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There are various fulfilling career paths in the legal world, and possessing specialized degrees such as the Juris Doctor broadens these opportunities. The Juris Doctor degree offers the expertise that young graduates need to navigate courtroom battles without compromising their role in public service.
You may be wondering, what does a Juris Doctor do, and why is it so necessary after graduation? Well, the degree prepares fresh graduates for the ways of laws and how they can foster societal changes. Law enthusiasts pursuing their Juris Doctor degree through programs such as the one offered by Cleveland State University can easily position themselves as potential justice architects in diverse areas of society.
This article will discuss some of the endless public service opportunities that law graduates can access after attaining their degrees.
Public service roles that law graduates should consider
Law graduates have a plethora of public service roles they can pursue. Below, we explore some of these positions.
A public defender ensures that every individual, whether rich, middle class or poor, has access to legal representation. However, their primary responsibility is to represent people who have been accused of a crime but cannot afford to hire private legal counsel. Their commitment to justice ensures that every individual’s constitutional right to a lawyer is upheld.
Consider a scenario where Alex, a taxi driver, is accused of theft without the means to hire an attorney. In cases such as this, the court hires a public defender to Alex’s case. The defender then works with Alex to understand the intricacies of his case and the best action he can take. For instance, this professional may guide Alex on pleading guilty or not guilty and preparing a defense strategy for the trial to ensure that he gets the best possible legal outcome.
Law graduates considering this career should note that depending on the region you’re practicing in, you may need additional certification requirements. For instance, in the US, public defenders must be licensed attorneys. This means that you must have passed your state’s bar exam and joined the state’s bar association. All states in the US, besides Wisconsin and Puerto Rico, require law graduates to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) in order to join a state bar association. Practical experience is also extremely helpful when starting your career. Engage in internships or clerkships at public defender offices to understand how this role works and how you can improve your skills as a public defender.
This job role also offers several benefits. You can get many opportunities to improve your professional network by interacting with judges, prosecutors and even your fellow attorneys. However, this role isn’t for everyone. You must have empathy to defend people who won’t pay you a dime. A public defender must also be resilient, as they will often face tough cases and, sometimes, unfavorable verdicts. Nevertheless, your job as a public defender will offer you a unique blend of professional challenges and personal fulfillment.
Assistant attorney general (Department of Justice)
The assistant attorney general primarily works on behalf of the state or federal government. They may represent the government in civil litigation or provide crucial legal counsel to various state agencies. When doing the former, they ensure that the government’s and public’s interests are safeguarded. Doing the latter keeps governmental operations in line with current laws and regulations. This way, they ensure that these operations are transparent and accountable to the law.
Securing a position as the assistant attorney general can be significant, especially for law graduates inclined toward public service. They get to engage with litigation, advisory tasks and policy interpretation, which gives them a comprehensive view of the government’s legal machinery.
Being an assistant attorney general will expose you to a lot of benefits. First, it will open you to high-level legal work in the public sector. You get to work on significant cases that can set precedence and influence law and policies for years. This role can also offer you a stable career trajectory within the government. You may also be able to get benefits that are not available in private practice.
District attorneys (DAs), often called prosecutors, are the principal legal representatives of the government in criminal cases. They present evidence to prosecute individuals or entities accused of illegal activity in court. A prosecutor’s work status starts when law enforcement agencies present proof of a crime.
The DA evaluates this evidence to determine whether they should file charges and proceed with a case or not. They gather evidence, interview witnesses and formulate legal arguments during this time. They then present the case against the accused, intending to prove to the court of law that the individual committed the crime.
Prosecutors ensure that any person, company or entity that violates the law faces the consequences. Their work helps maintain societal order and trust in the legal system. They also stand as deterrents, discouraging potential wrongdoers from committing crimes. To become a prosecutor, you need to obtain a Juris Doctor degree from a reputable university such as Cleveland State University. Once you pass the bar exam, you can apply to local, state or federal prosecuting agencies. Some jurisdictions may even offer you specialized training programs or internships.
