Competition for jobs in law and criminal justice is keen—give yourself an edge over other job applicants by earning a masters degree or doctoral degree in law and justice. You don't have to earn a JD (Juris Doctor) degree in order to work in the justice system, either. If you're not planning to become a practicing attorney, other master's and PhD concentrations will be more appropriate for you. In general, graduate programs in law and justice take two to four years to complete, so make sure you talk to several law schools before enrolling in your legal studies.
Online universities are offering more and more masters degree programs in criminal justice—all courses can be completed via distance learning through flexible or accelerated schedules. You may be able to get your masters in criminology, criminal justice, or legal studies entirely online. A handful of schools offer graduate programs that lead to the JD (Juris Doctor) degree, which is required for graduates who plan to practice law. Traditional law schools also offer a variety of programs in law and criminal justice. A faculty advisor can help you choose the right graduate program based on your previous education and your future career plans, so talk to several law schools when you begin your search.
An MS (Master of Science) degree in criminal justice prepares the grad student for administrative and leadership roles in the criminal justice system. Doctoral programs are certainly available for students who want the highest-paying jobs. Students who are aiming for a career as an attorney must earn a JD (Juris Doctor) degree, which qualifies them to become professors of law or to obtain an attorney license. PhD criminal justice programs may focus on academic work or may be more career-oriented. Other law and criminal justice graduate degrees include the LLM (Master of Laws) and the SJD or JSD (Doctor of the Science of Law).
Jobs for attorneys are expected to grow steadily in the next ten years. Economic conditions in the country affect which type of lawyer people hire (bankruptcy lawyer, estate planner, civil attorney, etc.). For general criminal justice graduates, all career fields are expected to grow in the next decade, with corrections officers and law enforcement careers growing fastest. It pays to specialize your master's degree in law and justice—you're more valuable to your employer if you have an advanced degree, and you'll command a higher salary.
A general Masters in Criminal Justice qualifies the student for a wide variety of legal jobs: Law enforcement, corrections officer, government agent (for the FBI, DEA, INS, CIA, ATF, or Coast Guard), criminalist, forensic scientist, or even Secret Service agent. As you request information from various universities, talk to the admissions office about which concentrations are available. If you're interested in working for the Homeland Security Department, enroll in an MS in Homeland Security concentration. In Juris Doctor graduate programs, you'll study the practical side of practicing law: constitutional law, civil procedure, criminal law, property law, moot court, and torts.