Legal procedures demand a diverse range of professions and characters. There’s a lot more to courtrooms than just lawyers, juries, and judges – and the options for courthouse work might just surprise you. In this article, we’re going to look at eight types of legal careers in the courtroom, examine the kind of salaries on offer, and outline the duties required within each role.
Finding a Career in the Courtroom: No Degree? No problem
Many Americans believe there are high barriers to working within the US legal system. Yet, the truth is, to have a career in the courthouse, you don’t necessarily even need a bachelor’s degree. While some of eight types of legal careers in the courtroom require detailed knowledge of state or federal law, not all do – and there are administrative duties on offer. Without individuals working as court reporters, court clerks, and court interpreters, justice would grind to a halt.
Work as a Judge
Careers in the courthouse don’t come any more high-profile than the individual who sits behind the bench wearing black robes. Most of us instantly picture a judge when we think about the courtroom, and the rule of law couldn’t function without one.
A judge, by design, is meant to conduct hearings and make rulings based on pretrial businesses. Also, judges determine how cases will get tried, subject to relevant legal rules and procedures.
In a criminal trial, judges decide on the guilt or innocence of a defendant, particularly if they have opted not to have a jury present during the proceedings. When a jury is used, judges instruct the members on the law and how to proceed with determining innocence.
- US District Court Judges got paid $216,400 in 2020, according to the Federal Judicial Center
- There are 94 judicial districts throughout the United States
- As of 2009, US Congress had authorized some 650 district court judges
Becoming a judge is no easy task. An individual must first complete their bachelor’s degree, followed by attending and completing law school. After law school, the individual will need to pass the bar exam. From there, an individual has a few paths to becoming a judge but, more often than not, they will want to practice law and earn a judgeship before they can expect to get fully credentialed.
Work as an Attorney
Another prominent option on our list of eight types of legal careers in the courtroom is becoming an attorney. An attorney’s role is to either prosecute or defend, depending on which side of the courtroom they are working on. When defending a client, defense attorneys must be well-versed in both the law and the specifics of the case. They will be tasked with defending their client, and they do that by looking to convince the jury of their client’s innocence.
- The average salary earned by lawyers during 2020 in the US was $167,059
- According to Statista, 1.33 million attorneys were operating in the US in 2020
- Up until the mid-eighteenth century, alleged criminals didn’t have access to a lawyer and had to conduct their own defense
Similar to becoming a judge, the path to becoming a lawyer requires completion of a bachelor’s degree and law school. Once completed, the individual will need to pass the bar exam and begin practicing law in their specific jurisdiction.
Work as a Courtroom Interpreter
A less known career in the courtroom is the role of the interpreter. Language barriers can present a barrier to fair trials and legal proceedings in today’s increasingly multicultural societies. A courtroom’s position within the justice system means it hears a variety of different cases that feature a diverse selection of actors and players. Often, individuals don’t speak the local dialect at all, and many times, English isn’t their first language. When that happens, the court assigns a dedicated interpreter. Court interpreters get tasked with translating the statements and proceedings to the best of their ability.
- The average salary for a courtroom interpreter in the US is $72,694
- There are three types of courtroom interpreter – certified, professionally qualified, and language skilled
- You can work as a courtroom interpreter with a high school diploma
Working as a Courtroom Bailiff
Bailiff is a popular choice on our list of eight types of legal careers in the courtroom, the bailiff is the manager, overseer, and court custodian. A bailiff is meant to keep order and rule in the courtroom and ensure that disruptions and chaos are kept at bay. In addition, the bailiff is responsible for handling prisoners, and for their transference.
- A bailiff holds the same powers of arrest and restraint as police officers
- The average salary for a US courtroom bailiff in 2020 was $36,777
- You can work as a courtroom bailiff if you’re at least 21 years old and a US citizen or legal resident. Some states only require a high school diploma
Becoming a bailiff can be an attractive career choice. You will need to pass a background check. In addition to that, it can be useful to have specialized skills, including firearms and self-defense capabilities, threat neutralization training, along with first aid and CPR qualifications.
Careers at the Courthouse: Judge’s Associate
A lesser-known job option among the eight types of legal careers in the courtroom is becoming a judge’s associate. People who perform this role are essentially a judge’s right-hand person. They are tasked with assisting the judge with their legal duties, drafting documents, and ensuring that the flow of the proceedings is on track and accurate.
Work as a Courtroom Paralegal
With the level of work and documents needed before and during a trial, many attorneys will enlist the help and assistance of a paralegal. A paralegal is an individual who is employed by an attorney – both in and out of the courthouse – to assist with the legal work which comes across their desk.
- In the United States, paralegals earn an average salary of $67,475
- Paralegals carry out substantive legal work that would otherwise be done by attorneys. Clerical work is not considered to be substantive legal work.
Paralegals play an integral part in the courtroom and other legal processes. Some paralegals attend specialized education programs, which help prepare trainees for the tasks needed to complete the duties of the role. Others receive on the job training or learn via actual work experience. Paralegals are not licensed like attorneys are.
Courtroom Careers Options: Working as a Court Clerk
The fast pace of a courtroom means judicial officers need someone to assist with carrying out the duties of the court – and that role falls to the court clerk. Court clerks are intended to ensure that the proceedings flow seamlessly and without interruption. They prepare and issue orders, attend to case dockets, and make sure they are sent and received correctly. Court clerks also examine legal files that have been submitted to the court. They’ll search for files and contact witnesses, attorneys, or litigants to obtain additional information when the judge requests that.
- The average salary earned by a court clerk in the US during 2020 was $40,925
- The clerk of courts role dates back to medieval Europe, where they were tasked with keeping records for trials. Following the ratification of the American Constitution, the US followed suit
There are no strict educational requirements for becoming a court clerk beyond holding a high school diploma. You will need to have many soft and hard skills to qualify, including a sound knowledge of data entry, legal documentation, scheduling, and case management. If you have computer skills, remember to add them to your resume because that could go in your favor.
Working in the Courtroom: Become a Court Reporter
Last but certainly not least on our list of eight types of careers in the courtroom is the court reporter. Court reporters document and transcribe the words spoken by all individuals within the courtroom during a hearing or trial. They ensure that all comments are correctly and accurately recorded, so they need a high proficiency level at typing.
- The average salary for a court reporter during 2020 was $58,494
- You can qualify to work as a courtroom reporter with a postsecondary certificate gained via a community college or technical institute
A court reporter or court stenographer was formerly referred to as a stenotype operator, shorthand reporter, or law reporter. They’re the person whose occupation is to capture live testimony during proceedings. Court reporters use a stenographic machine to almost instantly transform spoken words into shorthand text before creating an official certified transcript.
Conclusion: Balancing the Scales of Justice and Weighing up Your Ideal Courtroom Job
So, we’ve learned it takes eight types of legal careers in the courtroom to ensure the wheels of justice turn. Perhaps surprisingly, there are many accessible opportunities to work inside a courthouse. In fact, you don’t even need a degree to work in the US justice system. While being a judge or attorney does require you attend law school, for many other careers in the courthouse, you can put a resume together and apply straight out of high school.
Working in a courtroom can be demanding and stressful, but the rewards can be just as significant – and many people regard the courtroom as a career rather than just a job. Our city and state courthouses provide the instruments where justice gets served. They protect everyone in society and ensure fairness. Working in a courtroom means being a part of all that, and we all owe thanks to those who dedicate their careers to courthouse work.