Criminal justice and law degrees prepare graduates to make a difference in their communities and pursue jobs in a high-demand field.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 5% job growth in legal occupations from 2019-2029, which is faster than average. The BLS also projects employment in protective services, including criminal justice careers, to grow by 3% during the same time period.
The following guide offers detailed information on the different degree levels, majors, and concentrations available in legal studies.
What Is the Field of Law?
The modern legal profession, where clients seek advice and litigation assistance in exchange for a fee, originated under the Roman Empire. Today, more than 800,000 lawyers work in the United States alone.
The field of law supports many professionals in addition to attorneys. Other subfields open to law degree-holders include law enforcement and criminal justice, homeland security, forensic science, and paralegal studies.
Top employers in the field include legal services companies and local, state, and federal governments. Most employees work in offices, however, some professionals work in other settings. For example, correctional officers work in prisons, while forensic science technicians work in laboratories.
Law and criminal justice workers tend to possess a strong moral foundation, a passion for justice, and an interest in bettering their communities.
Why Get a Degree in Law?
- Salary Potential
- Law degree jobs typically offer generous compensation. The BLS reports that lawyers earn a median of $126,930 each year as of 2020. The median annual salaries for legal assistants and court reporters total $52,920 and $61,660, respectively.
- Opportunities Across Industries
- Law careers include positions across diverse economic sectors. Paralegals, attorneys, and other professionals may focus on the legal aspects of business, healthcare, technology, energy, or government.
- Transferable Skills
- Law degree graduates gain valuable skills they can use in their careers and personal lives. These abilities include proficiency in negotiation, research, and analytical reasoning.
- Consistent Demand
- The need for skilled law and criminal justice professionals remains constant in communities. Graduates in these fields can look forward to a stable job market.
- Respected Field of Study
- As experts in one of humankind's oldest fields of study, law degree graduates often serve as valued community leaders.
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Law Degree Jobs
The opportunities available in the legal field depend on your concentration. For example, working in the law enforcement industry often requires education in criminal justice, while a legal studies degree allows graduates to pursue legal practice jobs.
The degree level also impacts advancement in a criminal justice or law career. Paralegals and legal assistants need an associate or bachelor's degree in the field. However, attorneys need to complete a bachelor's and a Juris Doctor, at minimum, to take the bar exam.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, postsecondary institutions across the U.S. conferred the following number of degrees in 2018-2019:
- 4,242 in legal professions and studies
- 57,339 in homeland security, law enforcement, and firefighting
- 31,148 in physical sciences and science technologies (including forensic science)
The BLS projects employment of lawyers, police, detectives, paralegals, and forensic science technicians to increase over the next decade. Current projections include:
- 5% growth for police and detectives
- 10% growth for legal assistants and paralegals
- 4% growth for lawyers
- 14% growth for forensic science technicians
Check out the links below to learn more about law careers.
Types of Law Degrees
Colleges offer law degrees designed for entry-level job-seekers, graduate students, and experienced professionals looking to develop new specializations.
Whether you want a quick pathway to a paralegal job, plan to compete for a promotion in law enforcement, or hope to complete the rigorous demands of law school to become an attorney, a law degree can help you reach your goal.
Explore the sections below to discover what it takes to earn a law degree and where a certificate, bachelor's, master's, or doctorate in law or criminal justice can take you professionally.
A certificate is a college or university program. This term should not be confused with professional certification — a field-specific credential offered through an organization or agency.
While specific requirements vary, many certificate programs require about 18-26 credits. Courses typically cover fundamental topics such as introduction to criminal justice, criminology, and corrections. Colleges offer certificates on campus and online. Many online programs follow a flexible asynchronous format where students can complete coursework when convenient.
Students typically pursue certificates to pursue entry-level employment or supplemental education. Certificate-holders can use their credential to secure their first job, change careers, or pursue upward mobility in their current field.
Law and criminal justice careers that require a certificate include court reporter, corrections officer, and bailiff.
Law and criminal justice students can earn three types of associate degrees: an associate of science, an associate of arts, or an associate of applied science.
Generally, AS and AA degrees prepare learners to transfer to four-year bachelor's programs. In contrast, AAS degrees cater to students seeking immediate employment after graduation. AS programs typically require more science and math courses than AA degrees. Schools offer each of these degree types in online and on-campus formats.
Associate degrees require about 60 credits and take about two years to complete. Prospective students must hold a high school diploma or equivalent to apply. AA and AS transfer programs combine general education and introductory criminal justice courses. AAS programs include fewer general education courses and focus more on job readiness skills.
