Careers in the Law


This page describes some legal careers. The information is based on the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook. This book is an excellent resource for locating basic information on all types of careers. Updated annually, the Occupational Outlook Handbook contains information for each major profession on the nature of the work, working conditions, qualifications and training, job outlook, earnings, and related occupations, as well as additional sources of information. The Occupational Outlook Handbook is usually available in school and public libraries or on the Web.

Salaries for some legal careers are listed with the job descriptions. These are average starting salaries. Salaries for all legal careers can differ widely depending on the geographic location, the type of business, and the experience and education of the candidate. Just click on any of the careers listed below for salaries and other information.

Attorney  
   
Corrections Officer  
   
Court Reporter  
   
Forensic Scientist  
   
Judge  
   
Legal Assistant (Paralegal)  
   
Legal Secretary  
   
Local Law Enforcement Officer
  • Police Officer
  • Deputy Sheriff
  •  
     
    Private Detective/Investigator
     
    Private Security Guard
     
    Probation or Parole Officer
     
    State Law Enforcement Officer
  • Highway Patrol Officer
  •  
    U.S. Government Law Enforcement Officer
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) Agent
  • Drug Enforcement (DEA) Agent
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Agent
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Agent
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Agent
  • Secret Service Agent
  • Deputy U.S. Marshall
  •  
     
     
     
     

    Attorney ($34,000 - 50,000)

    Job Description
    Attorneys, or lawyers, who practice law, do two major things. First, they advise individuals and organizations about ways of preventing legal problems by informing them of their legal rights and responsibilities. Second, lawyers provide counsel if their clients do get into legal difficulty. In providing these services, attorneys do legal research, prepare documents, write briefs, interview parties and witnesses to legal problems, and advocate their clients' cases both in and out of court. (However, while many people think of lawyers in terms of trials, few licensed attorneys are trial lawyers.)

    Most lawyers are employed in private practice, although many work for government agencies and corporations. Some have general law practices, which involve matters such as writing wills and contracts. Others specialize in one or two legal areas, such as criminal law, labor law, property law, family law, contract law, environmental law, international law, or tax law. Still others work with legal services programs representing poor people. A small number of lawyers are judges, while some attorneys also use their legal knowledge to teach classes in law schools and colleges. In addition, a significant number of individuals in public life at the local, state, and federal levels are attorneys.

    Education
    To become a licensed attorney, one must attend four years of college and receive a bachelor's degree and then attend a three-year college of law approved by the American Bar Association. Years ago, some studied law by working with certified lawyers instead of attending law school. Today, this is extremely rare.

    Each attorney candidate must also pass all parts of the bar exam in the state in which he or she wishes to establish a practice. Finally, except in a few states where graduation from the state's law school qualifies one to practice law, an attorney candidate must also pass a national test, the multistate bar examination.

    College classes helpful in preparation for the practice of law include writing, speech, drama, foreign languages, logic, computers, philosophy, history, government, mathematics, business, word processing and accounting, as well as others.

    Special Skills
    The practice of law is an especially demanding profession. Among the essential skills a person must bring to the profession is an ability to work efficiently under pressure while relating in a positive manner to people. An attorney must be a good listener as well as a good communicator. Attorneys must be able to think and write precisely and logically and must be able to give clear, concise directions to clients and co-workers. They must also be able to meet strict deadlines and maintain the confidentiality of clients' communications and have a good knowledge of computers.

    Salary and Benefits
    The starting salary and benefits for an attorney differ widely depending on the location of the practice and the size and type of the law firm. Small town attorneys beginning their own practice may take in less than $25,000 (and in some cases lose money) and may have to pay for their own medical insurance, retirement, and business expenses. Most starting salaries are higher, however. In 1998, the average salary for beginning attorneys working in government averaged over $34,000 per year, while beginning attorneys engaged with private firms averaged about $47,000. These attorneys had virtually no overhead and had some benefits paid for by their employers. First-year attorneys for large corporate law firms in large urban areas may make as much as $85,000 and have medical benefits and retirement packages paid for completely by their firms. Partners in large law firms can make very substantial salaries.

    Working Conditions
    Lawyers do their work in offices, libraries, and courts of law. They may also visit businesses, government offices, prisons, and homes in the process of doing work for their clients.

    The pressures of developing a practice are great in this profession. There is a tremendous amount of paperwork. Documents must be finished in time to meet deadlines. Many lawyers work more than 40 hours a week. In fact, it is not unusual for attorneys to put in 50-, 60-, and even 70-hour weeks in order to complete their work.

    Outlook
    There are many lawyers-nearly one million- in the United States today. Attaining a position in a law firm is extremely competitive, and getting a job as an attorney in some areas of the country may be difficult. Nevertheless, projections from the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that there will be an increasing need for lawyers through the year 2005, so job opportunities in the field remain good.

    For More Information
    Information Services
    American Bar Association
    750 North Lake Shore Drive
    Chicago, IL 60611
    (312) 988-5000

    The ABA site has references for legal assistance, legal publications, legal service plans and, for students, a special site containing educational materials about the law.