However, this doesn’t happen overnight. Besides experience, you need practical skills to become a good prosecutor. A prosecutor must have the analytical ability to evaluate evidence and develop a winning strategy. You cannot afford to overlook evidence that could give you headway in the courtroom. You must review every piece of evidence and every legal argument to ensure that you have everything you need. You also need to brush up on your communication skills. This is essential for presenting compelling arguments in courts and interacting with witnesses, victims and law enforcement.
The DA role offers more than just the prosecution process – it’s a career that propels your professional growth and gives you the fulfilling satisfaction of serving the greater good.
Legal aid attorney
Legal aid attorneys are somewhat like public defenders. They represent clients who lack the financial means to secure private legal counsel. However, these professionals are often embroiled in civil matters – whether it’s disputes related to family law, housing, employment or other areas. Here’s a breakdown.
Maria, a single mother of two, is evicted because she couldn’t pay her rent. While she acknowledges the debt, she is unable to pay because she was wrongfully laid off from work. Now, Maria is on the verge of being homeless, with no resources or source of income. A legal aid attorney will represent Maria in her housing dispute and the wrongful dismissal at work. With expert legal intervention, Maria may avoid eviction and receive compensation from her former employer.
Like public defenders, these professionals also ensure that people who cannot afford a lawyer can get the legal support they deserve. Once you gain your Juris Doctor degree and have passed the bar exam, you can seek positions with legal aid organizations, non-profits or government programs, providing legal services to the less privileged.
Judges are greatly respected and have significant responsibilities within the legal system. They preside over court proceedings, uphold the rule of law, and ensure that justice is served. Their decisions can significantly impact individuals’ lives and society at large. Judges not only uphold the rule of law, but also shape its interpretation and application.
For instance, John is accused of a crime that he fervently denies. The evidence submitted against him in his court case is complex, and witnesses present contrasting accounts. Of course, emotions also run high. It’s a judge’s responsibility to oversee this trial, ensure that all parties are heard, and reach a fair verdict based on the presented evidence.
However, one doesn’t simply become a judge immediately after law school. The path to becoming a judge takes several stages, years and processes. To become a judge, law graduates typically start their careers as attorneys. During this period, they may spend years, sometimes decades, gaining legal experience. Many jurisdictions require a certain number of years in practice before it is possible to be considered for a judgeship. Besides this, becoming a judge involves a rigorous selection process, which may include nominations, appointments, evaluations and even elections, depending on your jurisdiction.
If you aspire to be a judge, you must set your principles early on. Ensure that you cultivate an impartial outlook on legal matters – make decisions without being biased. Have a sound understanding of the law, and hone your decision-making skills – judges often have to make timely and well-reasoned decisions, often under pressure. Therefore, train yourself to enhance your evaluation skills.
Magistrates are the first line of judicial inquiry. They operate at a foundational level of the judicial system. This means that they deal with minor legal matters and the preliminary stages of criminal cases. Some of their responsibilities include conducting initial hearings and settling minor civil disputes such as tenant-landlord disagreements.
Judicial matters are the legal issues, disputes or cases brought before the court of law. Magistrates are crucial in resolving this matter to ensure that the legal system isn’t overwhelmed and that more serious cases receive attention. Addressing minor disputes can also alleviate the burden on higher courts, ensuring that the case gets resolved before it becomes more severe. This automatically provides a balance within the judicial process.
Some jurisdictions have specific requirements regarding the years of experience that an individual must have before becoming a magistrate. You may also need to go through training sessions specific to your role. Of course, the role of a magistrate might seem less glamorous that some other professions, such as DAs. However, it’s undeniably critical in maintaining the equilibrium and efficacy of the legal system, which is why the role is perfect if you have an aptitude for swift and fair decision-making.
A legislative counsel provides crucial legal advice and assistance to lawmakers. They ensure that proposed laws are effective and consistent with existing legal frameworks. A scenario of their role would be where a senator wants to introduce a bill addressing online privacy concerns. While it sounds like a good idea, the nuances of drafting this kind of law are intricate.
