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Law and Paralegal Overview


  The legal profession is very diverse, and includes lawyers, judges, consultants, paralegals, academics and positions in government. This profile will concentrate on the field of law and specifically on paralegal and other positions for students with an undergraduate degree.

  In preparing for admission to Law School, students should utilize the Office of Pre-Professional Advising.

Who They Serve:

  The legal system affects every aspect of our society, from justice to business to the ideas that shape our popular culture. Law is the means of application of the laws which govern our society. Because all are bound by these laws, all are in some way served or affected by the work of legal professionals.

  The prime actors within the system are the practitioners of law, lawyers, who act as both advocates and advisors within society.1 As advocates, attorneys represent the parties in criminal and civil trials by presenting evidence and arguments on their behalf; as advisors, lawyers counsel clients about their legal rights and obligations and suggest actions which best satisfy both the law and the client. Clients include individuals, groups of individuals, businesses, non-profit organizations and governments.

  Whether acting as advocates or advisors, all attorneys research the intent of the law and judicial decisions, and then apply the law to the specific circumstances faced by their clients. Because of the amount of research and strategic thinking required, as well as the amount of education and certification required to become a lawyer, many support positions are available for recent graduates with undergraduate degrees.

What They Do:

  Paralegals, or legal assistants, perform legal research and preparation for closings, hearings, trials and corporate meetings, but are explicitly prohibited from carrying out duties considered to be the practice of law, such as setting legal fees, giving legal advice, and presenting cases in court. Paralegal positions are excellent preparation for law school and a first-hand introduction to legal work for recent graduates as yet undecided whether to pursue a career in law.

  While lawyers assume the ultimate responsibility for legal work, they often delegate much of their preparatory work to paralegals. Paralegals perform research and conduct investigations, identify appropriate laws and legal decisions, analyze and organize information, and then prepare summary reports which help the attorney determine how to handle the case at hand. They might also help draft contracts, mortgages, separation agreements and maintain financial records.

  Law clerks perform similar duties, but are highly competitive, one-to-two year appointees of recent law school graduates to a judge on the federal, state or local level. By assisting judges in researching issues and writing opinions, clerks can be influential in the formation of case law. Working as a clerk to a prominent judge after graduation rather than immediately pursuing practice opens up career opportunities in both private practice and government.



Law and Paralegal Specialties


  Legal assistants work in all areas of law practice, including private practice (civil, criminal and intellectual property law), public interest (positions funded by legal services, corporations and non-profit advocacy or cause-related organizations), government (positions in all level of government, including public defenders and prosecutors) and business and industry (positions in accounting firms, with insurance companies, banking and finance institutions, consulting firms, political campaigns, trade associations and labor unions).

More specifically, areas of legal expertise include:

  • Business law – involves how businesses are managed and controlled, including rules, statues, codes and regulations that are enforceable by action. Specialized areas of business law include:
    • antitrust law (preventing the development of business monopolies)
    • banking law (the financial transactions of companies, including bankruptcy buyouts)
    • bankruptcy/reorganization law (the obligations and rights of creditors and debtors through liquidation and sale of assets or restructuring of debts)
    • contract law (the legal implications of contracts, including those within businesses, governments, and entertainment and sports)
    • corporate law (legal issues for businesses, including start-ups, joint ventures, mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures).
  • Criminal Law – the representation of clients who are being prosecuted by the state and/or federal government for an act classified as a crime.
  • Environmental Law – addresses the system of rules that regulates protection and use of the environment in order to protect species and natural areas from endangerment.
  • Family Law/Domestic Relations – family-related issues tried within the family court system, including marriage, divorce, adoption, property settlements, spousal abuse and issues involving the elderly.
  • Health & Medical Law – issues related to the healthcare and health of human beings, including malpractice, public policy, doctors, insurance companies and HMOS, hospitals and medical ethics.
  • International Law – legal issues involving the interaction of nations and international companies and organizations, including territorial disputes, human rights, sovereign immunity, environmental protection, immigration, regulatory reform and trade.
  • Labor Law – legal relations between employers and employees, primarily including union and management issues, arbitrators and mediators.
  • Property Law – encompasses real estate law, which involves residential, commercial and industrial investments; personal property law, which is wills, trusts and estate planning; and intellectual property law, which involves intangibles such as copyrights, trademarks and patents.
  • Tax Law – tax planning for businesses and tax-exempt, non-profit organizations, tax litigation, employee benefits, personal estate planning and individual tax planning.
  • Tort Law – the litigation of non-criminal, civil injuries that result in damage, such as negligence, personal injury, insurance defense and wrongful death.
  • Internet Law – legal issues involving the internet, including privacy, intellectual property, freedom of speech, safety issues regarding on-line predators and scams, and e-commerce.
  • Entertainment and Sports Law – similar to contract law, the representation of clients working in sports, music, theatre, visual arts and all areas of show business in the creation and negotiation of contracts, recording agreements and other legally binding documents.