    Association of American Law Schools
    1201 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 800
    Washington, D.C. 20036-2605
    (202) 296-8851
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    Corrections Officer ($21,000-26,300)

    Job Description
    Corrections officers, also known as prison guards, are responsible for maintaining the security of the prison or correctional facility where they work. These officers supervise prisoners as the prisoners work, eat, sleep, attend educational classes, or participate in recreation. They operate electronic security systems. Corrections officers are also responsible for the security of the prison when the prisoners receive visitors and when the prisoners travel to and from the correctional facility.

    Education
    The hiring requirements for corrections officers are not as extensive as for other careers in the legal field. All that is required in many areas is a high-school diploma or a GED. Once hired, corrections officers may participate in training programs that prepare them for their duties.

    Special Skills
    Corrections officers need strong observational skills to help detect changes in prisoners' behavior that might affect the security of the prison. It also helps to have good interpersonal skills in order to reduce tension among the many different personalities found in the prison population.

    Salary and Benefits
    Most corrections officers work for government agencies responsible for operating jails and prisons. However, some now work for private companies that have received contracts from the government to operate correctional facilities. Most government employers provide health and retirement benefits. According to a 1994 survey, starting pay at the state level averaged nearly $19,500 per year, while average earnings were about $23,000. Beginning pay for federal officers was slightly higher-about $20,000-and average pay was about $31,500.

    Working Conditions
    Correctional officers generally work 40-hour weeks, although they may be required to work off-hour shifts. They work both indoors and outdoors in correctional facilities, depending on the job requirements. The work of a corrections officer may be stressful and even dangerous because of problems in dealing with inmates.

    Outlook
    Approximately 310,000 people work as correctional officers in prisons across the country. With 10% to 20% of corrections officers leaving their jobs each year and the number of prisons and jails increasing, the outlook for employment of corrections officers through 2005 remains strong.

    For More Information
    The American Correctional Association
    4380 Forbes Boulevard
    Lanham, MD 20706-4322
    (800) 222-5646

    This Web site contains information regarding jobs in the corrections field and publications concerning issues facing corrections officers.

    American Jail Association
    2053 Day Road, Suite 100 (zip 21740)
    P.O. Box 2158
    Hagerstown, MD 21742
    (301) 790-3930


    This Web site contains information about the AJA, its publications, and hot links to the Corrections Connections Network, a detailed site with links to state, federal, and international correctional information sites.
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    Court Reporter ($24,000-30,000)

    Job Description
    A court reporter keeps the record of the court proceedings. This means that the reporter takes down every "official" word said in court. Court reporters often take down what is said at speeds of up to 200 words per minute.

    The trial court record is the basis of all appeals to appellate courts. Lawyers making appeals base their arguments on exactly what has been stated in the trial court. Appeals court justices write their opinions based on the transcripts of the trial courts as well as what has been argued on appeal. Thus, the accurate work of court reporters is vital to an effective judicial system.

    Court reporters also take down depositions, interrogatories, and other parts of pretrial proceedings. They are often called upon to take down what is said at public hearings as well. About 90% of the 60,000 court reporters in the U.S. use computers or computer aided transcription (CAT). This work electronically ties a stenotype machine to a computer, which turns the reporter's notes into readable print.

    Education
    To become a court reporter, one must attend court-reporting school or a similar program given by a community college or university. The duration of these programs varies from two to four years, depending on the type of degree or certificate offered.

    In a court-reporting program, students learn court-reporting language and develop skill in using the court-reporting machine, or stenotype. Classes in various types of law, English, keyboarding, computers, and medical terminology form the core of the curriculum.

    Special Skills
    Persons who wish to attend court-reporting school should have an excellent command of the English language, good hearing, general knowledge of computers and extremely strong typing and keyboarding skills. They must be good listeners since they must sit and concentrate for long periods of time.

    Salary and Benefits
    Court reporters can work for the courts, freelance for different businesses, or do both. Starting salaries for this position are generally between $20,000 and $25,000 per year. Most employers offer medical insurance and a retirement package. Because this position is vital and requires great skill, the amount of money a court reporter earns can increase sharply as he or she becomes more proficient. It is not unusual for court reporters to earn at least $50,000 annually after five years.

    Working Conditions
    Most court reporters who work for courts follow the schedule of the court. This means most work 40-hour weeks, unless deadlines require that court transcripts be ready at a certain time. In this case, the court reporter must work overtime to get the work done.

    Court reporters may work anywhere an official record is needed for a meeting or conference. They work in courts, law offices, businesses, or public buildings such as town halls and legislatures.

    Outlook
    With the rising number of civil and criminal cases, the outlook for employment for court reporters is good. Although technological breakthroughs, such as voice-activated transcription equipment, may eventually cut down on the need for court reporters, the job outlook through the year 2005 is still good. People with court reporting skills can also find work as medical/legal transcriptionists and in captioning.

