Exploring Alternatives to the Legal Life
I’m a senior, and during spring break I got that dreaded question, “What are you going to do once you graduate?” Here’s the thing: I have an answer, and I have an honest answer. My answer is that I am going to apply to law school. My honest answer is that I don’t want to go to law school yet, but I don’t say my honest answer. You follow me?
I’m torn between my head and my heart. I majored in International Relations, but I did everything I could to make it as much like pre-law as possible. I bought the latest LSAT book for the summer. And the truth is I think the legal world is really interesting! I love the problems that the courts have to solve: picking apart moral dilemmas and trying to make the law work best for the people who need it. I just don’t think I’m ready yet to spend all next year studying, picking out schools, and applying, just to spend another three years in law school, stressing out about the Bar. I need some time to figure out what I want to do. I also need a job, and I do want to stay in the legal world. What are some jobs that I can work for a few years, to find out if the legal world is really “for me?” I know about becoming a paralegal at a law firm, but what are some jobs I might not be thinking of that will put me in, or near, the courtroom?
First, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to take a few years off and find out what you want to do. A lot of people leave college ready try something different and then go to law school a few years later – Barack Obama didn’t go to law school until he was 27! The point is you’ve got time. Let’s look at some jobs in the legal world that will allow you to explore if working in the legal profession is for you, while also keeping you close to the courtroom.
One important legal job, depicted in every courtroom film and TV show, is a court reporter, also called a court stenographer. Like the name suggests, a court reporter transcribes the goings-on in the courtroom. According to Brickell Key Court Reporting, an agency for court reporters in Fort Lauderdale, court reporters create everything from live transcripts to word indexes to deposition videos. Court reporters work for a law firm, and they provide the crucial documentation that lawyers need to build their case.
Another job like that of a court reporter is a Certified Legal Video Specialist. Becoming a legal video specialist requires less study than a court reporter, but they serve a very similar role. Just like the name suggests, a video specialist takes high-quality courtroom footage. So, you would spend lots of time observing the proceeds of the courtroom, getting to know the ins and outs of the legal profession
That said, both of these jobs would take time to learn, and to get an idea of the certification process you can check out the National Court Reporters Association. Their website lists the certifications you would need, as well as other vocations that fall under the umbrella of court reporting.
You mentioned that you majored in International Affairs. If you speak another language fluently, you could become a court translator or interpreter. Since everybody is entitled to a lawyer in the US, almost anywhere you live (especially large metro areas) will need a court interpreter to help people who are not fluent in English in the courtroom.
The US Federal Court system recognizes three levels of court interpreters: certified, professionally qualified, and ad-hoc, with increasing levels of pay for each category. You will need to pass various tests, or be a member of one of several professional organizations, to become a certified or professionally qualified interpreter. Each state court system also has its own way of qualifying court interpreters. California’s qualifications, for example, are different than Texas’. Depending on where you want to live after you graduate, you might want to look up that state’s requirements.
If you are interested in International Affairs, look in to working for an intergovernmental organization, such as the United Nations, Amnesty International, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere. Several of those organizations have fellowship or internship programs, all of which would give you a window into the functioning of international government and law. As North America welcomes more workers from abroad – immigrants accounted for 16.4% of American workers in 2016, according to the Brookings Institution, and 23.8 percent of Canadian workers, according to Preszler Immigration Lawyers, immigration lawyer Toronto – these organizations play a larger and larger role in the conduct of international businesses, which may be another career option for you: international consulting, with a focus on legal consulting.
Finally, you might want to consider working for a legal aid society rather than a law firm. Though the work may pay less, you will support the important mission of providing representation to the truly needy. Many of the lawyers who serve legal aid societies work for free. You can work as a paralegal at an aid society, certainly, but legal nonprofits also need administrative staff, such as fundraisers, executive assistants, and office administrators.
If you choose to do something unrelated to the legal profession, most legal aid societies also accept volunteers. Whether working or volunteering, putting time in at a legal aid society would give you the firsthand experience of “trying to make the law work best for the people who need it.”
No matter what you choose to do (even if it is a paralegal!), it is going to require a lot of hard work to get that first job, so be ready to put in the hours. Wherever you end up, however, just remember that your life isn’t decided yet. If you work as a legal video specialist or a translator or as an intern at the UN or whatever only to find out that the legal professions are not for you, that’s no problem. Next time you get “that dreaded question,” give the honest answer. Your future self will appreciate it.
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – e.e. cummings