Many students grow up imagining themselves as a lawyer, and for good reason! Law can be an incredibly rewarding, interesting, and challenging career path. There are also several legal career options that don’t require law school. Whether you’ve had a lifelong interest in law or are just curious about certain aspects of the legal field, the Legal Studies major and Criminal Justice Certificate are fantastic opportunities to explore many aspects of related careers, including community advocacy, criminal justice reform, law enforcement, and many more!
Key Skills and Abilities
- Ability to craft a persuasive argument
- Attention to detail
- Logical reasoning
- Creative problem-solving
- Writing and interpersonal communication skills
- Organization and planning
- Commitment to justice and the legal system
- Law Firms
- Nonprofit Organizations
- State and Local Government Agencies
- Federal Government Agencies
- Private Business
When considering a career in law, it’s important to remember that the versions of law careers we see on television aren’t always accurate, and there’s a lot more to working as a lawyer than standing in front of a judge and making an awe-inspiring argument. Law requires extensive writing skills, exacting attention to detail, and the ability to memorize and recall a huge amount of information. There may be a public speaking or presentation element in certain roles, but not always! This is why some of the best candidates for law careers are those who never imagined themselves in the role, and came to the field in another way.
On the other hand, there are also several legal career options that don’t require law school. Whether you’ve had a lifelong interest in law or are just curious about certain aspects of the legal field, the Legal Studies major and Criminal Justice Certificate are fantastic opportunities to explore many aspects of related careers, including community advocacy, criminal justice reform, law enforcement, and many more!
Short Term Exploration
Internships are a great way to gain legal experience while you’re a student. Depending on your interests, you can intern in a legal office or in other law-adjacent fields like policy, business, or government. Though working in a law office can be a great way to see what a certain type of law is really like, these opportunities can be hard to find because many opportunities are reserved for students in law school. Most undergraduates who work in law offices find these opportunities through networking, and may start with job shadowing or informational interviews before moving into a formal internship. If you aren’t able to find an internship in a law office, or if it’s just not something you’re interested in doing, that’s totally fine! Internship experience with a nonprofit, business, government agency, or other organization that overlaps with the type of law you’re interested in is just as valuable! When looking for internships, focus on the skills you want to develop and the type of experience that would give you a unique insight in the long-term.
SuccessWorks Social Justice Internships are another great option, and have a variety of legal-relevant, local internship opportunities for UW-Madison students.
Gap years are an extremely popular way for recent graduates to gain experience before law school. Taking this time not only makes you a stronger candidate for law school, but allows you to bring a more knowledgeable perspective to your studies and makes you more employable after you graduate. Whether you decide to pursue law school or a graduate degree in another related area, a gap year can be a great experience. Programs like Americorps are a popular option to gain experience working with diverse communities in education or nonprofit organizations, but almost any type of work can help you build transferable skills and knowledge.
Whether you’ve known about your interest in law for years or are still trying to figure out whether or not it’s the right choice for you, your best resource is the Center for Pre-Law Advising (CPLA). CPLA works with students of every major (as well as alumni) throughout the entire decision-making process, from figuring out what type of law interests you to LSAT preparation and law school applications. Their fantastic advisors and legal fellows can help you walk through your options, and figure out what steps to take now and in the future to get where you want to go!
Many students pursue paralegal or legal assistant work as a gap year opportunity, but it can be a fantastic career option as well for those who enjoy working in the legal field and have strong writing and research skills. There are additional certifications and training programs available for paralegals, but they often aren’t necessary to enter the field. Check out local and national professional organizations like MAPA, NFPA, or NALA for job and networking opportunities, as well as professional development resources.
Another area of the legal field to consider is law enforcement. Opportunities are available at the city, county, and state levels, and can encompass a variety of different specialties including cybersecurity and information technology, drug trafficking, environmental law enforcement and many more. If you’re unsure whether or not you want to pursue a law enforcement career, many agencies offer the opportunity to participate in ride-alongs or internships to help you get a taste of the work. In addition to careers with the police departments and sheriff offices in your community, many law enforcement opportunities exist with federal agencies like the FBI and military. To learn more about federal law enforcement careers, visit the Federal Government page.