This is where legislative counsel comes in. They help the senator transform their idea into comprehensive and legally sound legislation. How? They ensure that the language used is precise, that potential loopholes are closed, and that the law will stand up to scrutiny when challenged.
Laws shape our societal structure, define our rights, and regulate our interactions. This is why it’s crucial to ensure that these laws are clear and enforceable. A poorly drafted law can cause ambiguity, confusion and potential misuse. A legislative counsel ensures that laws are crafted precisely, which can help prevent future disputes.
If this interests you, you need a law background focusing on public policy or legislative processes. You should also consider internships or clerkships in legislative bodies to gain first-hand experience in the world of lawmaking. Of course, you must have a Juris Doctor degree to achieve this.
There are various skills you need to work on to be an efficient legislative counsel. You must have sharp legal acumen. It’s necessary to know about the law before you can make it. You need excellent attention to detail. A simple mistake in the dictionary of legislation can create ambiguity. You don’t want to cause unintended interpretations in the future. You also need to be proficient at research. Usually, drafting legislation requires you to research similar laws and legal precedents to know the potential outcomes and implications of the law. If you have a passion for shaping policy, this may be the career for you.
Public interest lawyer
True to their name, public interest lawyers are the voice of causes larger than individual grievances. They use law to help society tackle problems that affect everyone, from local to worldwide.
For example, a local community is facing health issues because of industrial pollutants contaminating their water supply. The company responsible is a big name in the industry. It has a fleet of lawyers at its disposal, and there’s hardly any hope of the community winning against it. Enter the public interest lawyer, a professional working for a non-profit, ready to fight for the community’s rights and access to clean water. This, of course, will hold the company accountable.
These lawyers often take on non-lucrative cases, but the fulfillment they get is invaluable. They balance the scales of justice by standing up for marginalized communities and safeguarding the environment. They’re the superheroes nobody thinks about but everybody needs.
Law graduates drawn to this path must have a Juris Doctor degree. They can then seek positions in non-profit organizations and legal aid offices. They can also immerse themselves in specific causes of issues, whether it’s environmental law or civil rights, to gain invaluable experience and insights.
Policy analysts craft the guidelines and strategies that govern societies. These professionals often operate within government agencies or think tanks. They examine societal issues from every angle to develop effective policies. Their primary role is to evaluate current policies and propose improvements or alternatives. How do they do this?
They examine data, conduct research on it, and use their research to forecast the implications of potential policy shifts. For instance, consider the challenge of urban housing. The prices are off the roof, and an average individual may not even be able to afford a house. A policy analyst may assess the current housing situation, analyze various models worldwide, and propose a policy that ensures affordability without compromising sustainability.
While this may sound like every legal role, their impact on society is profound. Policies influence how society evolves, whether it’s policies in health, education or any other sector. Effective policies can improve society, ensuring that resources are used efficiently and rights are protected.
State inspector general
State inspector generals police state agencies. They ensure that these entities operate with integrity, efficiency and in the public’s best interest. Their principal mission is to detect and eradicate waste, fraud and abuse within these agencies.
These professionals conduct thorough audits of agency operations, and they initiate investigations based on reports or suspicions of misconduct and recommend corrective actions.
For instance, they may spearhead an investigation if there’s a report of misallocated funds within a state department. They will determine the validity of the claim and the extent of the issue, and propose necessary rectifications.
Addressing waste, fraud and abuse is a systematic process. First, state inspector generals establish reporting mechanisms where whistleblowers can safely disclose concerns. They then set up a preliminary review to determine if a full investigation is needed. When the misconduct is confirmed, the state inspector general suggests preventive measures to avoid reoccurrence.
What does this role offer law graduates? First, you have an avenue to make tangible impacts. Second, your position as a state inspector general is often accompanied by a high degree of autonomy and responsibility. This makes it a fulfilling career path for individuals driven by a sense of duty and justice.
Public service roles offer more than just careers – they present opportunities for law graduates to make an impact in the legal world. From ensuring fair representation as a public defender to advocating for universal rights as a human rights officer, each position embodies a commitment to the greater good.