Law and Criminal Justice Careers

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The law and criminal justice sectors include an array of careers. Jobs are available in government agencies and in the private sector.

The largest U.S. federal agencies involved with law enforcement include the Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The smaller government agencies involved with law enforcement include the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Capitol Police.Private businesses in law enforcement and security include correction organizations, private detective and investigative companies as well as security guard and gaming surveillance companies.

Some law enforcement/protective services careers require on-the-job training, whereas some of these careers require postsecondary education.

After you read this page on Law and Criminal Justice Careers keep browsing our website’s extensive career guide for more information on job options, education requirements and salaries.

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  Correctional Officers

Education and Certifications Correctional Officers Need

A corrections officer career requires at least a high school diploma (or equivalent), graduation from an appropriate training academy established by the American Correctional Association, and on-the-job training. Qualifications may vary slightly depending on the agency.

Some state and local corrections agencies require correctional officers to have college credits or law enforcement or military experience. In order to work in a federal prison, correctional officers must have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a a relevant field, such as psychology; three years experience in counseling, assistance, or supervision of people; or a combination of these two requirements.

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What They Do

Correctional officers, also called corrections officers, oversee arrested individuals waiting for trial, as well as those already convicted and serving time in a jail, reformatory, or prison.

A correctional officer career involves supervising and maintaining order among inmates in jails and prisons. A correctional officer must know where all inmates are at all times, enforce rules, prevent fights or escapes, search inmates for items they should not have, and assist inmates’ with rehabilitation and counseling.

Corrections officers have the power to add or revoke privileges for inmates. Corrections officers may also use handcuffs and leg irons when moving inmates from one location to another.

A corrections officer career includes reporting on inmate behavior, good or bad. Corrections officers also inspect conditions of facilities they work in to ensure they meet agreed-upon standards.

See also: What can I do with a Criminal Justice or Law degree?

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $43,510
2016 number of jobs 468,600
Employment growth forecast, 2016 - 26 -7%
Entry-level education requirements High school diploma or equivalent
2017, wage of lowest 10 percent $29,540
2017, wage of the highest 10 percent $74,940

 

  Court Reporters

Education and Certifications Court Reporters Need

Court reporters often receive training at community colleges or at technical institutes. Court reporter candidates who want to use steno masks and digital recording methods typically spend six months earning a certificate. Stenography programs can last two to four years earning an associate degree.

Many states require court reporters working in legal settings have a license.

The National Court Reporters Association offers court reporter and broadcast captioner certification. A court reporter must type at least 225 words per minute.

On-the-job training follows a formal program. Continuing education and online training are required to maintain certification. Digital and voice reporters can also obtain certification.

What They Do

Most of us get our first glimpse of a court reporter on old movies or television shows such as Perry Mason, where a stenographer sits at the front of the courtroom typing away. Court reporters create word-for-word transcriptions of legal proceedings and public events. Some court reporters also provide captioning for television and at public events.

A court reporting career involves using verbatim methods and equipment to capture, store, retrieve and transcribe legal proceedings. Those who pursue a court reporter career can become stenocaptioners who operate computerized stenographic captioning equipment to produce captions for the hearing-impaired.

A certified court reporter can also find jobs outside courtrooms, transcribing speech to writing as it occurs. Court reporters often specialize in a recording method, such as using stenotype machines, covered microphones called steno masks, or digital recording.

See also: What can I do with a Criminal Justice or Law degree?

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $55,120
2016 number of jobs 19,600
Employment growth forecast, 2016 - 26 3%
Entry-level education requirements Postsecondary nondegree award
2017, wage of lowest 10 percent $26,160
2017, wage of the highest 10 percent $100,270

 

  Fire Inspectors and Investigators

Education and Certifications Fire Inspectors and Investigators Need

A fire inspector career or fire investigator career can begin with a high school diploma, although some employers prefer applicants with an Associate or Bachelor of Fire Science, Engineering, or Chemistry.

