The legal field is broad and encompasses the work of many individuals. While attending law school and becoming a lawyer is certainly one way of working in the field, there are many other options for candidates with college and other advanced degrees.
Career areas in or related to law include:
- Government Relations: Also known as lobbying, this field consists of individuals and organizations engaged in promoting the interests of their employers or clients. Sometimes these roles can be found in a Communications/Public Affairs office. You might work at a non-profit, higher educational institution, or private company focused on finance, health care, consumer products, or energy. Positions in this field do not require a law degree.
- Legal Analysis/Policy Analysis: As a legal analyst, compliance analyst, or policy analyst for a business (i.e. financial services or insurance company, green energy firm), non-profit or NGO (focused on the environment, immigration, women’s rights), government agency, or think tank, you will help to review and analyze new and existing laws to help support the organization’s practices and ensure they are compliant. This is a great way to work in the field without a law degree, though sometimes advanced degrees are preferred.
- Paralegals and Legal Assistants: Support lawyers – in government agencies, private, or non profit firms - by conducting research, filing, and writing or editing documents. These are entry level positions for college graduates. Many work in these positions before applying to law school.
- Court Reporter: Court reporters transcribe legal proceedings or work on captioning for TV and at public events. Some states require court reporters who work in legal settings to be licensed, though an advanced degree is not required.
- Law Enforcement: Many students interested in law and law enforcement pursue roles in these agencies like the FBI or CIA. Roles include: special agents, linguists, intelligence analysts, cryptography, support integration officers, or victim’s specialists. Many require a bachelor’s degree.
- Forensic Scientists and Forensic Psychologists: Forensic Scientists collect and analyze physical evidence from crimes. To work as a forensic science technician in a government-run lab, you will need a bachelor’s degree in a natural science. More experienced positions can require an advanced degree. Learn more about the field from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Forensic psychologists use psychological principles in the legal and criminal justice system to help judges, attorneys, and other legal specialists understand the psychological findings of a particular case. Forensic psychologists have advanced degrees.
- Lawyer: Lawyers advise and represent individuals, businesses, or government agencies on legal issues or disputes. They might work for a private law firm, a governmental agency, or a non-profit. Areas of practice are as varied as Fashion, Entertainment, Patent, E-Commerce, Real Estate, Bankruptcy, Labor & Employment, and Immigration. Becoming a lawyer requires attendance to law school.
- Judge: Judges oversee the legal process in courts. They are often required to have a law degree, though are appointed to or elected to these positions.
- Mediator: Mediators help people to settle their legal disputes outside the courtroom. Some are lawyers, but others enter the field in other ways. Learn more about the work here.
For full time, entry level legal analyst or paralegal positions, larger law firms and financial institutions will typically start their recruiting as early as the fall semester for May graduates and late fall/early winter for their summer interns. Firms will often recruit through Columbia's On Campus Recruiting program on LionSHARE. Some legal internships are only open to law students, so either look for those positions accepting applications from undergraduate or master’s students, or target law departments in organizations of interest or smaller to mid-sized law firms that do not have a formalized program in place. If you’re exploring the possibility of becoming a lawyer, working in a firm in the communications department, recruiting department, or professional development department, is a way to get your foot in the door.
The process for applying to positions at agencies like the FBI, CIA, or UN, can be time intensive, so you want to start the process early (i.e. 9 months prior to start). Smaller and midsized firms, as well as many government agencies and non profits, will hire on an as-needed basis, meaning that they are typically looking for applicants to can begin work immediately. That being said, as with most fields, networking is key to securing a position, and research is essential to find firms, organizations, and agencies that are a match for your interests.
- LionSHARE Under the job search tab, try key word searching the words ‘law’ or ‘legal’ or select ‘law,’ ‘legal services,’ or ‘government’ in the employer industry menu. You can also use the Employer Directory tab to search for lists of organizations that have posted in the past. Examples of organizations that have recruited through LionSHARE for legal positions include Lawyers Alliance for New York, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the British Embassy.
- CCE’s Fall and Spring Career Fairs, Engineering Consortium Career Fair (Fall), and Startup Career Fair (Spring), Highlights of past participants include: CIA, US Department of Justice, US Department of State, New York District Attorney, Cadet Corps, Legal Momentum, and the National Security Agency.
- Vault and WetFeet are excellent career resources into industries and organizations. Read Vault’s View from the Top: Q & A with Law Firm Leaders and Wetfeet’s Careers in Government and Careers in Nonprofit.
- If you’re considering attending graduate school, review our tip sheet on factors to consider and resources.
- Read profiles and advice from Columbia alumni who worked or are working in the legal sector:
- Student organizations including Columbia Undergraduate Law Review, Student Governing Board.
- The Office of Preprofessional Advising helps Columbia College and Columbia Engineering students and alumni identify and refine their interests in professional school, including law. The office hosts a listserv with information and opportunities as well as online resources.
- The School of General Studies offers current students and alumni the opportunity to meet with a pre-law advisor for questions regarding the law school admissions process. The web site has information about upcoming events and online resources.
- The Division of Government Affairs serves as liaison between Columbia and government at the federal, state, and city levels. As a service to Columbia and Barnard students, the Columbia University Office of Government and Community Affairs provides assistance to undergraduates interested in spending the summer interning in either the local or Washington, DC office of a United States Congressperson.
- Women in Government Relations
- The American Bar Association Center for Continuing Legal Education (ABA-CLE)
- Internships in International Law
- Hieros Gamos
- The National Association for Law Placement, Inc.
- US Department of State Careers
- US Department of Justice Careers
- USA Jobs
- USA Jobs - Students and Graduates
- Making the Difference
Last Updated June 2015