    For More Information
    National Court Reporters Association
    8224 Old Courthouse Road
    Vienna, VA 22182-3808
    (800) 272-6272

    This site contains a detailed account of the responsibilities of court reporting including explanations about computer aided transcription (CAT), captioning careers, cyber-conferencing, scopists, rapid data entry transcription, medical and medical/legal transcriptionists.
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    Forensic Scientist ($22,000-35,000)

    Job Description
    Forensic scientists collect and analyze evidence found at crime scenes. Specifically, they analyze blood, saliva, semen, drugs, fingerprints, and firearms and perform reconstructions on skeletal bones. Forensic scientists also confer with law enforcement personnel and attorneys on evidence collection, preserve evidence, write reports, and testify in court. The scientific analysis of evidence often proves critical in determining the innocence or guilt of a person accused of a crime. Thus, forensic scientists play a vital role in the criminal justice process.

    Education
    Entry-level jobs in forensic science require a four-year degree in one of the following: biology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, genetics, or medical technology. Communication arts and law classes are considered helpful. Some crime labs also require laboratory experience.

    Special Skills
    A forensic scientist works with many different kinds of people, often under stressful circumstances. Thus, it is essential for a person in this field to have good "people" skills. Because forensic scientists must complete many reports and make court appearances, they must be capable writers and good speakers. Finally, forensic scientists must be able to manipulate tiny bits of evidence under a microscope that requires excellent hand-eye coordination.

    Salary and Benefits
    Forensic scientists generally work for state or federal crime laboratories. Because these positions are found primarily in government, some medical and retirement benefits are paid.
    At the state level, beginning forensic scientists are paid about $1,900 per month. Those who start with laboratory experience may receive as much as $3,000 per month. Depending on the state, experienced workers may eventually earn between $35,000 and $50,000 per year. Federal salaries are usually higher.

    Working Conditions
    As employees of the government, forensic scientists generally work 40-hour weeks. However, because of increasing caseloads and the need to meet deadlines, they may work extra hours.
    Forensic scientists work primarily in the crime lab. However, they also go to the scene of the crime to examine and secure evidence, and they testify in court.

    Outlook
    Good forensic scientists are always in demand. However, because of pressures to reduce government funding, beginning positions are usually limited, and competition for them is keen. The job outlook in this area is, at best, fair.

    For More Information
    American Academy of Forensic Sciences
    P.O. Box 669
    410 North 21st St., Suite 203
    Colorado Springs, CO 80901

    This site explains the main disciplines of forensic science, as well as listing a link to further reading on forensic science topics.
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    Judge ($46,000-83,000)

    Job Description
    Judges interpret laws to resolve disputes between conflicting parties. There are two basic types of judges: trial judges and appellate judges.

    Trial judges rule on pretrial motions, conduct pretrial hearings between parties to resolve points of conflict between the parties, and thereby make for more efficient trials. Trial judges rule on points of law. In bench trials, they are also called upon to render a verdict.

    Appellate judges review possible errors of law made by trial judges and write decisions, which then become part of common law, or judge-made law.

    In addition, some judges, called administrative judges or hearing officers, are employed by administrative agencies to make decisions about conflicts involving the rules and regulations of particular government agencies.

    Education
    Judges must have graduated from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association and must have passed the state's bar examination. This means that judges have had a minimum of seven years of education beyond high school. In addition, because most judges are appointed or elected to their positions, several years of establishing a reputation as a successful practitioner of law is considered essential.

    The competition is usually great for judicial positions. Depending on the type of position, a committee of the local, state, or national bar association is asked to review the record of lawyer applicants and then make a recommendation to a public official, who makes the appointment. In some areas, political parties select candidates for judgeships. These individuals campaign on a particular platform, and the voters elect them to office.

    (An exception to these requirements exists. The office of justice of the peace, which has some judicial responsibilities, need not be held by a lawyer in some states.)

    Special Skills
    Judges must be both very knowledgeable about the law and highly skilled in legal research. They must be excellent listeners and must have the ability to quickly analyze areas of dispute between opposing parties. Judges must have high ethical standards. They must also be able to write well and give precise instructions to all parties in the courtroom. Above all, they must be able to make sound decisions.

    Salary and Benefits
    The amount of money a judge makes depends on the type and location of the court where the judge presides. In 1994, federal trial court judges averaged over $133,000 a year, while federal appellate judges earned about $142,000. State trial court judges averaged about $91,000, with salaries ranging from $64,000 to $131,000. State appellate court salaries averaged over $94,000. Judges in state and federal systems have most of their medical and retirement benefits paid for by the court system.

    Working Conditions
    Judges work primarily in courtrooms, in law libraries, and in their chambers. Like the attorneys who practice in their courtrooms, judges often work much longer than 40 hours a week. In fact, because of the increasing amount of litigation, it is not unusual for judges to work 50 hours or more each week. The caseloads of trial judges in large urban areas have grown substantially over the last few decades. Consequently, the responsibilities are enormous, and the stress faced by judges in these areas is very great.