Fire inspectors and fire investigators are also generally expected to have previous experience working in a fire or police department, as well as having attended training academies. Fire inspectors and fire investigators also receive on-the-job training.

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What They Do

Nobody wants to be caught in a fire or lose their possessions to a fire, so we depend on fire inspectors and fire investigators to help prevent fires as much as possible. Fire inspectors and fire investigators are involved with fires of residential homes, business buildings, and other structures such as sports arenas and shopping malls.

A fire inspector career includes identifying any potential fire hazards, ensuring buildings are in compliance with fire codes and ensuring that all fire alarms, sprinklers, and extinguishers are in proper working order. Fire inspectors may inspect gasoline storage tanks and air compressors, as well as review emergency evacuation plans. If a fire inspector cites an infraction, they are responsible for following up to ensure the infraction is corrected.

A fire inspector career may include leading fire safety education programs and working with developers and planners on plans for new residential and commercial buildings to ensure they meet fire safety codes.

Fire investigators visit the site of a fire and collect evidence to help pinpoint the location and source of the fire. A fire investigator career includes interviewing witnesses, speaking with other specialists, such as chemists, engineers, and attorneys, and processing other evidence, such as pictures and diagrams.

Fire investigators sometimes send their collected evidence to laboratories for further analysis. All work performed by a fire investigators is thoroughly recorded, as it may be called upon in a court of law.

In some cases, fire investigators are awarded some police powers and allowed to carry a weapon.

See also: What can I do with a Criminal Justice or Law degree?

Career Advancement Opportunities

Correctional officers may advance in their career to a correctional sergeant job or a warden job. Correctional officers may also transfer to similar positions, such as probation officer, parole officer, or correctional treatment specialist.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $56,670
2016 number of jobs 14,100
Employment growth forecast, 2016 - 26 10%
Entry-level education requirements Postsecondary nondegree award and on-the-job training
2017, wage of lowest 10 percent $25,570
2017, wage of the highest 10 percent $80,160

 

  Firefighters

Education and Certifications Firefighters Need

Although people may sometimes begin a firefighter career with only a high school diploma or equivalent, a postsecondary non-degree award in fire science or a related discipline is more common.

Some fire departments offer accredited apprenticeship programs lasting up to four years. Firefighters may also opt to attend federal training sessions sponsored by the National Fire Academy.

Firefighters typically need to pass written and physical tests, complete multiple interviews, and obtain an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. Upon hire, they also receive additional on-the-job training.

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What They Do

If entering a burning building to help put out the fire and potentially save lives sounds enthralling, rather than terrifying, you may have the heroic gene needed to be a firefighter. Firefighters are also often the first responders to accidents and other emergencies.

Firefighters need the skills to drive and operate large fire trucks and they need enough physical strength to manage heavy fire hoses and pumps. A firefighter career includes obtain the medical knowledge to administer emergency life-saving efforts to accident or fire victims.

The majority of calls firefighters respond to are medical rather than fire-related. Clearly, this is not a job for the weak-willed. A firefighter career includes producing written reports of all instances they’re involved in.

When not responding to fires and emergencies, firefighters maintain their equipment; they clean equipment; firefighters conduct drills and receive additional training in fire fighting techniques. A fire fighter career may involve engaging in various forms of public education on fire safety.

Forest firefighters and smoke jumpers respond to forest fires or hazardous materials incidents. Forest firefighters have extremely physical work, as they must haul around heavy equipment and water hoses, sometimes for miles. A forest firefighter career includes digging fire lines and cutting trees. Forest firefighters may plane jump in order to access remote areas.

See also: What can I do with a Criminal Justice or Law degree?

Career Advancement Opportunities

Firefighters have multiple career advancement opportunities. With experience, they may be promoted to engineer, then lieutenant, captain, and battalion chief. In order to be eligible for promotion beyond battalion chief, a firefighter must usually obtain a Bachelor of Fire Science degree a Bachelor of Public Administration degree or a degree in a related field. Positions beyond battalion chief include: assistant chief, deputy chief, and chief.

