relates to specialized types of crimes. Also, with the exception of the officers of the U.S. Marshal Service, the federal law enforcement officers discussed in this section are officially designated as "special agents."

    Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) Agent ATF agents work for the U.S. Treasury Department. These agents enforce U.S. laws pertaining to the sale and possession of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. They participate in investigations that involve conducting surveillance, making raids, interviewing suspects and witnesses, making arrests, obtaining search warrants, and searching for physical evidence. ATF agents work closely with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and provide assistance in the fight against crime and violence. ATF agents also review all evidence at the conclusion of an investigation and prepare case reports that aid the U.S. attorney in trial preparation.

    Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Agent DEA agents work under the authority of the U.S. Department of Justice in enforcing the federal Controlled Substances Act. Agents are involved in the following: carrying out surveillance of criminals; infiltrating illicit drug channels; identifying and apprehending drug traffickers; confiscating illegal drug supplies; arresting drug law violators; collecting and preparing evidence; writing detailed reports; and coordinating activities with local, state, federal, and foreign governments to prevent the flow of illegal drugs to and through the United States.

    Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Agent FBI agents work under the authority of the U.S. Department of Justice and deal with investigation and apprehension of federal fugitives, investigation of civil rights violations, and investigation of organized crime, white-collar crime, foreign counterintelligence, sabotage, espionage, terrorism, and kidnapping. FBI agents coordinate their activities closely with the U.S. attorney in their jurisdiction.

    U.S. Immigration and Customs Agents work for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to maintain the security of the borders of the United States. Their duties include apprehending people who illegally enter the United States, preventing products from enterting the U.S. illegally, and enforcing the proper rules and regulations of employment of aliens in the United States.

    Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Agent IRS agents work for the U.S. Treasury Department. Their duties involve investigating people for tax violations, money laundering, computer fraud, and illegal tax shelters. In fulfilling these duties, the agents interview witnesses and principals, write reports for trial preparation, and participate in surveillance, undercover activities, and searches and seizures.

    Secret Service Agent Secret Service agents work for the U.S. Treasury Department. Their primary responsibility is to protect the president and vice president of the United States and their immediate families. Secret Service agents also protect past presidents of the United States, foreign heads of state, and official representatives of the United States performing special missions abroad. In addition, Secret Service agents are responsible for investigating currency counterfeiting and various types of fraud and forgery that violate federal laws.

    Deputy U.S. Marshal Every deputy U.S. marshal works under the authority of a U.S. marshal. There are 94 U.S. marshals, each appointed to manage a particular district. Service is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice.

    Deputy U.S. marshals are involved in conducting fugitive investigations, protecting U.S. courts, protecting federal witnesses, seizing and managing assets acquired from criminal activities, providing prisoner custody and transportation, and providing law enforcement support in national emergencies.

    FBI Agent People can enter the FBI in one of the areas listed below with the following qualifications:
        Law: J.D. degree from an accredited law school.
        Accounting: B.S. degree with a major in accounting and eligibility to take the CPA examination.
        Engineering/Science: B.S. degree in engineering, computer science, or one of the physical sciences. Additional experience may be required.
        Language: B.S. or B.A. degree in any discipline and proficiency in Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, or another language that meets the needs of the FBI.

    ATF, DEA, IRS, and INS, Secret Service Agents, and Deputy U.S. Marshal Entry requirements for these careers generally include a four-year college degree. And, with the exception of IRS agents, some law enforcement experience. Those preparing to become IRS agents should emphasize accounting and business while in college.

    Backgrounds in foreign languages (particularly Spanish for prospective INS agents), computers, and business are extremely helpful on the job.

    Additional training is provided at one of the federal law enforcement academies for each entering agent.

    Special Skills
    All federal law enforcement officers must pass rigorous physical, vision, and medical examinations in order to be hired. They must be able to maintain the confidentiality of their work and relate effectively to people from different backgrounds. Like local and state law enforcement personnel, agents must be able to listen carefully, speak articulately, write proficiently, and exercise good judgment in dangerous situations.

    Salary and Benefits
    FBI agents are hired at a salary of about $33,500 per year. However, beginning agents often make more money because of the large amount of overtime necessary for the job. Additionally, within a few years, FBI agents progress up the government pay scale to salaries above $50,000. Other agents generally enter the salary schedule at about $25,000. However, within five years, agents can be earning over $50,000. Medical and retirement benefits are provided for all U.S. government law enforcement employees.

    Working Conditions
    Law enforcement agents at the federal level work in offices and courtrooms but may travel extensively to do their jobs. They often put in a lot of overtime. The potential for physical danger always exists. Thus, special agents carry weapons and must be ready to use them.

    The job demand for federal law enforcement officers through the year 2005, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, should increase as fast as the demand for other legal occupations because of a more security conscious society which appears determined to reduce crime and illegal immigration. However, the availability of jobs could be limited by the government's budget limitations.

    For More Information
    ATF Agent
    Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
    Personnel Division
    650 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Room 4100
    Washington, D.C. 20226
    (202) 927-8423

    This government Web site explains the history of the ATF, duties of ATF agents, and the ATF's strategic plan and programs.

    DEA Agent
    DEA Headquarters
    Attn: Special Agent Recruiting Unit
    1405 I Street, N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20537
    (800) DEA-4288

    This Web site explains the background of the DEA, as well as the responsibilities, qualifications, salary and benefits of DEA agents.

    FBI Agent
    Federal Bureau of Investigation
    Attn: Applicant Unit
    Department of Justice
    935 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20535-0001
    (202) 324-3000

    These detailed Web sites include the history of the FBI, the qualifications and responsibilities of FBI agents, as well as addresses of FBI regional offices.

    U.S. Immigration and Customs Agent
    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
    Immigration and Naturalization Service
    Washington, D.C. 20536

    This detailed site answers frequently asked questions about the Citizenship and Immigration Servies and lists detailed career information.

    IRS Agent
    Internal Revenue Service
    Department of the Treasury
    Division of Criminal Investigation
    1111 Constitution Ave., N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20224

    This site explains IRS career paths, salary and benefits, and also responds to frequently asked questions.

    Secret Service Agent
    United States Secret Service
    Personnel Division
    1800 G Street, N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20223

    This site contains detailed information about the role, responsibilities and purpose of secret service agents, as well as job requirements for prospective applicants.

    Deputy U.S. Marshal
    U.S. Marshals Service
    Employment and Compensation Division
    Field Staffing Branch
    600 Army Navy Drive
    Arlington, VA 22202-4210
    (202) 307-9600


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