  Because of the evolution of the media, internet and intellectual property law are rapidly evolving fields of law in growing demand. Internet law encompasses intellectual property, which is divided into two categories of work: industrial property and copyright.

  Industrial property law includes inventions (patents), trademarks and designs, and copyright law includes literary and artistic works such as novels, poems, plays, films, musical works, artistic works such as drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures and architectural designs. Because creative work is often duplicated on the internet, rights relate to copyright include those of performing artists within performances, producers, and radio and television broadcasters. The recent strike of the Writers' Guild of America in 2007 and 2008 is a reflection of the growing demand for skilled intellectual property and internet lawyers.



Law and Paralegal Breaking In


  Law is a highly competitive and lucrative field. Students interested in immediate entrance to law school following graduation should contact the Office of Pre-Professional Advising. Recent graduates seeking experience in the legal field or within a specific area of law can typically find entry-level positions as paralegals.

What Employers Want:

  Paralegals should possess excellent research, critical thinking, organization and communications skills.24 Majors in Political Science, International Studies, History, English and Writing Seminars provide these skills, as would a Business minor. Those interested in particular areas of law should pursue studies in those fields – for example, experience or familiarity with nursing and health administration would be valuable for a personal injury law practice, and familiarity with earth sciences would be helpful in an environmental law practice.

  Most firms are willing to provide on-the-job training to excellent candidates with bachelor's degrees; this is how most Hopkins students will find positions as paralegals. Associate Degrees and certification programs are also available through community colleges. Students with no legal experience should consider undergraduate internships within the legal system.

What They Hire Undergraduates to Do:

  Entry-level positions for recent graduates are available as paralegals/legal assistants or sometimes as legal secretaries. Those with no legal experience can expect intense on-the-job training and routine administrative support assignments, particularly while inexperienced. More responsibility accompanies more experiences, so legal assistants at large law firms with tight deadlines can expect long hours under intense pressure – but with that, the assurance that they are an integral member of the legal team.



Law and Paralegal Alumni


Craig Freeman- Associate Professor, Louisiana State University English, Class of 1992, J.D.

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Career opportunity. It was not my intent when I attended Hopkins.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I started working for some local papers, moved to television, noticed the need for a better understanding of the law, went to law school, practiced, got an opportunity to teach
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - Staff writer for the Mt. Airy Times. It was in my current field, but that field has taken a circuitous route.
  4. What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - Take classes in a variety of majors. Don't be afraid to experiment.
  5. What is your typical day like? - Teach class, research and write about the law.
  6. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: Watching students grow intellectually. Challenging: Pay
  7. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Lecturers start at the assistant professor level. Students need to have a fair amount of publishable work before they start their first job.
  8. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - The graybeards will retire and there will be a real need to fill vacancies
  9. What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - You need a strong professional background in my area. It helped to have solid work experience.
  10. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Hopefully, they will be close to tenure in five years and tenured with a full research agenda in ten years.
  11. Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - It depends on their field.

Kali Murray- Assistant Professor, Marquette University Law School History, Class of 1996, Master's Degree, History

  1. Describe what you do and how you got started in your current career. - I am currently an assistant professor at the Marquette University Law School. I currently teach Patent, Property, and Intellectual Property Law. I got started in my career at the University Mississippi School of Law three years ago. I worked for four years for a law firm (Venable, LLP) and clerked for a federal judge.
  2. What is most rewarding about your job and/ or industry? What is most challenging? - I love working with students to create an active learning community that reflects what I learned in practice. The most challenging is to research on a consistent basis.
  3. Is your career the same or different from what you had envisioned your career would be when you started at Hopkins as an undergraduate? How is it similar and/or different? - Oddly, I did picture myself as a professor at Hopkins--except I did so in history. My master's degree cured me of wanting to be a history professor. I got my master's early (at 21) and that process showed me that I did not have the discipline to write in the sustained manner. I decided to go to law school instead, which proved to be the right choice. Once in practice, I realized that being a mentor was the part of the job I enjoyed and then teaching seemed to be the logical choice. Moreover, by the time I finished law school and practiced for a couple of years, I had enough discipline to write consistently.

