Jobs in the legal sector are well known for being lucrative and high-profile, and for providing a professional and personal life akin to being in the cast of Suits.
For people looking at pursuing a legal qualification, or in the process of graduating from one, becoming a lawyer seems a logical career path to take. However, if this doesn’t appeal to you and you’re not sure what else you can do once you graduate, then fear not, as there are plenty of different legal careers to choose from.
To help you narrow your options, here are 20 of the best careers you can pursue with a law degree.
Average annual salary: $148,910 (£111,600)
Lawyers take centre stage in the legal industry.
They represent individuals or organisations in legal matters and court cases and, therefore, must have an acute understanding of the law, or a certain area of the law if they specialise (such as corporate legislation or criminal law). It’s the lawyer’s job to interpret this law to the benefit of their client, as well as provide legal safeguards. As such, becoming a lawyer requires an in-depth level of legal knowledge and will require several years of traineeships in preparation for the role.
Average annual salary: $56,610 (£42,240)
Paralegals support lawyers and other senior legal professionals with high-level administration or other tasks as necessary. Contrary to popular belief, paralegals should have a good understanding of legal frameworks to execute this role autonomously (as will be the expectation of their managers).
Paralegals will often begin their careers with internships or, in the case of the UK, apprenticeships, and gain experience from there. Through training and networking, paralegals can work their way up to becoming qualified lawyers; however, this job role can be a rewarding career in itself.
3. Legal secretary
Average annual salary: $56,610 (£42,420)
Sometimes called legal assistants, and often confused with paralegals, legal secretaries perform general assistance and support to legal professionals. This support can be of a directly legal nature; however, it’s more commonly associated with administration support such as typing minutes, filing documents, making phone calls and managing diaries.
Legal secretaries need to be exceptionally organised, and it helps if they have some legal knowledge. In leading law firms, even this seemingly mundane role can be highly regarded and compensated accordingly. There are also established career pathways to becoming a paralegal and beyond.
4. Compliance officer
Average annual salary: $75,620 (£56,670)
Compliance officers often work directly with companies to ensure the organisation is operating in accordance with all legal and regulatory requirements. The role has a high level of responsibility, as businesses found to be in contravention to these standards can be liable to hefty fines, or even criminal penalties in some situations.
As well as possessing an expert understanding the applicable areas of the law, compliance officers must also possess a high level of personal integrity to ensure issues are flagged up and the company is positioned to do business fairly.
5. Law librarian
Average annual salary: $63,560 (£47,640)
Becoming a law librarian might be an attractive proposition to someone who loves the research and referencing side of studying. This role can be found in many settings, such as in courts, universities, law firms, large corporations or government offices, and is responsible for the organisation and presentation of legal information.
Law librarians should have a good understanding of legal terminology. They will use this knowledge to archive legal texts, check their accuracy, compile relevant sources and information for others, train people, and research information.
6. Legal writer
Average annual salary: $63,560 (£47,640)
Legal writers might be employed directly with law firms and other corporations, writing blogs, articles, or research reports, as well as work for the media. Conversely, legal writers might prefer to write fiction or non-fiction books with a legal angle. Naturally, being well-versed in law, as well as the inner workings of the legal profession helps, as does an extensive network of sources.
Getting started as a legal writer is all about building exposure. This might begin with internships in newspapers, as well as student publications. Having a compelling and articulate level of written communication is a must.
7. Law professor
Average annual salary: $134,760 (£101,000)
Law professors typically teach specialist law modules or courses at an undergraduate or postgraduate level.
There are typically two routes into this very rewarding role. The first involves moving laterally from an ‘operational’ legal role, such as a lawyer, and retraining into the education sector. The second is a direct-entry route into legal education, but this will require not just a bachelor’s qualification in law, but also a master’s degree and likely a PhD.
Nevertheless, teaching law is a great opportunity to ‘give back’ and lead by example to budding lawyers in the making.
Average annual salary: $75,730 (£56,760)
Sometimes known as public affairs consultants, lobbyists have a vested interest in a particular subject or side of an argument. They’re employed to communicate these views to individuals and organisations who are in a position to advance the lobbyist’s cause.
The role is extremely broad, as lobbyists can be part of government bodies, individuals working by themselves, or employed by companies or industry bodies. To make informed arguments, lobbyists need to be legislative experts in their area. They also must be master communicators and negotiators.
9. Policy analyst
Average annual salary: $60,480 (£45,330)
Policy analysts are more commonly employed in the government or public bodies, but the role can be found in the private sector too.
Their main function is to determine the arguments and implications behind government decisions — what might be the legal risks or loopholes if a certain policy or law were to be introduced. As well as possessing legal knowledge, policy analysts need to be logical people who can see all sides of an argument.
Average annual salary: $124,200 (£93,090)
Judges are publicly appointed officials who are responsible to hear and decide on court cases, including making decisions on penalties or sentencing. Becoming a judge requires significant experience in the legal profession before being selected for entry-level roles such as district or tribunal judges, rising through the ranks to Appeal and Supreme Court positions.
It is essential that judges are consummate legal experts. They must also be able to deal with a large workload and, in some circumstances, emotional or high-profile cases.