Firefighters may also obtain certification as an executive fire officer through the National Fire Academy; however they need at least an associate degree to obtain certification.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $49,080
2016 number of jobs 327,300
Employment growth forecast, 2016 - 26 7%
Entry-level education requirements Postsecondary nondegree award
2017, wage of lowest 10 percent $24,490
2017, wage of the highest 10 percent $83,570

 

  Judges, Mediators, and Hearing Clerks

Education and Certifications Judges, Mediators, and Hearing Clerks Need

While requirements for mediators vary, judges and hearing officers usually need a law degree — which takes seven years, full-time, after high school — unless they’re elected to a post in a small community, such as a town or village justice. Many judge, magistrate and hearing officer positions are appointed.

Mediators learn their skills on the job or through training. Many take certification programs in conflict resolution or have a master’s degree in dispute resolution or conflict management. A master’s in public policy, law and related fields provide a solid background.

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What They Do

Although their titles and duties vary, judges, mediators and hearing clerks all play an essential role in protecting citizens’ rights when people appear in court.

A judge hears cases; can render a verdict or hand down a penalty or sentence. A Judge handles civil, criminal, family and traffic cases, depending on which court they work in.

A mediator facilitates communication between those involved in a dispute, helps them understand each other’s point of view and guides them toward an agreement.

A hearing officer, sometimes called an adjudicator or administrative law judge, presides over a hearing to decide claims involving government-related matters.

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Career Advancement Opportunities

Lawyers who choose to sit on the bench have many opportunities to specialize and advance within that specialty through taking on work in larger jurisdictions.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $115,520
2016 number of jobs 43,800
Employment growth forecast, 2016 - 26 5%
Entry-level education requirements Doctoral or professional degree
2017, wage of lowest 10 percent $35,650
2017, wage of the highest 10 percent $192,740

 

  Lawyers

Education and Certifications Lawyers Need

For a law career, a candidate must earn a bachelor’s degree and attend law school, which generally takes three years full-time. Then they must become licensed by passing the bar exam in the state in which they plan to practice.

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What They Do

If you gave much credence to all the lawyer jokes out there, you wouldn’t think lawyers did anything of value, but, truth be told, lawyers work to see the laws of their communities, states and the nation are followed; and, in so doing, they protect the rights of all of us, often one client at a time.

Lawyers, often called attorneys, represent their clients in civil and criminal cases; they draft legal documents, such as wills, pre-nuptial agreements and contracts. A lawyer career includes advising clients — individuals and corporations — on the legal aspects of business and financial transactions.

Lawyers can open their own practices, work in small or large firms or seek jobs in the legal department of another company.

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Career Advancement Opportunities

New attorneys who join firms often work as clerks for judges or as associates for more experienced lawyers. After lawyers gain experience they can advance in their career and become a partner or co-owner of a firm. Experienced attorneys sometimes are elected or named to a judgeship or go on to teach at a law school.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $119,250
2016 number of jobs 792,500
Employment growth forecast, 2016 - 26 8%
Entry-level education requirements Doctoral or professional degree
2017, wage of lowest 10 percent $57,430
2017, wage of the highest 10 percent $208,000

 

  Legislators

Education and Certifications Legislators Need

Typically, people interested in a legislator career, need a bachelor’s degree or higher to effectively compete in an election. However, there is no formal education requirement to actually become a legislator. Candidates come from a wide range of occupational backgrounds, experience and educational degrees, but many have direct experience in politics or management.

Legislators, elected officials, campaign for a position in the government whether local, state or federal. Campaigning, a grueling task filled with long hours of public appearances, also requires significant campaign fundraising.

Graduate degrees in law and business as well as a Master degree in Public Administration are particularly helpful when running for state legislator or federal legislator positions.

Many candidates also have strong backgrounds in education, law, and business as well as extensive volunteer experience working with charities, religious affiliations and on other political campaigns. In addition, legislators often begin their career on a local level and gain experience before seeking a higher office.