Gregory W. Fortsch- Attorney, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP History, Class of 1991 J.D., 1994, Seton Hall University

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Through a family friend who was an attorney. Yes, it was my original goal when I started at Johns Hopkins.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I was interested in public service and working in Washington, DC. Thus I followed an interesting career in both the federal government and private practice of law with a focus on federal government agency interaction.
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - I went to law school right after college. My first job after law school - clerked for a judge.
  4. What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - Public service is a very noble cause. I encourage all students to devote a portion of their careers to public service - it provides excellent hands-on experience and allows an individual to give back to a country that has provided so much for us.
  5. What is your typical day like? - I don't have a typical day - I frequently handle a number of matters for clients involving advice on how to proceed with certain business objections they have or to help them with problems they have encountered (e.g., litigation filed against them).
  6. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: The ability to help others or, with respect to my government service, to help the American people. Challenging: The inability to "unplug" from work demands at the end of the day.
  7. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - For a lawyer, an ideal and typical entry-level position is a clerkship with a state or federal judge. In the second year of law school, a student should start figuring out what kind of clerkship she wants (trial, appellate) and begin the process of applying.
  8. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Away from billable hours in private practice and toward flat fees for services - billable hour rates are too high for many clients.
  9. What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Excellent writing and communication skills.
  10. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Two years - comfortable in an attorney position; knowledgeable about basic skills needed and comfortable with subject matter; five years - mid-level associate or government attorney with some supervisory skills; ten years - partner in law firm or senior attorney/deputy in government.

Karen Shaw-Lorenzo-General Counsel, Tribeca Enterprises LLC, International Studies, Class of 1992, J.C., 1995

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - My original plan was to pursue a 5 year BA/MA at SAIS, but I decided sophomore year that a career in the foreign service was not for me. Law school was a natural fallback
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - In retrospect, a few decisions were pivotal to my ending up the General Counsel of an entertainment company--the common thread between them is that in each case, I followed my own instinct/interests rather than the safer course: (1) I chose to attend NYU Law School over other schools, even though the other schools had offered me full or partial scholarships (the other schools were well-reputed, but they did not match the caliber of students and diversity of media law courses as NYU). (2) While other law school students took summer associate positions at BIG, top-tier law firms, I spent my 2nd summer as an associate in a SMALL summer program at a respected NYC entertainment law boutique (the perks and paycheck weren't as good, but I got more hands-on experiences) (3) Early on in my career (after practicing for < 1 year), I made the switch from litigation to transactional law and from practicing in NY to practicing in CA; even though the lateral move meant I had to take a 2nd bar exam and also resulted in losing a year of seniority, it lead me to a practice I (still) love
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - I went straight to law school; I still practice law
  4. What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - Try courses outside your comfort zone; figure out what study habits work best for you and stick with them even when everyone else is telling you to try something else (that is, some people learn more by listening at lectures, others--like me---need to actually read the course materials)
  5. What is your typical day like? - It is rare that I have a dedicated day (or even a block of hours) to concentrate on one project---each day is a constant juggle of calls, deal analysis, drafts, office meetings, long-term strategy planning and management/admin work. Since my company is so diverse, I also probably research a new (to me!) area of law every couple of weeks.
  6. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: The type of practice I have feels very productive, and also collaborative since I work with the business team so closely Challenging: TIME ---especially balancing work with family/friend time
  7. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Positions: legal intern, paralegal, associate. I don't believe universal tips work --everybody has their own special strengths/weaknesses they bring to the equation. Maybe the tip is just to try to recognize what those are and highlight the strengths/work on the weaknesses
  8. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - No change, same benefits but same obstacles too
  9. What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Transactional lawyers need to be able to draft/communicate--that is, to tell the story of the deal as they want it to appear, both on paper and to the business teams on each side. Actual research abilities are less important (but are essential for litigators)
  10. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Assuming entry level means 1st year after law school, a 2nd year attorney in NYC at a big law firm makes $200,000+/year. After that, career progression as well as pay is usually lock-step: colleagues the same "year" make the same salary, up until partnership (which in NYC, generally occurs around your 10th-12th year). An alternative path, like the one I took, is to go "in-house"--that is, work in the legal department of a company or government agency rather than a law firm. In that case, the pay is less but there are in my opinion more than enough other "pros".
  11. Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - The entertainment law sections of the American Bar Association and their respective state and city bar associations; the American Corporate Counsel Association
  12. What related occupations and industries would you would recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Journalism, business development, product/project management

Linda S. Mirsky- Brenneman, International Studies and Spanish, Class of 1990, J.D.