11. Legal consultant
Average annual salary: $69,320 (£51,960)
Legal consultants are very similar to lawyers, with the exception that they only provide legal advice outside of the courtroom. Legal consultants can be engaged externally or in-house by individuals and companies and need a high level of expert legal knowledge to be able to advise independently.
Newly qualified individuals can become consultants, but given that this job benefits from an extensive network and established credibility, most consultants have practised as lawyers for some time before choosing to consult at a later stage.
12. Legal analyst
Average annual salary: $60,150 (£45,080)
Legal analyst responsibilities can be very similar to those of a paralegal; and in some law firms, these job titles are used interchangeably.
A legal analyst might be more focused on triaging cases and incoming work, preparing advice and risk assessment on their ‘winnability’ or other particulars, such as legal precedence, scope of work required or client history. Therefore, legal analysts must be great with numbers and researching, as well as possess high logical skills and a basic legal background or education.
13. Recruitment specialist
Average annual salary: $48,430 (£36,300)
Legal recruiters can be employed in-house (on behalf of a company) or externally (as a recruitment agent), sourcing, interviewing and placing candidates in jobs within the legal industry.
Being a recruiter for the legal industry is one of the few jobs on this list that doesn’t require a background in the profession or a legal education (although it would help). Recruiters of all industries need to understand the sector they are working in and be adept at generating leads, as well as have a keen eye for finding and placing the right people in the right jobs.
Average annual salary: Varies
People with a legal education or experience suit politics quite well. This is due to a large part of governmental law being concerned with the management and creation of laws, and an understanding of how law impacts policy.
Those with an understanding of these processes might be able to hit the ground running. Politicians — like lawyers — must be good at debating and seeing all sides of an argument. It isn’t just the need for legal knowledge which makes this a good career for law school graduates to explore.
Average annual salary: $66,130 (£49,560)
Mediators are employed to help resolve disputes before they reach the need for legal action. Their main role is to work to avoid the need for lawyers and court cases and, as such, they are impartial and trained to work a situation to ‘win-win’.
Mediators are often self-employed but may be contracted by labour organisations or public interest bodies. As well as legal knowledge, mediators need to be calm, great at dealing with conflict and have sound reasoning skills to help situations come to a peaceful close.
16. Management consultant
Average annual salary: $87,660 (£65,700)
Management consultants are often self-employed but can also be employees of professional services firms.
They need to have a wide collection of skills which will help them guide businesses and leaders through a variety of situations, although, typically, they will specialise in a certain area of consultancy such as mergers and acquisitions or human resources. Law ties a lot of these specialisms together; therefore, management consultants with in-depth legal knowledge will be particularly highly valued.
Average annual salary: $66,130 (£49,560)
Arbitration is very similar to mediation, whereby the goal is to find a solution without using lawyers and courts. The key difference is that mediators act in a non-binding process and do not pass judgments, whereas arbitrators will decide on case outcomes, with a legally binding decision (both parties must agree in advance to go down this route).
Arbitration as a career relies on judge-like qualities, such as impartiality, deep legal understanding and an awareness of the pressures of having the final say over sometimes delicate situations.
18. Law clerk
Average annual salary: $49,120 (£36,820)
Law clerks are sometimes grouped together with paralegals, secretaries and analysts, but in many settings and countries, this role is exclusively one which is based in a courthouse and assists judges on keeping court hearings organised.
Responsibilities might include typing of minutes, passing around or reviewing documents, relaying information to the judge, and interpreting information. Legal experience or education will be required, due to who clerks work with, but excellent organisation and conduct are also important traits.
19. Legal editor
Average annual salary: $54,930 (£41,170)
Legal editors are often employed by law firms or other large organisations and will proofread and make ready for publishing an organisation’s articles, reports or blog posts. The legal editor might only be concerned with articles of a legal nature but will most likely be called upon to check any outgoing material to ensure it’s of the right standard, risk-assessed and compliant.
Journalism and writing skills, as well as a keen eye for detail and a knack for articulating legal terminology into easy-to-read formats, are critical skills for a legal editor. The role will often require some experience in law or writing before it can be taken up.
20. Legal journalist
Average annual salary: $42,190 (£31,620)
Legal journalists will be either freelancing or employed directly by media outlets, reporting on all matters related to law, such as court cases, updates in case law or any other legal news that might be of note. Like a legal writer, legal journalists need to be well-connected and credible and have a great writing style.
They also need to be able to make complex legal points easy to follow in the eyes of someone who has a basic understanding of law. Legal journalists might also need to broadcast news on TV, radio or online. If this is part of their remit, they must have high self-confidence and polished presentation skills too.
If you’re considering a degree in law or about to graduate from law school, it can be reassuring to know that there are so many different careers you can pursue with a law degree which will allow you to get the best out of your education.
Given the prestigious nature of the sector, legal careers can be very competitive, and leading companies will only consider the best of the best. Therefore, it’s prudent to conduct some self-evaluation in terms of what you want out of a career, and to research which of the above options could be best aligned to your skills and personality. This way, you can get the wheels in motion early and prepare yourself for what will hopefully be a glittering legal career.
Join the conversation! Which of these legal careers are you thinking about pursuing? Let us know in the comments section below.
This article is an update of an earlier version published on 20 July 2019.