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What They Do

People who care about how laws impact communities, have the patience to truly listen to people, can compromise on many issues and enjoy making new laws and changing existing ones may find a legislator career highly rewarding. Simply put, legislators, elected members of the legislative branch of government, develop and enact laws and statutes for local, state and federal governments. However, when reviewing the overall job description, a legislator career is much more detailed and complex.

A legislator career involves spending days developing and drafting laws for other legislators to pass, debating and understanding proposed laws during floor sessions, writing and approving budgets and regulations and finding money for programs in their districts.

A legislator career involves voting on bills and enacting them into law, hearing concerns and testimony from political leaders as well as the communities they represent and serving on several panels and committees for policy issues.

The term legislator includes a wide variety of politicians from members of the U.S. Congress and state senators to township commissioners and council members.

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Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $25,630
2016 number of jobs 51,380
Employment growth forecast, 2016 - 26 N/A
Entry-level education requirements N/A
2017, wage of lowest 10 percent $17,480
2017, wage of the highest 10 percent $97,510

 

Education and Certifications Paralegals and Legal Asisstants Need

Many paralegals and legal assistants have an associate degree in paralegal studies; some have a bachelor’s in another field and certification in paralegal studies, however it’s not out of the question for lawyers to hire a recent college graduate with no legal experience and provide on-the-job training. Legal assistant certification or paralegal certification can help during job hunting, though most firms do not require it.

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What They Do

Behind most good lawyers, you’ll find a good legal assistant or paralegal. While many small-town lawyers work on their own, many larger firms require the services of paralegals and legal assistants to get the job done. A paralegal and legal assistant have the skills and training to handle routine legal work, freeing lawyers up to try cases or handle more complex matters.

A paralegal career and a legal assistant career involve maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research and drafting documents. The full scope of paralegals and legal assistants’ assignments often depends on the size of the firm and the trust among the individuals involved.

See also: What can I do with a Criminal Justice or Law degree?

Career Advancement Opportunities

Those who choose a paralegal career or a legal assistant career can advance within a firm as they become more experienced. This often includes supervising and delegating assignments to other paralegals and legal assistants.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $50,410
2016 number of jobs 285,600
Employment growth forecast, 2016 - 26 15%
Entry-level education requirements Associate degree
2017, wage of lowest 10 percent $31,130
2017, wage of the highest 10 percent $81,180

 

  Police and Detectives

Education and Certifications Police and Detectives Need

Education requirements for a police officer or detective career vary widely by location and department. Usually, they need at least a high school diploma or equivalent, must graduate from their agency’s training academy, and then receive on-the-job training. Some agencies also require some college coursework or an associate or bachelor of law enforcement or criminal justice.

People seeking a police officer career or a detective career should be a U.S. citizen, at least 21 years old, have a valid driver’s license, and meet the physical and personal requirements.

Detectives commonly begin their careers as police officers and later obtain a detective job.

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What They Do

Police officers and detectives enforce local, state, or federal laws, which can involve protecting property, intervening in domestic disputes, or investigating crimes. Police departments in the United States have come under fire for enforcing laws unevenly and discriminating against people of color.

Most people can easily recognize a uniformed police officer, but may not know just how much is involved in a police officer career. Police officers respond to a variety of service calls, patrol specified areas, and make arrests as needed.

Police officers also make traffic stops and may issue warnings or tickets. For all actions taken on a shift, police officers must record the situation in a report or with the appropriate forms. Sometimes, they must also appear in court to testify in criminal cases.

Police officer responsibilities can also include responding to domestic issues or providing first aid to accident victims. Given this range of responsibilities, many citizens have called to reduce the scope of policing in the United States, to ensure police officers only handle situations they are trained for.

Detectives are specialized police officers who investigate crimes. This can involve collecting physical evidence from crime scenes, interviewing witnesses and suspects, monitoring the activities of suspects, and making arrests. Detectives also record all of their actions in reports and forms and testify in court.

Police officers and detectives work for local, state, and federal agencies, with the duties attributed to each level varying largely.

See also: What can I do with a Criminal Justice or Law degree?

