When we talk about law and criminal justice, the first image that comes to mind is often that of the justice system of courts and lawyers, judges, and jails. This field of study often involves a number of other issue areas like psychology, sociology, crime prevention, and cultural, demographic, and population studies. You could think of criminal justice as involving people that work on developing laws relating to criminal justice, managing community organizations that work in crime prevention, and working in local government agencies to develop policy. You can look forward to courses that will prepare you to become a practitioner, scholar, and advocate for social justice in a diverse and global society. Students are often required to take courses that provide an overview of the criminal justice system and select a specialization that can include, but is certainly not limited to, enforcement, courts/law, corrections and counseling, or research based on their career or graduate school interests.
Many programs offer students a chance to gain practical experience and require that you complete an internship to gain experience as part of your coursework. Other programs base coursework on a more theoretical view of criminal justice that allows students to focus on specialized areas of the criminal justice field. Depending on the kind of degree you decide to pursue, masters, PhD or JD, the classes and requirements will reflect the rigors of the program. It is a good idea to research several programs to determine which will be the best fit for you.
In the International Context
You may be wondering how to connect your interests in the legal system with your interest in working on international issues. Luckily the two are not exclusive and you can apply your international experience and interests to study law and criminal justice to your regional interests or broader areas like human rights, youth justice, corruption, democracy, labor rights, or international law.
Skills you’ve gained from study abroad will be useful in this field, regardless of whether you decide to work at home or abroad. This knowledge includes:
- Cross-cultural communication skills. You will likely be working with diverse groups of people and will need to communicate effectively with them.
- Cultural sensitivity. Knowing the values and lifestyle of the local culture can help you implement tools that work best for the client.
- Ability to work independently. This career often requires a high level of independent work, something that is also attributed to living abroad.
- Awareness of diverse perspectives. Not only have you had the opportunity to experience a new culture, you have also gained insight on others outlook on the world.
- Adaptability. Being able to work in a variety of environments is key to succeeding in a career that involves travel or contracted work.
- Effective use of language. In this field, you often need to explain technical matters to persons without statistical expertise and good communication skills are key.
According to the American Bar Association, there are currently 1,116,967 lawyers practicing in the United States and the city with the highest per capita of lawyers is the District of Columbia. A grand majority of these individuals work in the private sector working for corporations or in their own private practice. There are a number of others that work with government agencies or with nonprofit organizations. Regardless of their area of focus, these lawyers have gone through the academic rigors or law school to obtain their Juris Doctorate (JD) and have gone on to take the bar exam to become certified practitioners.
The kinds of courses you take will really depend on the kind of law you would like to eventually practice, but you can expect to take a year of general law classes with a group of your peers, a group that you will be taking all the same classes as you for the first year, called a cohort. Coursework could include intro to law and ethics as well as litigation, contract negotiation, and patent law. For three years, you will be taking courses related to your area of specialization. You will also be expected to take up an internship or multiple internships to gain more practical experience.
Job Opportunities In the Field
Most practicing lawyers work in the private sector for private firms, but there are a number of possibilities to work in the public and nonprofit sector as attorneys. Your specialization will inevitably decide what sector you work in and whether or not you would be involved in litigation (in-court hearings) or not.
An increasingly popular area of study that has emerged in the last 50 years or so is homeland security. As we live in a more global world, there has been a growing interest from national governments to enhance their ability to react and prevent situations that threaten the security of their populations. Degrees with this focus are in high demand and, if you have a particular interest in working with international security issues, an advanced degree will be necessary to pursue a career in the field. Other important skills that will make your degree more marketable will include knowledge of a second or third language and experience working with advanced technologies.
Job Opportunities In the Field
Typically people think that you are limited to working with the government agencies, like the Department of Defense or the State Department. These positions could range from conflict negotiations, reconstruction efforts, information analysis and much more. There are also a number of other organizations and companies that work in tandem with government in areas of security. You could work with a think tank to develop strategy papers on regional conflicts, with a consultant firm that develops training material for the military, or even with a nonprofit to develop cultural training tools for government agencies.
A background in law also is desirable for employee benefits managers and others who must interpret the growing number of laws and regulations. This area of study could include coursework that looks at how to write legally sound contracts, developing terms of agreements for services rendered, or even working bilateral trade agreements. Depending on the level of negotiations you are interested, an advanced degree in this area could put you in the position to work for a large company developing their agreement statements or working with the government of international organization to write country specific accords in areas like resources management or trade. A degree in this field will be rigorous and include significant analysis of case studies.
Job Opportunities In the Field
As we alluded to earlier, there are a number of opportunities to work in the private sector with large corporations particularly because of the number of accounts and partnerships that many companies juggle at any given time. You could also look at working with government and multilateral organizations to develop larger scale contracts and agreements. This specialization, however, has a significant amount of flexibility in that you could work for almost any kind of agency or company since every business and organization is required to develop policies and follow stipulations specific to the work they do. You could work as a contract specialist, policy analyst, or contract negotiator.