    Outlook
    Currently, there are about 80,000 judges in the United States. Although some judges have begun to take early retirement, tight public funding limits the number of positions available. Also, there is always a long list of candidates waiting to fill openings, so the compensation for positions will remain great.

    For More Information
    American Judges Association

    This Web site contains publications about issues concerning the judiciary.

    American Judges Foundation
    NCSC 300, Newport Avenue
    Williamsburg, VA 23187
    (800) 616-6165

    This Web site contains information about recent issues facing judges and a section dealing with domestic violence and the courtroom.

    Dean, National Judicial College
    Judicial College Building
    University of Nevada-Reno
    Reno, NV 89557
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    Legal Assistant (Paralegal) ($16,000-24,000)

    Job Description
    Legal assistants, or paralegals, work under the supervision of licensed attorneys. They provide support services by drafting documents, interviewing clients, reviewing and updating files, doing legal research, assisting in the writing of legal briefs, and preparing trial notebooks.

    Education
    Legal assistants have traditionally received their training "on the job," but many receive training today from specialized legal assistant programs at community colleges, business schools, and universities. These programs range from several months to four years in length and usually involve a combination of specific legal classes, related electives, and general college requirements.

    Although national certification is generally not a job requirement, the Certifying Board of Legal Assistants of the National Association of Legal Assistants has developed a two-day examination for those who are interested in receiving a certificate.

    Special Skills
    Legal assistants must prepare documents under the same time constraints as their supervising attorneys. Although they are closely supervised, legal assistants need to be able to write logically and precisely. Because they are often called on to interview clients, paralegals must also be excellent listeners and be able to relate to people from many different backgrounds. Knowledge of a foreign language can be useful. Legal assistants must be able to maintain a client's confidentiality. Proficiency in word processing, computers and "on-line" legal research is also important in providing the legal assistant with the ability to assist attorneys.

    Salary and Benefits
    Salary and benefits for paralegals range widely, depending on the type of law office, the location, and the job responsibilities. In smaller towns and in smaller firms, legal assistants may start at salaries ranging from $1,300 to $1,800 per month. However, most make somewhat more money. Those paralegals hired by the federal government average between $20,000 and $25,000 per year, depending on their experience and training. In addition, according to a survey by the National Association of Legal Assistants, legal assistants had an average salary of nearly $31,000 in 1994. Although the majority of employers contribute to medical and retirement benefits, the amount of the contribution differs among employers.

    Working Conditions
    Like attorneys, paralegals do most of their work at desks in offices or libraries. They may also be called on to interview clients at homes and businesses and to assist attorneys in the courtroom. They generally work 40-hour weeks but may be called on to put in extra hours to meet various deadlines.

    Outlook
    Statistics from the Occupational Outlook Handbook indicate that the career of legal assistant is among the fastest growing careers in the United States. Currently, there are over 111,000 legal assistants. Competition for positions is increasing. However, the job outlook for paralegals coming out of formal training programs seems excellent.

    For More Information
    Standing Committee on Legal Assistants
    American Bar Association
    750 North Lake Shore Drive
    Chicago, IL 60611
    (312) 988-5000

    This is part of the American Bar Association's Web site where one can find a brief explanation of issues facing legal assistants.

    National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc.
    1516 South Boston St., Suite 200
    Tulsa, OK 74119
    (918) 587-6828

    This Web site explains the functions of legal assistants, explains the national certification process and lists programs that are of interest to paralegals.

    American Association of Paralegals
    P.O. Box 33108
    Kansas City, MO 64114
    (816) 941-4000

    This Web site contains paralegal career information, qualifications for becoming a registered paralegal, and links to sites that deal with researching legal information and the availability of legal assistant jobs.
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    Legal Secretary ($16,000-22,500)
    Job Description
    Legal secretaries apply traditional secretarial skills to specialized legal work. Secretarial duties often differ from attorney to attorney. Generally, however, legal secretaries prepare legal documents for attorneys and their clients. They also set up appointments, maintain the court calendar, handle client billing, manage client and office files, do general word processing, handle receptionist and telephone duties, and make travel arrangements for their employers. Under the supervision of a managing partner, some legal secretaries handle bookkeeping, perform office management tasks such as payroll and billing, maintain checkbooks and office accounts, and manage other clerical personnel.

    Education
    Traditionally, secretaries were prepared for their work by taking a variety of typing/keyboarding, business, and law classes in high school. They were then given more specialized training by their attorney-employers. This path is still often taken by aspiring legal secretaries. However, the complexities of legal practices now demand that secretaries come to the job with skills in many other areas. Many legal secretaries attend one- or two-year programs at community colleges with an emphasis on office practices, shorthand, keyboarding, business machines, computer use, word processing, legal terminology, and law.

    The Certifying Board of the National Association of Legal Secretaries gives a test to certify a legal secretary with three years' experience as a Professional Legal Secretary. Exam applications can be received through the e-mail.

