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Best Degrees for a Career in Law

Were you a Perry Mason devotee? Does Law and Order glue you to your television? Many of us are drawn to careers in law, thanks, in part, to the high visibility of occupations such as lawyers, judges, forensic scientists, and others.

But if you've been working in the field, or know people who do, you're also aware that careers in law are extremely diverse, ranging from police officers and deputy sheriffs to court reporters and legal assistants.

Given the wide range of career options, it's important that you choose the best degree programs for the occupation you desire. Following is snapshot of some popular careers in law, and the top degrees that can get you there.

Lawyers and Judges: Juris Doctor is the Top College Degree

You're probably familiar with the educational requirements for lawyers: four years of undergraduate work, followed by three years of law school and the award of a Juris Doctor (J.D.). The top degrees in law at an undergraduate level include concentrations in the liberal arts, such as philosophy, social science, or other humanities discipline.

Judges, on the other hand, generally need just a bachelor's degree and relevant experience. However, those who are hired, appointed or elected to judgeships usually hold a J.D.

The Best Degrees for Paralegals, Legal Secretaries and Legal Assistants

The best college degree for paralegals is a bachelor of arts in paralegal studies. While these programs are still few in number, paralegal schools are becoming more ubiquitous, particularly through online education.

On the other hand, the most popular degree choice, and the best degree if you are seeking faster entry to the profession, is a paralegal program that leads to an associate degree. These programs can also qualify you to work as a legal secretary or legal assistant.

Some paralegals with several years of professional experience choose to advance their careers through graduate-level degrees. While some opt to pursue a J.D., others choose master's degrees in paralegal studies to teach or develop a particular specialization.

Best Degrees for Law Enforcement Occupations

Federal agencies usually require four years of college and/or work experience. For example, to become an FBI special agent, you'll need a bachelor's degree and three years of professional experience.

Law enforcement positions at a state and local level--including police officers, sheriffs, and deputy sheriffs--generally require only a high school diploma or GED, though this varies from state to state. However, educational requirements for police officers are the subject of ongoing debates. You'll be best able to compete for jobs and secure your position by obtaining an associate or bachelor's degree in law or criminal justice.

Fish and game wardens tend to have more stringent educational requirements; in most states, a bachelor's degree is the top degree for these positions.

Forensic Science Offers Several Options

Following are some of the more common jobs in forensic science and the top degree programs for each career:

  • Medical examiner: Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) from a medical school
  • Crime laboratory analyst: Bachelor's degree with a concentration in science, especially chemistry
  • Forensic engineer: Bachelor of Engineering (B.E.)
  • Crime scene examiner: Bachelor of Science (B.S.), including courses in law enforcement, or a bachelor's in criminal justice with courses in natural science

If law is your passion, these and many other law-related occupations can offer exciting work that is highly valued in our society. By taking the time to determine which is the best degree in law for your occupation of choice, you will ensure that your education pays off with a rewarding career.

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