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Justice Careers

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Chapter 4: Court Careers

Courts are categorized by role, geography, and governmental level. In the United States courts have federal, state, and local jurisdiction. Courts are also categorized by role, with family, bankruptcy, criminal, and other distinctions regarding caseload. Court cases are also categorized as civil or criminal. Different courts, and procedures, apply for each category of cases.

Courts play a major role in the criminal justice system as they provide a forum for presenting evidence and applying the law in ways that protect constitutionally guaranteed processes. Courts provide a controlled forum for resolving disputes. Courts also play a major role in public policy as they decide questions regarding key social issues.

The court system offers careers that overlap with duties and roles more often associated with law enforcement and corrections. Careers are available for people with high school diplomas as well as those with law degrees and other advanced education. Work in the courts can provide a challenging and rewarding career experience that includes a range of responsibilities.

As with previous sections of this text, the following links provide information about careers in the courts. Many of the links provide information about specific careers. Links to specific job listings are not included. Use these links to learn about careers and to assess whether these careers would provide you with a rewarding work experience.

General Links

Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services


Center for Court Innovation


Council for Court Excellence


National Center for State Courts


NCJRS – Courts


Court Career Information


Description and Duties

Arbitrators are typically attorneys or businesspersons with expertise in a particular field, although training and experience can vary widely. In arbitration, the disputants submit their dispute to one or more impartial arbitrators. After hearing all testimony and comments the arbitrators are empowered to render a final and binding decision. Arbitration is less formal and often quicker than a traditional court proceeding. In most cases the issues to be resolved by arbitration, the scope of the relief to be awarded, and many of the procedural aspects of the process are determined by the parties prior to arbitration. Since the parties have agreed to be bound by the decision of the arbitrator the findings are usually not reviewed by the courts.


American Arbitration Association


Association for Conflict Resolution


Arbitration Development Program



Description and Duties

Attorneys serve as advocates or advisors for their clients. They play a variety of roles in the justice system. In criminal courts, attorneys function as representatives of the state, the accused, or other parties to the case. Roles of the district and defense attorneys are discussed below. In general, attorneys assist the finder of fact, either a judge or jury, identify facts and precedent that can be used in rendering a decision. Lawyers often specialize in a specific area of the law and may perform a relatively narrow role. In other cases, and this can be dependent on the size of the community in which the attorney practices, the attorney acts as a “general practitioner” and assists clients with a range of legal issues.


American Bar Association


American College of Trial Lawyers


Association of Trial Lawyers of America


Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook


Trial Lawyers for Public Justice


Clerk of the Court

Description and Duties

Court clerks manage revenue collections and are responsible for records management, public relations and other aspects of court operation. The Clerk of the Court also performs clerical duties, manages the court docket, and manages many documents containing information for the judge, the attorneys, and other court participants. In some jurisdiction the clerk is elected, although this is increasingly being defined as an appointed position.




Federal Court Clerks Association

National Center for State Courts


U.S. Courts


Court Administrator

Description and Duties

Court Administrators assist the judge with the court calendar, case flow, and many other duties. In most courts the judge has many administrative duties that can include record keeping, personnel, scheduling, and many other duties that require a different set of skills than are used while on the bench. Court administrators typically have administrative experiences that enable them to assist the judge in a range of management functions.


Judicial Management Institute

National Association for Court Management


NCSC Court Management Program


Court Interpreter/Translator

Description and Duties

As national demographics change, the court system is faced with interpretation and translation issues that must be addressed in order to assure a fair trial process for all participants. Over the last decade a number of state court systems have instituted education and certification programs and have prescribed codes of professional responsibility for court interpreters. In a role that may overlap with that of the court reporter, court translators also provide closed-captioning and real-time translation for deaf and hard-of-hearing participants.


NCSC – Court Interpretation

Bureau of Justice Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook


Court Reporter

Description and Duties

Court transcripts are extremely important documents and accurate reporting of court processes is essential. Court reporters document all words spoken by the participants of all court proceedings. Using a variety of tools, court reporters prepare verbatim transcripts of all statements. Court recording methods include electronic recording, non-electronic methods, or a combination of the two. In addition to reporting court proceedings, reporters generate transcripts of depositions, interrogatories, and other pretrial proceedings.


National Court Reporters Association


United States Court Reporters Association


Defense Attorney

Description and Duties

Criminal defense attorneys may work for the federal, state or local government or for private law firms. They defend the accused in criminal or civil court. Although they are often criticized for defending the “indefensible,” defense attorneys serve all citizens by working to assure that procedural rules are followed so defendants receive a fair trial.