Career Advancement Opportunities

After completing a probationary period, police officers become eligible for a promotion. Advanced positions available to police officers include corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. In larger offices, police officers may advance to the position of detective.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $62,960
2016 number of jobs 807,000
Employment growth forecast, 2016 - 26 7%
Entry-level education requirements High school diploma + on-the-job training
2017, wage of lowest 10 percent $35,780
2017, wage of the highest 10 percent $105,230

 

  Private Detectives and Investigators

Education and Certifications Private Detectives and Investigators Need

Although there are no formal education requirements for a private detective career or private investigator career, many private detectives and private investigators have some college education, including courses in criminal justice and political science; they also receive on-the-job training. The formality of training for private detectives and private investigators depends on the size and type of the firm employing them.

Corporate investigators usually have a Bachelor of Accounting degree or a degree in a related field. Many computer forensic investigators have a Bachelor or Computer Science degree a Bachelor of Criminal Justice degree or a degree in a related field.

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What They Do

Is a private detective career or a private investigator career as exciting as it looks in the movies? Maybe not always, but definitely sometimes. Private detectives and private investigators perform a variety of services, including researching and verifying people’s backgrounds, locating missing people, investigating computer crimes, and protecting celebrities; not many jobs offer this kind of variety and potential excitement.

Private detectives and private investigators conduct background checks on people, verifying their work history, income, and personal records. Private detective careers and private investigator careers may involve solving computer crimes, finding missing-persons, or investigating insurance claims and fraud.

Private detectives and private investigators find their information through many channels, whether it’s interviewing people, researching records online, or personally conducting surveillance. When conducting surveillance, private detectives and private investigators must adhere to privacy laws. Private detective careers and private investigator careers sometimes include presenting information in a court of law.

See also: What can I do with a Criminal Justice or Law degree?

Career Advancement Opportunities

Since most detective agencies are small with few, if any, clearly defined positions, private detectives and private investigators typically advance in their career via a salary increase or through receiving better assignments rather than a title change. Some private investigators or private detectives may start their own firm.

Corporate and legal investigators may have the opportunity to advance to managerial positions.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $50,700
2016 number of jobs 41,400
Employment growth forecast, 2016 - 26 11%
Entry-level education requirements High school diploma or equivalent
2017, wage of lowest 10 percent $28,780
2017, wage of the highest 10 percent $86,730

 

  Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Education and Certifications Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists Need

An entry-level probation officer or correctional treatment specialist generally needs a bachelor’s degree in social work, criminal justice, psychology or a related field. Some employers require a master’s degree in a related field for those who do not have previous relevant experience as a pretrial services officer, criminal investigator, substance abuse treatment officer or a correctional counselor.

A certification test may follow on-the-job training for probation officers and correctional treatment specialist with the state or federal government. A correctional treatment officer may also specialize in a particular type of casework after finishing training.

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What They Do

Once a judge sentences a criminal to jail or prison, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists take over to monitor their behavior while in jail and after release. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists work with offenders to help prevent repeat offenses.

A correctional treatment specialist career and a probation officer career include providing social services to help offenders rehabilitate while in custody or during probation or parole.

Probation officers and correctional counselors make recommendations as part of the rehabilitation plan, in areas such as conditional releases, education and employment requirements.

People in this field often find work as a federal probation officers, community supervision officers, pretrial service officers, parole officers, correctional treatment specialists and correctional counselors.

See also: What can I do with a Criminal Justice or Law degree?

Career Advancement Opportunities

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists may advance to a supervisory position based on education, experience and performance.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $51,410
2016 number of jobs 91,300
Employment growth forecast, 2016 - 26 6%
Entry-level education requirements Bachelor's degree
2017, wage of lowest 10 percent $33,920
2017, wage of the highest 10 percent $90,880

 

  Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers

Education and Certifications Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers Need

An unarmed security guard career generally requires a high school diploma or GED; an armed security guard career generally requires a high school diploma and/or coursework in criminal justice.