With an associate degree, graduates can pursue jobs as police officers, detectives, paralegals, or private investigators.
Students seeking a four-year degree in criminal justice or legal studies can pursue either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science. Both of these program types require a combination of general education, major core courses, and electives.
BS programs tend to require more math and science courses, while BA degrees include more humanities courses. BA degrees may offer greater customization opportunities, like the option to take a minor.
To enroll in a bachelor's program, applicants need at least a high school diploma or equivalent, typically with a minimum 2.0-2.5 GPA. Other common requirements include letters of recommendation and essays. A bachelor's degree can help students pursue an entry-level legal job or career advancement.
A bachelor's in law or criminal justice prepares graduates for advanced study or employment as FBI agents, police lieutenants, arbitrators, and, in limited cases, judges and hearing officers.
The most common graduate-level law degrees include the master of laws (LLM) and the master of science in legal studies (MLS). LLM degrees provide working lawyers with specialized knowledge of a particular area of practice, like international law or finance.
Legal studies degrees cater to non-lawyer industry professionals who can benefit from additional knowledge of the legal system. Legal studies master's candidates take many of the same courses as Juris Doctor students. MLS programs commonly offer specializations in areas like business law, human resources law, and health law.
Potential careers for MLS graduates include legal assistant, healthcare administrator, human resources manager, and government official. Both LLM and MLS degrees typically take 1-2 years to complete, with online and in-person options available.
There are two primary types of doctoral law degrees: the Juris Doctor (JD) and the Ph.D. As a professional degree, a JD prepares students to become lawyers, while a Ph.D. supports learners pursuing careers in academia or research.
Both program types require extensive time commitments. JD degrees commonly require three years of full-time study, while Ph.D. programs can take 3-7 years to complete.
In a JD program, students take foundational and advanced courses in law, policy, theory, and legal practice. In a Ph.D. program, degree-seekers develop the research skills necessary for completing a dissertation. Most Ph.D. law degrees require applicants to hold a JD or LLM.
Prospective doctoral candidates should plan to earn their law degrees either on campus or via a hybrid format, as the American Bar Association does not accredit any fully online JD programs. Similarly, most Ph.D. programs require in-person residencies.
Types of Law Majors
Online law degrees lead students down diverse educational and professional paths. At the undergraduate level, degree-seekers can pursue a general law degree — typically called pre-law or legal studies — or customize their degree plan with a concentration.
Common law concentrations available in bachelor's programs include labor relations, law office management, and paralegal studies.
Unlike minors, which require additional credits to complete, concentrations form part of the major. They typically consist of 3-5 courses that fulfill elective requirements. Concentrations can help tailor your education toward a specific interest or career goal.
Students who opt not to complete a concentration can still customize their degree plan with electives. Specialized undergraduate law degrees outside of legal studies include majors in criminal justice, homeland security, and forensic science.
How to Select a Concentration
Choosing a law degree concentration can impact your college curriculum and future career. When evaluating potential concentration options, take time to consider factors including your strengths and weaknesses, current interests, and future goals.
Consider both academic and personal characteristics. If you struggle with science courses, a forensic science concentration may not suit you. If you possess strong interpersonal skills and an interest in community engagement, you might excel in a law enforcement concentration.
Concentrations provide a great opportunity for undergraduates to develop specialized knowledge and skills. Look for the concentration option that aligns best with your future career goals.
Do not select a concentration by its title alone. Take time to look up course descriptions. Consider whether the included classes cover topics you want to explore.
Although students should weigh factors beyond growth projections, developing in-demand skills and seeking growing fields can make it easier to find a job after graduation.
Popular Law Concentrations
Earning a college degree can lead to numerous criminal justice and law careers. Job options vary according to the discipline and degree level you pursue. While not comprehensive, the following list provides a look at the most popular law concentrations and fields.
Learn more about areas of study in law
Frequently Asked Questions
What can you do with a law degree?
Career options with a law degree largely depend on the level of education students pursue. An associate or bachelor's degree may qualify graduates to work as paralegals. Working as a judge or lawyer typically requires graduate-level study.
Is a law enforcement degree worth it?
Although many entry-level law enforcement careers do not require a college degree, a postsecondary diploma provides several key benefits. Graduates hold advanced knowledge and skills, enabling them to pursue senior and specialized positions.
What is a criminal justice degree?
As postsecondary education offerings, criminal justice degrees provide fundamental and advanced skills required for careers in criminal justice. Programs may take 2-4 years to complete, depending on degree level.
What field of law is most in demand?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 4% job growth for lawyers between 2019-2029. The fields currently in high demand include intellectual property law, healthcare law, and real estate law.
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