Legal Jobs: How to Become a Legal Researcher

Many people think of the law as a field for judges and lawyers only. But the legal profession is full of interesting types of jobs, many of which are challenging and interesting, and many of which pay well, too. The job of legal researcher is just such a job.

A legal researcher is someone who researches past cases, legal precedents and legal statutes for a lawyer or a law firm. The information a researcher gathers will become an important part of a lawyer’s presentation to a jury, or to motions that a lawyer files. Legal researchers used to spend hours toiling away in law libraries, poring over documents and pawing through thick law books. The Internet has changed this profession, however, as it’s changed so many professions. Now, much of a legal researcher’s work is performed online. Still, the job requires careful work, patience, and persistence. You might be searching for one obscure case among thousands of cases. Sometimes, you might not even know precisely what you’re searching for, only that you’ll know it when you find it. You also have to be someone who is an independent worker, and someone who is self-motivated and able to follow instructions well, because oftentimes you will simply receive a complicated set of instructions and be left unsupervised to complete them. Legal researchers also prepare legal documents and memos in many cases.

To become a legal researcher, you need to be an accredited paralegal (a paralegal is a legal assistant). That means you’ll have to have at least an associate’s degree, although more often nowadays legal assistants will need at least a bachelor’s degree in order to secure a good job. It wouldn’t hurt to have an advanced degree, either.

When it comes time to find a job, you have to decide whether you want to work for government lawyers at a private law firm. Most legal researchers work in private offices-about seven in ten. This work can be more stressful and more demanding, but it also tends to pay significantly better. If you choose government employment, you can either work for the Justice Department (most public legal researchers work for the Justice Department) or work for a district attorney. You might even think about becoming a freelancer. It was once highly unusual for a legal researcher to work for himself or herself, but with the Internet it’s becoming much less rare. This kind of work would involve firms all over the country assigning you research projects and legal documents to prepare over the Internet, and you would work one project at a time. The beauty of legal freelancing is that you can set your own hours and be your own boss. The downside, of course, is that income is not steady and there might be times when you are between assignments and not receiving a paycheck. Still, if you are tenacious and self-motivated it’s likely you’ll find plenty of employment.