Stranger Than Fiction: Interesting Legal Careers

by Gina Pogol There's a reason for the popularity of television shows and movies featuring the legal and justice professions: the stories are off-the-wall, crazy, bizarre... and often true. If you want variety in your career (and great stories to tell at parties), check out these interesting and challenging jobs in the legal system.

Litigation Paralegal
Paralegals enjoy some of the same advantages that attorneys do--and a big one is that they can specialize and become experts in whatever most piques their interest, from real estate to criminal prosecution to family law. Litigation paralegals can work as employees or freelancers. If employed, litigation paralegals work under the supervision of a trial attorney, preparing for court and assisting at proceedings. They may interview clients, investigate, research online, craft lists of questions to ask the opposing party (called interrogatories), and draft and file court documents. The paralegal's objective is to tell the client's story, support it with evidence, and convince a judge or jury of the merits of the client's case.

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A paralegal education can range from certificate programs providing fairly technical training to associate, bachelor's, and graduate degrees. A litigation paralegal career affords practically endless variety and flexibility--and a front row center seat in some pretty dramatic or ridiculous court proceedings, for example: True story: Marcy Meckler. Leaving a mall, Meckler was "attacked" by a squirrel that lived nearby. And "while frantically attempting to escape from the squirrel and detach it from her leg, [Meckler] fell and suffered severe injuries," her lawsuit claims. She is demanding more than $50,000, asserting the mall is responsible for her injuries because of its "failure to warn" her that squirrels live outside.

DEA Special Agent
DEA special agents come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from teachers to accountants to police officers. Whatever your previous work experience, you will probably find a way to incorporate your expertise into your new career as an agent. Agents use their talents in teams to target and investigate drug traffickers. Recently, "Operation Imperial Emperor"--a 20-month operation conducted in Mexico, California, Arizona, Illinois, and New York--netted over 400 arrests, $45 million in cash, and 18 tons of drugs. DEA agent's days are filled with investigation, reports, law, online information gathering, and drug recognition. DEA Special Agents are considered top law enforcement professionals and must pass a firearms qualification test, complete rigorous physical tasks, average 80 percent on academic exams, and demonstrate leadership and sound decision-making to graduate the DEA Academy and begin their careers.

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To even be considered for Academy selection, you'll need a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, though a background in Police Science, Finance, Economics, Accounting, Computer Sciences, Telecommunications/Electrical/Mechanical Engineering, or certain foreign languages may also suffice. You also need to be a healthy US citizen, willing to relocate anywhere in the country, and able to pass a background check. True story: Sharon, a writer for Today's DEA, likes alternative rock, funky t-shirts, and hanging with friends--and, oh yeah, she also works under cover and arrests people. "I always thought that DEA agents were big, burly guys but I learned they come in all shapes and sizes," She says that foot surveillance and slapping handcuffs on drug criminals are the favorite parts of her job.

Highway Patrol Officer
Don't want to be stuck at a desk? Then check out your law enforcement jobs with your state. Highway Patrol Officers (also called State Troopers) are responsible for highway safety and traffic enforcement throughout the state. Your day might include issuing speeding tickets, arresting alcohol and drug-impaired drivers, and investigating auto thefts and accidents. Other assignments include Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.), canine narcotics enforcement, or patrolling the State Capitol on bicycle or horseback.

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According to the US Department of Labor, competition for the better jobs with state agencies is and will remain keen. Applicants with college criminal justice degrees have the best chances of being accepted into their state's police academy. Criminal Justice programs range from certificate training to graduate degrees and can be found on-campus or online. True story: Hit the books, then hit the road--and you'll be able to amuse your friends with tales like this true story from a Louisiana officer: A car's owner had pulled into a service station late Thursday night because his gas gauge was on "empty," but the station was closed. As he tried to figure out what to do, a man with a gun stole the car. The victim said the car was out of gas but the carjacker took it anyway. The car started and the victim called in the robbery. The auto soon ran out of gas and stalled just down the highway--right in front of the officer in his patrol vehicle. If you're fascinated by justice, law, and law enforcement, there’s a career in criminal justice and law for you-whether you want in on the action as a DEA agent or highway patrol officer or whether you want a legal career at the safe distance of a paralegal. Choose one, and you, too, can have amazing stories to tell all your friends.

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