Many employers provide on-the-job training for new security guards. ASIS International offers voluntary recommended guidelines for training private security officers. Armed officers typically receive annual firearms training.

A gaming surveillance officer career requires a high school diploma and some college courses, although not necessarily a college degree. Typically gaming surveillance officers need to complete a certification program through a college.

A certification test may follow on-the-job training for probation officers and correctional treatment specialist with the state or federal government. A correctional treatment officer may also specialize in a particular type of casework after finishing training.

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What They Do

There’s a lot to be said for feeling safe in an environment, and often times security guards or gaming surveillance officers are the ones working hard to ensure your safety and protection of your property from fire, theft, vandalism, terrorism, and other illegal activities.

Security guards and gaming surveillance officers monitor alarms and closed-circuit TV cameras, control access areas and conduct security checks to protect employers’ property. When they detect suspicious activity they may detain the criminal, interview witnesses, and later testify in court. If additional help is needed, Security guards and gaming surveillance officers may call for help from police, fire, or ambulance services. Some security guards are armed.

A security guard career and a gaming surveillance officer career include recording activity from each shift they work.

Security guards work in a wide variety of settings including, but not limited to private residences, retail stores, office buildings, banks, hotels, hospitals, museums, art galleries, factories, government buildings, schools, universities, and sports stadiums.

See also: What can I do with a Criminal Justice or Law degree?

Career Advancement Opportunities

Security guards typically have many career advancement opportunities due to the high turnover in the profession. Security guards may advance to the position of supervisor or security manager. Additional education and certifications help security guards gain advancement opportunities. Some security guards with management skills opt to open their own security agency.

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $26,960
2016 number of jobs 1,133,900
Employment growth forecast, 2016 - 26 6%
Entry-level education requirements High school diploma and on-the-job training
2017, wage of lowest 10 percent $19,640
2017, wage of the highest 10 percent $48,370

 

  Social Workers

Education and Certifications Social Workers Need

Education requirements vary for social workers, depending on the type of social worker career they seek. Direct-service social workers generally need a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, however degrees in a related field such as a Bachelor of Psychology or Bachelor of Sociology are good foundations for graduate work. Clinical social workers need a Master of Social Work (MSW) as well as a state license.

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What They Do

Social workers help individuals, families and children with interpersonal, social, medical and financial issues. Social workers fall into two main categories: direct-service social workers or clinical social workers.

Direct-services social workers offer support and guidance to individuals dealing with everyday problems and issues. The social worker assesses the client’s needs, personal situation, and ultimate goals, then develops a plan to improve the person’s well being and begin steps toward accomplishing their goal.

Examples of common issues a direct-services social worker may help an individual deal with include illness, divorce and unemployment. They also respond to natural disasters and cases of child abuse. A direct-services social worker career includes researching local resources, such as food stamps, child care, and health care in order to inform their client and help them apply for any community resources which may benefit them.

A clinical social worker, or licensed clinical social worker, diagnoses and treats mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression. Clinical social workers collaborate with their client, doctors, and other healthcare professionals to create a treatment plan for their client. A clinical social worker career may include teaching clients how to change destructive patterns and better cope with situations in a healthy way.

Clinical social workers may lead therapy sessions for individuals, groups, couples, or families. Other times, clinical social workers will refer a client to other resources, services, or support groups.

Clinical social workers may work in private practices, in a group practice with other healthcare professionals, or in a solo practice.

Some professionals in the field specialize and work as a medical social worker, licensed clinical social worker or healthcare social worker.

Direct-service social workers and clinical social workers typically focus on a specific expertise, such as child and family, school, healthcare, the elderly, hospice or palliative care, or mental health and substance abuse.

See also: What can I do with a Criminal Justice or Law degree?

Essential Career Information

2017 Median Pay $47,980
2016 number of jobs 682,100
Employment growth forecast, 2016 - 26 16%
Entry-level education requirements Bachelor's degree and license
2017, wage of lowest 10 percent $29,560
2017, wage of the highest 10 percent $79,740

* Salary, number of jobs and employment growth provided by
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