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Love travel, foreign languages.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - Went to law school right after college, earned my law degree, clerked for a judge and then went into private practice. Ultimately became partner in my firm
  3. What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - College is time for exploring lots of areas of study, find what interests you, be passionate about the area that ultimately focus on, you'll hopefully be in it for a long time so make sure you really enjoy it. Take advantage of all the clubs, activities that JHU has to offer, don't get pigeon holed in one thing, for example if you are in a sorority or fraternity, sometime go beyond that group and see what else is going on campus or get to know others who are not in your sorority/fraternity.
  4. What is your typical day like? - BUSY - long days, typically 12-14 hours. Providing clients legal counseling in all aspects of environmental law, whether it be litigation, contractual or regulatory.
  5. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: Helping people, solving problems. Challenging: Dealing with adversaries, demanding clients, long hours.
  6. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Associate - do well in law school, take advantage of internships or externships to gain experience
  7. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Many new areas of environmental law - energy for one will grow.
  8. What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Good analytical skill, good writing skills, interest in helping people, ability to deal with difficult people.
  9. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Still an associate. I think the average partnership track is 8 to 10 years.
  10. Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - ABA, State Bar Association; But these are geared toward practicing attorneys.
  11. What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - The great thing about a law degree is that you can do almost anything with it.

Patricia McGowan- Partner, Venable LLP, Writing Seminars, Class of 1992 J.D., 1995

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Law was not my original goal, but once I settled on writing seminars as a major, I needed some way to apply my degree and earn a living.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I went straight to law school, worked in a small firm doing a little bit of everything, increasingly focusing on transactional work and then lateraled into a large firm with a strong corporate practice, which has been my practice focus for the past 10+ years.
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - Other than part-time or summer jobs, yes, my first full-time job was as a lawyer.
  4. What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - It is not necessary to know your career path while still in college - be open to possibilities and trying things outside of your comfort zone or what you think is your certain career. Life takes interesting twists.
  5. What is your typical day like? - I check my e-mail before heading into the office, arriving around 9am. I respond to multiple e-mails (averaging about 50 substantive e-mails a day) and telephone calls (probably between 5 and 10 a day) throughout the day, while reviewing and providing comments on, or drafting, a variety of transactional documents (securities offerings, merger agreements, loan documents, board resolutions and so on) - there is a lot of reading. I typically work on 10-15 different client matters a day. I conference with colleagues inside and outside of the firm. Typically, I grab lunch with one or more colleagues, sometimes eating at my desk and generally work until 7/8/9 o'clock, depending on the day. There are, of course, internal meetings, administrative and other non-client matters to address, as well.
  6. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: I get to work with a lot of very smart people that I also like, and the work is varied and interesting (mostly). Challenging: The lack of control over my schedule - it is a 24/7 world and you need to live life around your work to a certain extent.
  7. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - As a summer associate (a law school student hired for the summer) or as a junior associate.
  8. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - It will continue to grow and everything will move at an even faster pace.
  9. What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - You need a law degree, but most training/experience/skills are gained after hiring.
  10. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - It varies, depending on whether you stay on a law firm partnership track, choose to stay in a law firm on a more flexible, possibly non-partnership, schedule, or leave to go in-house or to the government.
  11. 11 What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Anything they have an interest in - it can often be applied in one way or another. There are a lot of different groups that are involved in every transaction that I see - from business people running the company to investment bankers, financial printers to public relations.

Additional Alumni Profiles

    Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.

    If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.

    LinkedIn.com - a professional networking site where you can identify Hopkins alumni. Join the LinkedIn Johns Hopkins University Alumni Group to add over 4000+ alumni to your network.

 

Law and Paralegal Resources


Resources:

Industry /Professional Organizations:

Industry Websites:

Networking:

  Networking with professionals who work in this field can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family can be very helpful. You may also explore career opportunities by talking with employers at career fairs, and company presentations.

  Internships - research positions and summer employment are highly effective ways for you to try out a field, gain experience and skills and make professional contacts.



Law and Paralegal Related


  If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.