    Special Skills
    Legal secretaries need to be able to take dictation and to type and keyboard accurately and quickly. They must be able to deal with clients from many different backgrounds. They must have strong communication skills and a good command of the English language. They must also be able to work under pressure and maintain client confidentiality. Knowledge of a foreign language can be exceptionally helpful in some locations.

    Salary and Benefits
    The starting salary for legal secretaries varies widely depending on the location, the size of the law firm, and the amount of responsibility. Beginning salaries for some secretaries in small firms can be as low as $1,300 per month. In larger areas, beginning salaries average between $20,000 and $40,000 per year. The average salary for all secretaries is about $27,500, with some experienced legal secretaries/office managers earning $45,000 or more. Medical and retirement benefits vary widely from firm to firm.

    Working Conditions
    Legal secretaries work primarily in law offices and work approximately 40-hour weeks. Given the demanding and diverse nature of law practices, legal secretaries often juggle many different functions in the office while trying to meet court deadlines. Legal secretaries must be able to deal with stressful situations on a daily basis.

    Outlook
    Jobs for legal secretaries should continue to grow as fast as or faster than other types of jobs through the year 2005. Although many traditional secretarial functions are being done by computers or other machines, increases in the volume of legal paperwork should allow for continuing growth in this area.

    For More Information
    National Association of Legal Secretaries (International)
    314 East 3rd Street, Suite 210
    Tulsa, OK 74120
    (918) 582-5188

    This site contains information about legal secretaries and lists the qualifications to become a certified legal secretary.
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    Local Law Enforcement: Officers: Police Officer, Deputy Sheriff ($20,000-26,500)

    Job Description
    Police officers and sheriff's deputies help enforce the law. They are a community's primary defense against criminals. These law enforcement officials investigate crimes, gather and secure evidence to help prosecute criminals, make arrests, write detailed reports, assist citizens with specific emergencies, and testify in court.

    Police officers work primarily in cities or towns, while the jurisdiction of deputies extends primarily to rural areas outside of cities where no police department exists. In larger cities, police work can be quite specialized, with officers specifically assigned to areas such as homicide, rape, or traffic. In smaller towns and in rural areas, where the incidence of crime and the number of law enforcement personnel are much lower, a police officer or sheriff's deputy often becomes a "jack of all trades," responding to a variety of emergencies.

    Education
    The education necessary to become a police officer or sheriff's deputy varies from area to area. In some larger areas, a four-year degree in criminal justice is required. In some small towns, only a high-school education is necessary. Increasingly, most areas are requiring some formal training, often a two-year associate degree. Classes taken often involve the study of criminal law, the criminal justice system, criminal investigation, corrections, community relations, and administration. Once hired, a law enforcement officer usually receives additional training at a state or federal law enforcement academy.

    Special Skills
    A law enforcement officer must have excellent communication skills. He or she must be able to speak clearly at the scene of a major accident and be able to write precise, understandable reports that can be explained in court. The officer must also be a good listener and decision maker and be able to use good judgment in stressful, dangerous situations. A background in foreign languages, accounting, business practices, and computers can be helpful. Knowledge of weapons and special driving skills are also important. Finally, law enforcement officers must be able to pass physical examinations involving agility, vision, and strength.

    Salary and Benefits
    Most police officers' salaries start somewhere between $22,000 and $26,000. In some locales, beginning salaries are as low as $18,000. The average salary within six years is about $34,000. Most departments provide medical and life insurance benefits, and many offer 20-year retirement plans.

    Working Conditions
    The duties of a police officer or sheriff's deputy may take that officer anywhere within his or her jurisdiction. This means an officer may patrol a regular beat; visit businesses, courts, and jails; assist at community functions; and write reports at the office. Law enforcement officers are increasingly asked to work in schools where they are sometimes given the title of school resource officers (SRO). Police generally work 40-hour weeks but are sometimes called on to put in overtime.

    The job of a law enforcement official can be quite stressful. Sometimes the work can be physically taxing. In large municipal areas, danger is ever present on some beats. Even in the smallest town, an officer must live with the threat of unexpected violence.

    Outlook
    With increasing crime, the job outlook for sheriff's deputies and police officers is excellent. However, any forecast must take into account the budget limitations that have beset government at every level.

    For More Information
    International Association of Chiefs of Police
    515 N. Washington St.
    Alexandria, VA 22314-2357
    (703) 836-6767
    (800) THE-IACP

    National Association of Chiefs of Police
    3801 Biscayne Blvd.
    Miami, FL 33137
    (305) 573-0070

    This Web site gives information about law enforcement careers and crime prevention.

    National Association of School Resource Officers
    P.O. Box 2390
    Rowlett, TX 75030

    This Web site gives information pertaining to the training of school resource officers.

    National Sheriffs Association
    1450 Duke St.
    Alexandria, VA 22314
    (703) 836-7827

    This site will give information about crime prevention, publications, jail operations and research and development.
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    Private Detective/Investigator ($20,000-40,000)

    Job Description
    Private detectives and investigators work with attorneys, businesses, government agencies and the public to gather facts, conduct investigations, and locate people. About half of private investigators work in detective agencies or are self-employed. Others work for private companies. Some investigators specialize in a specific area such as infidelity, missing persons, or developing financial profiles. Many investigators spend a lot of time conducting surveillance in order to observe a person's behavior. Often an investigator will spend a lot of time verifying facts about an individual, which might include interviewing employers, checking data bases, or videotaping an individual.

