What Are the Requirements for a Career in Criminal Justice and Law?

Written by: CC Staff

The fields of criminal justice and law attract people who want to advance the public good, protect the public, and uphold the law. Individuals working in criminal justice and law appreciate the availability of stable, well-paying jobs with room for advancement.

Career opportunities in criminal justice and law include law enforcement, corrections, politics, advocacy, and legal services. Criminal justice and law job requirements vary. Common job titles include police officer, legal assistant, lawyer, judge, parole officer, border patrol agent, homeland security officer, and intelligence analyst. Lesser-known jobs include victim’s advocate, policymaker, criminal justice instructor, and emergency response manager.

Criminal justice and law education requirements vary depending on job title, employer, and other factors. Police officers and legal assistants, for example, often require at least an associate or bachelor’s degree, but some employers may only require a high school diploma for these positions. Management and administrative roles typically require a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Finally, lawyers must attend law school to earn a juris doctor (JD) and pass their state bar exam. Some of these careers, including law enforcement, require a background check and drug testing.

High School Courses of Study

You can start preparing for a career in criminal justice and law even in high school. Most high schools do not offer criminal justice and law courses, but you could take psychology and political science classes. Criminal justice and law are interdisciplinary fields and draw from these and other subjects like history and rhetoric.

Taking relevant AP classes also gives you practical knowledge and skills. These classes can save you time and money in college. Finally, completing an internship with a local law firm or law enforcement agency prepares you for a career in law and criminal justice even before you graduate from high school.

College Courses of Study

Criminal justice and law degree requirements vary by job title and location. Depending on the position, you may need an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. Likewise, different locales require different levels of education for the same job titles, like police officers.

Students who plan to go to law school to earn a JD often major in pre-law or political science. Other bachelor’s-level degrees suited for future lawyers include psychology, criminal justice, history, philosophy, economics, English, and sociology. Most liberal arts bachelor’s programs develop the analytical, communication, and research skills students need to succeed in law school.

Criminal Law

Many criminal justice bachelor’s programs include a course that covers the fundamental theories and practices of criminal law. This course looks at the principles of criminal liability, constitutional limits on crime, and the overall nature of crime. Future legal assistants, criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, and law enforcement professionals benefit from understanding criminal law.

Criminology and Victimology

This class investigates the causes of crime. Criminal justice bachelor’s students identify types of crime, society’s response to criminal behavior, and the classification of offenders. The course also explores victimology in the current criminal justice system. Students explore issues like sexual assault, elder abuse, homicide, domestic violence, and child abuse.

Ethics in Criminal Justice

Criminal justice students explore ethical issues in the criminal justice field and define ethical behavior for criminal justice professionals. The course looks at community relations, sexual harassment, and corruption. All criminal justice professionals need to understand how to behave ethically.

Constitutional Interpretation

Pre-law and law programs include courses that explore the interpretation of constitutional principles. This course helps students learn how to interpret the law using the Constitution. The class explores philosophies of how to interpret the Constitution throughout history and today.

Advanced Legal Research

JD programs require students to take classes that teach them how to conduct professional legal research. All lawyers must demonstrate proficiency in legal research to practice law effectively. This class covers the most important legal research strategies and methods.

Graduate Degrees in Criminal Justice and Law

If you want to become a lawyer or eventually work as a judge, then you need to go to law school and earn a JD. To get into law school, applicants must first earn a bachelor’s degree and pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The LSAT includes multiple-choice questions and a writing section. It measures critical thinking, analytical, and reading comprehension skills necessary to succeed in law school. Law school typically takes three years to complete.

Some criminal justice professionals seeking leadership, administrative, and specialized roles can benefit from earning a master’s degree. Students may pursue master’s degrees in areas like criminal justice or law for non-lawyers. A master’s in law also allows lawyers who hold a JD to specialize more closely in their area of law. Many master’s programs require the GRE, a standardized admissions test for graduate school.

Ph.D. options for criminal justice and law typically prepare graduates to teach at the university level and perform scholarly research.

Professional Certification and Licensure

Most states require lawyers to pass the state bar examination to begin practicing law in that state. Each state sets its own guidelines for the bar exam, but usually the process takes two days and includes the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) and a separate written exam. The MBE consists of 200 multiple-choice questions that cover multiple areas of law.

Admission to the bar also means meeting the state’s fitness and character standards and may include other prerequisites and requirements. Once you pass the bar and receive a license, it does not expire, but lawyers must renew their license periodically.

In Colorado, for example, lawyers must pass the Colorado Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), which consists of three parts: the MBE, the Multistate Essay Exam, and the Multistate Performance Test. Colorado schedules the UBE twice a year, in February and July. An 11-member volunteer law committee grades the written exam.

Federal judges must pass an exam from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Learn More…

What Are Criminal Justice and Law?
What Kinds of Degrees Are Available in Criminal Justice and Law?
What Kinds of Criminal Justice and Law Specializations Are Available?