Career Field - Law & Public Policy - Frequently Asked Questions
Legal and policy issues are addressed within all employment sectors, including government, and in nonprofits having public interest rather than direct service missions. There are legal and public affairs departments in most large for-profit companies and management consulting firms contracting with the government to provide policy analysis.
Public policy is issue-driven and virtually every career field has policy-related jobs. There are many ways to do policy work. Advocacy organizations, labor unions and lobbyists (American League of Lobbyists (ALL)) work to influence and change policy. Think tanks (World Directory of Think Tanks) conduct research and analysis on policy issues. Politicians are the policy-makers with legislative support agencies from all employment sectors doing policy analysis. Public administrators implement policy.
Jobs in law enforcement are expected to increase because of increased concerns about security and drug-related crimes. The demand for correctional officers is also on the rise as additional officers are hired to supervise a growing inmate population.
All law and policy jobs have been affected by the slowing down of the economy. The employment of lawyers is expecting only average growth through 2018, while the need for paralegals is projected to grow faster as legal staffs hire paralegals to lower the cost of their services. The outlook depends in many respects upon how other industries are faring. For example, as the healthcare and biotech sectors show signs of growth, so will the need for legal services (trademark and patent law) and policy analysis in these fields.
There are many career paths in law beyond law school. The legal field needs various professionals to keep the system moving: administrators, paralegals, and client advocates. There are entry-level opportunities as a Paralegal/Legal Assistant in both private and public interest law firms.
Many lawyers are moving away from practicing law into nontraditional jobs such as positions in insurance firms or real estate companies, mediation, lobbying, or nonprofit management.
Although Policy Analysts often require an advanced degree, there are Research Assistant positions within many research institutions that go unadvertised. Some recent graduates commit to a Post BA fellowship for a year or two which often accelerates the career path in public policy.
Most law and policy organizations are looking for a combination of the following skills:
- Strong research skills to collect or analyze data and to synthesize complex information
- Evidence of quantitative abilities/knowledge of statistics and economics
- A clear, persuasive writing style to monitor and/or report data
- Public speaking
- Knowledge of legal, political issues
- Knowledge of and commitment to a particular public affair issue or constituency
- Ability to work independently on multiple tasks
Any major is accepted in the law and policy arenas, and alumni with a variety of majors are currently working as paralegals. Sometimes your major might be an added benefit depending on the issue area. For example, someone with a Civil Engineering degree might target law firms that specialize in construction law. (See Martindale.com's "Find Lawyers and Law Firms" feature.)
To advance in the field, a JD (see the Law School section), a Masters in Public Policy (APPAM information on master's degrees for public service) or other relevant professional school degrees are generally required. However, these professional schools are often looking for candidates who have been out working in the field for several years before applying, and admissions committees consider any job which shows a commitment to the public interest as relevant experience. Attend the Graduate School Fair or the Law School Fair and talk to graduate school representatives.
Do well academically and have evidence of good research and writing skills. A senior's honor thesis or a substantive research project as an undergraduate will enhance your resume. Attend professional conferences in your field to network.
Public policy is very issue-oriented (e.g., health policy or environmental policy). Use the resources found in the Law & Public Policy Career Field and Law & Public Policy Internships sections to identify opportunities. Be sure to subscribe to the Nonprofit, Government and Public Policy CareerMail mailing list.