    Education
    Training requirements for private detectives vary widely from state to state, although many states require private detectives to be licensed. Usually most private detectives have a background in police work. Many have been through two- or four-year law enforcement programs and law enforcement academies. Others have served in the military where they received law enforcement training.

    Working Conditions
    Although detectives employed by large businesses usually work normal hours, some investigators, due to the necessity of conducting adequate surveillance and the pressure of meeting deadlines imposed by their employers, may work long and irregular hours. Places of work can vary widely from the office to an automobile parked on a public street or to a public arena.

    Special Skills
    Private investigators must be persistent and, if necessary, confrontational. They must be independent thinkers who can communicate clearly. Knowledge of law enforcement procedures, computers, accounting, computer data bases, and electronic and video equipment is important.

    Salary and Benefits
    Depending on experience and place of employment, beginning salaries can range from $20,000 to $40,000 per year. With the exception of those detectives working for large corporations, many investigators do not receive medical and/or life insurance or paid vacations.

    Outlook
    According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the employment of private detectives and investigators is expected to increase much faster than average for all occupations through the year 2005.

    For More Information
    Contact your local police department or state law enforcement agency, or visit the Officer.com directory.

    This Web site contains links to several detective agencies within the United States that explain specifically what they do. One link also lists news relating to detective agencies.
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    Private Security Guard ($15,600-40,000)

    Job Description
    One of the fastest growing career areas is that of private security. Private security guards provide protection for private businesses and for individuals. Security guards not only personally monitor what goes on in a particular place, such as hospitals, banks, and department stores, but they also work with a variety of electronic surveillance devices to insure the safety of individuals, businesses, and their property. Some private security guards work for private security services which then contract their services to businesses, while others work directly for business organizations or individuals.

    Education
    The education and qualifications of private security personnel are extremely varied. Depending on the type of business, some security personnel are hired when they complete law enforcement school, others from local, state, and federal agencies. Others are hired with no experience. Usually a security guard must be at least 18 years old and have no convictions for perjury or acts of violence. The amount of education received varies widely from several days of on-the-job training to several months and involves instruction in protection, public relations, report writing, crisis deterrence, weaponry, and use of electronic surveillance devises.

    Working Conditions
    Working conditions for security officers depend greatly on the hiring organization or individual. Some security guards work 35- to 40-hour weeks on eight-hour shifts. Other guards are hired by the hour or the day. Some officers work long hours outside, patrolling on foot under difficult conditions. Others are stationed indoors, watching electronic security monitors. The work of a private security can take a guard anywhere-to a client's home, business, or a public event.

    Special Skills
    The skills needed to be an effective security officer are similar to those of a policeman. Good communication skills, a willingness to adjust to the personality of the client, good judgment, and good vision are important. Also, an ability to work alone and deal with electronic surveillance systems, photography, and computers can be critical in getting certain types of security jobs.

    Salary and Benefits
    As with education requirements, salary and benefits vary widely. Some security firms hire guards for as little as $7.50 per hour, where they might make only $15,000 annually. Other firms pay officers (depending on the responsibilities) $40,000 to $50,000 per year including medical insurance, life insurance, and paid vacations.

    Outlook
    The future of private security officers looks very bright. Private security expenditures are presently about 1.7 times that of law enforcement and over the next ten years the rate will increase to 2.4 times that of law enforcement. The number of private security companies is expected to more than double over the next five years. These statistics translate into many more opportunities for those wishing to enter the field.

    For More Information
    Security Industry Association
    635 Staters Lane, Suite 110
    Alexandria, VA 22314
    (703) 683-2075

    This Web site contains a variety of information relating to private security including information on the training of security agents, the growth of the security industry and problems facing the industry.
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    Probation or Parole Officer ($20,500-28,000)

    Job Description
    Probation and parole officers supervise two types of people: offenders placed on probation (people who fulfill the terms of court-ordered sentences) and parolees (people who are released from prison to fulfill parole-board-ordered sentences). In fulfilling these duties, these officers ensure the public safety while working to help rehabilitate their clients. Serving as links to a variety of social services, probation and parole officers try to help their clients secure the education, counseling, jobs, and housing necessary to become fully rehabilitated. They also write presentence reports for judges. Based on the officers' investigative work on the offenders' backgrounds, these reports provide judges with important information necessary to make an appropriate sentence for each offender. Probation and parole officers testify at pretrial and parole board hearings to help explain these reports. In addition, they are responsible for investigating any violations of court-ordered sentences.

    Education
    Generally, at the state level, probation and parole officers must complete a four-year degree program in a social science area such as sociology, criminal justice, psychology, or correctional counseling. Classes in writing and other communication arts, as well as in law, are considered helpful. At the federal level, the officer must also have at least two years of work experience in the field.