Criminal Defense Lawyer Associations


National Board of Trial Advocacy


National Legal Aid and Defenders Association


District/Prosecuting Attorney

Description and Duties

Prosecutors work for the government in enforcement of federal and state statutes that define the criminal code. During trials the Prosecutor represents the state in the case against the defendant. Prosecutors generally work for the District Attorney’s office of the state or county. The District Attorney is a powerful player in the justice system and makes decisions about whether to try an individual for a crime. This can be a very political job and is typically an elected position.


United States Attorney General


International Association of Prosecutors


National College of District Attorneys


National District Attorneys Association



Description and Duties

Judges preside over trials or hearings. They hear the evidence as presented by attorney, witnesses, and the parties. Judges also rule on the admissibility of evidence and the methods of conducting testimony. The judge is responsible for resolving disputes regarding evidence and procedures in an effort to assure a fair process. The duties of judges vary according to the extent of their jurisdictions and powers. Judges have jurisdictions that may be limited to geography or subject. For example, federal judges may hear cases from anywhere in the country or may be restricted to cases that originate in the judge’s circuit. Other judges may only hear cases in bankruptcy, family, or other subject specific courts. Judges can be elected or appointed and in most cases a legal degree is required. Local court judges, often called magistrates, may not be required to be attorneys.


Bureau of Labor Statistics - Occupational Outlook Handbook


Federal Judicial Center


National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges


Jury Coordinator

Description and Duties

The Jury Coordinator manages all phases of jury management, including source lists, qualifications, excusals and exemptions, and juror fees. While these topics are often considered administrative in nature, they also require judicial involvement.


NCSC – Center for Jury Studies


Law Clerk

Description and Duties

Law clerks assist with the preparation of cases by conducting legal research and gathering evidence. They assist judges and attorneys by preparing and analyzing memoranda, briefs, regulations, and/or other legal documents. Law clerks research and analyze legal data to find support for cases. Law clerks may also take sworn statements from witnesses.


Federal Law Clerk Information System


Judicial Clerkships

Law Librarian

Description and Duties

Law Librarians assist people in finding information and using it effectively for personal and professional purposes. Librarians must have knowledge of a variety of scholarly and public information sources and must follow trends related to publishing, computers, and the media in order to oversee the selection and organization of library materials. Librarians manage staff and develop and direct information programs and systems for the public, to ensure that information is organized in a manner that meets users’ needs.


American Association of Law Librarians


American Library Association


Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook



Description and Duties

A mediator is a neutral third party who assists parties who are trying to resolve a dispute without reliance on more formal court processes. Mediation can be helpful in situations where there are multiple issues and when the parties want to preserve their relationship. During the process of mediation the mediator may offer suggestions, but the parties continue to “own” their dispute and resolution rests with the parties. Mediation is used primarily in civil cases, but in some jurisdictions prosecutors will send disputes that have the potential to involve criminal courts to mediation. Mediation can also be used as part of the sentencing process, either as a required sentence or as a way to determine a sentence that will eventually be endorsed by the judge. In some jurisdictions courts will use mediation and similar process to help parties resolve some or all issues prior to trial. Cases may also be referred to mediation and the agreement, if any, becomes part of a more formal court proceeding. In contrast to public court processes, mediation proceedings are confidential and private. If the parties are unable to reach a settlement they are free to pursue other options.


Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking


Mediation Information and Resource Center


Restorative Justice Online


Victim Offender Mediation Association


Paralegal or Legal Assistant

Description and Duties

Paralegals, also referred to as legal assistants, perform a variety of tasks in courts and law offices. Paralegals prepare legal briefs, perform legal research, assist at trials, and draft a variety of documents. Their role is limited and in most cases they cannot present cases in court or give legal advice. In addition to work in the justice system, paralegals may work for corporations, community agencies, or private law offices. Paralegals may also be asked to monitor and review laws and other regulations and provide updates to others in the organization to ensure that the organization follows changing regulations.


ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistants


Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook


National Association of Legal Assistants


National Paralegal Association

Public Defender

Description and Duties

Public Defenders provide defense services to indigents charged with felony and misdemeanor offenses through all trial stages and appeals. Public Defenders must be a member of the state bar, possess a comprehensive knowledge of criminal law and procedure, and be proficient at legal research.


Department of Justice – Indigent Defense


New York State Defenders Association


Public Defender Websites


Public Information Officer

Description and Duties

Public Information Officers provide resources that educate the public about courts, law, and the procedures required for different types of cases. As a spokesperson for the court the public information officer communicates with the media to ensure that accurate information is reported.


Association of Public Safety Communication Officials International

NCSC – Public Information Officers


National Information Officers Association


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