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Law-Related Career Center




Judges apply the law and oversee legal proceedings in court. All judges have a duty to ensure that trials and hearings are conducted fairly and that lawyers follow legal rules and procedures. Judges determine the admissibility of evidence in trial and settle disputes between parties in trials and hearings.

In trials with juries, judges instruct juries on the law. Trial judges decide when it is appropriate that parties may waive trial-by-jury and instead have a trial conducted by the judge.

If either party disagrees with a judge’s decisions, it can appeal. Appellate judges hear the appeals. Appellate judges do not conduct trials or hear evidence. Instead they look at the trial record and determine whether the trial judge made a mistake based of law.

Federal and state judges are generally required to graduate from law school and pass the written bar examination (same requirements as a lawyer). A few state or local judges and magistrates are not required to be lawyers but hold limited jurisdiction, e.g., in traffic court.

In May 2010, the national median annual pay of judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates was $119,270, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The starting salaries may be much lower than that. The salaries of judges and magistrates also may vary from county to county.

Law Clerk

The duties of a law clerk vary according to the place and employer (i.e., law firm, trial judge, appellate judge, etc.). In general, law clerks assist lawyers or judges by researching legal issues, organizing case files, and drafting legal documents. The work is often complex and requires a high degree of skill in writing, researching, and analyzing issues.

Law clerks for attorneys are often law students but may have already graduated. Many law school graduates work as clerks while they wait for the results of their bar exams.

Judicial law clerks are recent law school graduates who complete one to two years of a clerkship. At the trial court level, law clerks research issues, review lawyers’ briefs (analyses of cases), and generally assist the judge. At the appellate court level, law clerks research legal issues and draft legal memoranda (formal notes) that may even become the basis of judicial opinions. They might even have the task of researching in order to teach the judge about specific areas of the law.

Some judges will employ experienced law clerks to permanently remain on the judge’s staff. Since judicial clerkships are academic in nature, judges usually look at a person’s law-school ranking, grades, and academic involvement in school. Most judges prefer people who have been involved in law review (a law school’s academic publication) or moot court (a competitive simulation activity).

In May 2010, the median annual pay for judicial law clerks was $39,780, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Court Reporter

Court reporters, or stenographers, record the dialogue that occurs in legal proceedings, meetings, and other events. They are responsible for providing a complete and accurate legal transcript of what judges, lawyers, and witnesses say.

The most common tool a court reporter uses is the stenotype machine. The stenotype has a small keyboard that allows court reporters to press multiple keys at once to record letters representing sounds, words, or phrases. These symbols are then translated and displayed as actual text by using computer-aided transcription. A stenocaptioner transcribes dialogue with a stenotype machine in real-time for broadcasts or for hearing-impaired viewers.

It takes about three years to become a real-time stenographer. Vocational and technical schools offer training. The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) has certified more than 60 programs. NCRA-certified programs require students to capture a minimum of 225 words per minute, which is also a requirement for employment in the federal government.

In May 2010, the national median annual wage of court reporters was $47,700, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Court Clerk

Court clerks may file legal documents, collect fees, update and maintain court records, deliver messages, provide official copies of documents to lawyers and parties in legal matters, and perform other clerical duties. They may work for a county, state, or federal court.

Employers usually require a high school diploma or equivalent to become a court clerk. Some employers may require basic computer skills and previous office experience.

The national estimate for the median annual pay of court, municipal, and license clerks was $34,300 in May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Court Interpreter

Court interpreters translate information from one language to another. Typically they are present at all stages of the legal process both inside and outside the courtroom. Court interpreters may be appointed by the court when one or more parties in the legal action have limited English proficiency. Court interpreters must remain neutral and not be an advocate for one side or another. Their role is to translate information, not change the tone or embellish statements. Court interpreters must have proficiency in speaking and understanding English as well as the language they are interpreting. They also need to have knowledge of formal and informal language, legal terms, and slang. They must also have excellent memories, strong mental dexterity, and good analytical skills.

There are many ways to become a court interpreter. A bachelor’s degree is almost always required. Many junior colleges and technical schools, however, offer certified training programs. There are no universal certification requirements, but most employers require candidates to demonstrate proficiency and pass a criminal background check. The American Translators Association provides certification in more than 30 languages.

The national estimate for the median annual pay of interpreters was $43,300 in May 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Victim Advocate

heart_griefVictim advocates often work within the district attorney’s office or non-profit organizations. Their clients are frequently victims of rape, stalking, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Their job is to assist victims by explaining the workings of the legal system, available resources, and procedures. They help victims cope with physical, psychological, and emotional trauma. They frequently attend court with victims. Some of their duties are also administrative, including keeping statistics and training new advocates. They work in various environments, such as offices, hospitals, jails, shelters, and community centers.

Victim advocates often have a bachelor’s degree in social work, criminal justice, or psychology. They also typically complete a certificate program. Communication skills, particularly in serious circumstances, are critical. Other personal skills, such as, compassion and empathy are also important. Experience in the field is often required. estimates the average annual salary for victim advocates at $50,000, which may vary according to location, type of employer (government or non-profit), and experience. In May 2010, the median annual pay for a social worker was $42,480, whereas the median annual pay for counselors, social workers, and other community and social service specialists was $39,250, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Witness Coordinator

Witness coordinators provide various forms of support for witnesses, victims, and their family members. They help with legal, medical, financial, and emotional needs. They also work closely with prosecutors and defense lawyers, frequently helping prepare witnesses for trial and making sure witnesses appear to testify.

A high school diploma is a minimum requirement to be a witness coordinator. Many offices require a bachelor’s degree, but it is not always mandatory. Government agencies often seek people with educational training in criminal justice or a behavioral science and work experience in crisis counseling and management. The more complex and serious the cases, the more training and experience is expected. estimates that as of 2010, entry and mid-level witness coordinators earned up to $42,000 per year. Experienced coordinators earned up to $48,000. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office paid starting coordinators between $28,000 and $34,000 per year and required completion of 60 college units. 

Photo: Mark Ide