    Special Skills
    Probation and parole officers must possess excellent communication skills in order to write precise presentence reports and be able to defend them in court. They must also be able to relate to people from a variety of legal professions, as well as clients with different backgrounds. In addition, probation and parole officers must be able to deal with the stress that comes with large caseloads.

    Salary and Benefits
    Starting salaries at the state level vary from $20,500 to $28,000. Federal starting salaries average about $28,000. Both state and federal governments provide some health and retirement benefits.

    Working Conditions
    Probation and parole officers work in offices, courts, jails, and prisons. The nature of their work often takes them to both the places of business and the residences of their clients. These officers usually work a 40-hour week but may be called on to work overtime to investigate their clients and to meet court-ordered deadlines.

    Outlook
    The job outlook in this area is fair. The number of defendants is growing. However, parole has been abolished in the federal corrections system. Nevertheless, in some areas, the budgets for probation and parole officers are growing along with the number of prisoners. However, because of budget problems, it is still more common for probation and parole officers to have more clients than for government to hire more officers.

    For More Information
    American Probation and Parole Association
    P.O. Box 51017
    Salt Lake City, UT 84152

    This site contains information on publications, position statements, jobs, and training opportunities for probation and parole officers.
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    State Law Enforcement: Highway Patrol Officer ($24,000-28,000)

    Job Description
    The authority of state highway patrol officers or state troopers extends past the major roadways of the state in which they serve. State patrolmen have the authority to arrest violators of the law anywhere within the borders of their state. Besides apprehending criminals their duties usually include patrolling highways, investigating motor accidents, controlling traffic, rendering aid in disaster situations, and enforcing commercial vehicle laws.

    Education
    In many states candidates need only a high school diploma or a GED equivalent. Several states, however, require that candidates have an associate or bachelor's degree. Successful applicants then go through a several-month training program at a state law enforcement academy.

    Special Skills
    State troopers must be able to work within a chain of command, listen and communicate well, drive skillfully, work alone and think independently, and become proficient with a variety of weapons.

    Working Conditions
    Highway patrol officers usually work alone. In large rural states their area of responsibility might encompass more than 1000 square miles. They can be far away from back-up if they are in the process of attending to an accident or apprehending a criminal. For this reason they must be able to think independently. Most highway patrol officers work 40-hour weeks.

    Salary and Benefits
    Highway patrol officers start between $24,000 and $28,000 per year. They receive medical and life insurance. Some officers receive a uniform cleaning allowance, as well.

    Outlook
    The outlook for the hiring of highway patrol officers is good, particularly in states experiencing a population increase or in states bordering Mexico.

    For More Information
    Contact individual state highway patrol offices.

    Official Directory of State Patrol and State Police Sites

    This site contains links to all 50 state highway patrol sites.
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    U.S. Government Law Enforcement Officer

    Job Description
    The duties of law enforcement officers working for the U.S. government are similar in many respects to those of local police officers. These officers help their respective federal agencies enforce the law. In the process of doing so, they investigate crimes, help preserve evidence, write reports for government prosecutors, apprehend fugitives, and testify in court.
    However, the work of U.S. law enforcement officers differs from traditional law enforcement in that their authority in dealing with federal crimes extends throughout the United States and their work often relates to specialized types of crimes. Also, with the exception of the officers of the U.S. Marshal Service, the federal law enforcement officers discussed in this section are officially designated as "special agents."

    Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) Agent ATF agents work for the U.S. Treasury Department. These agents enforce U.S. laws pertaining to the sale and possession of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. They participate in investigations that involve conducting surveillance, making raids, interviewing suspects and witnesses, making arrests, obtaining search warrants, and searching for physical evidence. ATF agents work closely with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and provide assistance in the fight against crime and violence. ATF agents also review all evidence at the conclusion of an investigation and prepare case reports that aid the U.S. attorney in trial preparation.

    Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Agent DEA agents work under the authority of the U.S. Department of Justice in enforcing the federal Controlled Substances Act. Agents are involved in the following: carrying out surveillance of criminals; infiltrating illicit drug channels; identifying and apprehending drug traffickers; confiscating illegal drug supplies; arresting drug law violators; collecting and preparing evidence; writing detailed reports; and coordinating activities with local, state, federal, and foreign governments to prevent the flow of illegal drugs to and through the United States.

    Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Agent FBI agents work under the authority of the U.S. Department of Justice and deal with investigation and apprehension of federal fugitives, investigation of civil rights violations, and investigation of organized crime, white-collar crime, foreign counterintelligence, sabotage, espionage, terrorism, and kidnapping. FBI agents coordinate their activities closely with the U.S. attorney in their jurisdiction.

    U.S. Immigration and Customs Agents work for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to maintain the security of the borders of the United States. Their duties include apprehending people who illegally enter the United States, preventing products from enterting the U.S. illegally, and enforcing the proper rules and regulations of employment of aliens in the United States.

    Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Agent IRS agents work for the U.S. Treasury Department. Their duties involve investigating people for tax violations, money laundering, computer fraud, and illegal tax shelters. In fulfilling these duties, the agents interview witnesses and principals, write reports for trial preparation, and participate in surveillance, undercover activities, and searches and seizures.

    Secret Service Agent Secret Service agents work for the U.S. Treasury Department. Their primary responsibility is to protect the president and vice president of the United States and their immediate families. Secret Service agents also protect past presidents of the United States, foreign heads of state, and official representatives of the United States performing special missions abroad. In addition, Secret Service agents are responsible for investigating currency counterfeiting and various types of fraud and forgery that violate federal laws.

    Deputy U.S. Marshal Every deputy U.S. marshal works under the authority of a U.S. marshal. There are 94 U.S. marshals, each appointed to manage a particular district. Service is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice.

    Deputy U.S. marshals are involved in conducting fugitive investigations, protecting U.S. courts, protecting federal witnesses, seizing and managing assets acquired from criminal activities, providing prisoner custody and transportation, and providing law enforcement support in national emergencies.

    Education
    FBI Agent People can enter the FBI in one of the areas listed below with the following qualifications:
        Law: J.D. degree from an accredited law school.
        Accounting: B.S. degree with a major in accounting and eligibility to take the CPA examination.
        Engineering/Science: B.S. degree in engineering, computer science, or one of the physical sciences. Additional experience may be required.
        Language: B.S. or B.A. degree in any discipline and proficiency in Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, or another language that meets the needs of the FBI.

    ATF, DEA, IRS, and INS, Secret Service Agents, and Deputy U.S. Marshal Entry requirements for these careers generally include a four-year college degree. And, with the exception of IRS agents, some law enforcement experience. Those preparing to become IRS agents should emphasize accounting and business while in college.

    Backgrounds in foreign languages (particularly Spanish for prospective INS agents), computers, and business are extremely helpful on the job.

    Additional training is provided at one of the federal law enforcement academies for each entering agent.

    Special Skills
    All federal law enforcement officers must pass rigorous physical, vision, and medical examinations in order to be hired. They must be able to maintain the confidentiality of their work and relate effectively to people from different backgrounds. Like local and state law enforcement personnel, agents must be able to listen carefully, speak articulately, write proficiently, and exercise good judgment in dangerous situations.

    Salary and Benefits
    FBI agents are hired at a salary of about $33,500 per year. However, beginning agents often make more money because of the large amount of overtime necessary for the job. Additionally, within a few years, FBI agents progress up the government pay scale to salaries above $50,000. Other agents generally enter the salary schedule at about $25,000. However, within five years, agents can be earning over $50,000. Medical and retirement benefits are provided for all U.S. government law enforcement employees.

    Working Conditions
    Law enforcement agents at the federal level work in offices and courtrooms but may travel extensively to do their jobs. They often put in a lot of overtime. The potential for physical danger always exists. Thus, special agents carry weapons and must be ready to use them.

    Outlook
    The job demand for federal law enforcement officers through the year 2005, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, should increase as fast as the demand for other legal occupations because of a more security conscious society which appears determined to reduce crime and illegal immigration. However, the availability of jobs could be limited by the government's budget limitations.

    For More Information
    ATF Agent
    Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
    Personnel Division
    650 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Room 4100
    Washington, D.C. 20226
    (202) 927-8423

    This government Web site explains the history of the ATF, duties of ATF agents, and the ATF's strategic plan and programs.

    DEA Agent
    DEA Headquarters
    Attn: Special Agent Recruiting Unit
    1405 I Street, N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20537
    (800) DEA-4288

    This Web site explains the background of the DEA, as well as the responsibilities, qualifications, salary and benefits of DEA agents.

    FBI Agent
    Federal Bureau of Investigation
    Attn: Applicant Unit
    Department of Justice
    935 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20535-0001
    (202) 324-3000

    These detailed Web sites include the history of the FBI, the qualifications and responsibilities of FBI agents, as well as addresses of FBI regional offices.

    U.S. Immigration and Customs Agent
    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
    Immigration and Naturalization Service
    Washington, D.C. 20536

    This detailed site answers frequently asked questions about the Citizenship and Immigration Servies and lists detailed career information.

    IRS Agent
    Internal Revenue Service
    Department of the Treasury
    Division of Criminal Investigation
    1111 Constitution Ave., N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20224

    This site explains IRS career paths, salary and benefits, and also responds to frequently asked questions.

    Secret Service Agent
    United States Secret Service
    Personnel Division
    1800 G Street, N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20223

    This site contains detailed information about the role, responsibilities and purpose of secret service agents, as well as job requirements for prospective applicants.

    Deputy U.S. Marshal
    U.S. Marshals Service
    Employment and Compensation Division
    Field Staffing Branch
    600 Army Navy Drive
    Arlington, VA 22202-4210
    (202) 307-9600

    This Web site explains the history of the Marshals Service, as well as the responsibilities and qualifications for becoming a U.S. Marshal.
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