How to Become a Legal Researcher: A Detailed Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 27 October 2022

Published 29 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Legal researchers conduct in-depth research into different areas of the law to help lawyers and other members of a legal team with their casework. Legal researchers often work in private and government law firms and in the courts. Understanding the requirements of getting a role as a legal researcher can help you decide if it's the right career for you. In this article, we discuss how you can become a legal researcher, explore related careers, list helpful skills you can develop for this role, discuss the average salary and answer some FAQs.

What is a legal researcher?

A legal researcher helps gather, organise and research legal documents. They often work under the supervision of a licensed attorney who receives the legal researcher's findings. A legal researcher's primary duty is typically to find specific laws that apply to the current case.

Legal researchers often specialise in one field of law, such as civil, criminal or ethical. For most areas of law, there can be many legal clauses that can determine the legal outcome of a case. Attorneys typically don't know every law in detail, so they employ legal researchers to help analyse laws related to a case. The research findings from a legal researcher help an attorney create a strategy to win a case. Below, you can find some typical duties of a legal researcher:

  • reviewing legal documents

  • researching new and upcoming changes to federal and state laws

  • providing research findings to a legal team

  • working with members of a legal team

  • organising legal documents

  • travelling to legal offices, courtrooms and libraries to gather legal information

  • scheduling and conducting meetings

Related: How to Become a Law Clerk (With Duties and Skills)

How to become a legal researcher

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to become a legal researcher:

1. Complete a legal certificate

Completing a certificate is often the quickest way to gain skills as a legal researcher and can help you find an entry-level position. Certificates typically take two years to complete and comprise practical and theoretical studies. Certificates, such as a Certificate IV in Legal Studies, may provide you with enough knowledge to begin your career as a legal researcher.

2. Consider a bachelor's degree

Obtaining a bachelor's degree related to law is typically not a requirement, though it can improve your legal expertise and help expand your job opportunities. A bachelor's degree typically takes three years to complete and provides you with advanced knowledge of legal matters. The types of bachelor degrees you may consider can include a Bachelor of Legal Studies, Bachelor of Business Law and a Bachelor of Criminal Justice.

3. Gain relevant work experience

There are several positions similar to a legal researcher, such as a legal assistant or paralegal. These positions may require less knowledge of the law and can be an excellent way to enter the legal industry. Some employers may favour experience over qualifications, so gaining work experience in a legal team may help you gain employment as a legal researcher.

4. Apply for a legal researcher role

You may apply for the role of a legal researcher with no experience or qualifications, though there might not be many job opportunities available to you. If you've gained a qualification and/or several years of experience in the legal industry, then potential employers may be more likely to view your job application. You can use the Indeed Job Board to search for careers as a legal researcher.

Related: How to Become a Paralegal

Careers related to a legal researcher

A legal team often comprises several professionals. Paralegals and legal assistants are often entry-level positions in a legal team. These careers can be a great way for you to gain knowledge and experience in the legal industry. Working as a paralegal may provide you with the most relative experience, as they share similar responsibilities with a legal researcher. Below you can find some details on relevant careers in the legal industry:

1. Legal assistant

Average national salary: $68,533 per year

Primary duties: A legal assistant may have similar responsibilities to a legal researcher, such as filing and organising legal documents. Their roles are primarily administrative and rarely require extensive knowledge of law principles. Law assistants typically work directly for an attorney and can expect to conduct most of their duties in an office.

2. Paralegal

Average national salary: $73,408 per year

Primary duties: Paralegals share very similar responsibilities to a legal researcher, such as researching specific clauses and standards relating to a case. Their duties within a legal team may vary, but usually include research and administrative tasks. Paralegals often specialise in a specific field of law, such as civil, criminal and business. They usually work within a legal team or directly under an attorney.

Related: How to Become a Research Analyst (With a Step-by-Step Guide)

Helpful skills of a legal researcher

There can be a wide range of soft and technical skills that can benefit legal researchers. Interpersonal skills, such as communication and teamwork, are often essential to members of a legal team. Below you can find some skills that may assist a legal researcher in doing their daily activities:

Research

Understanding how to research different topics of law can help legal researchers conduct their tasks with efficiency and effectiveness. Many methods and programs can assist a legal researcher to review laws and regulations. You can improve your research skills by completing tertiary education and practising research techniques, such as verifying sources and knowing where to start your research.

Law knowledge

Having a basic knowledge of the law and the criminal justice system can benefit legal researchers by improving their research capabilities. Documents that discuss specific laws, such as litigation laws, may contain hundreds of clauses. Knowing what clauses to look for and how to interpret them can help legal researchers efficiently gather relevant laws that apply to the case. One of the best ways to improve your knowledge of the law is usually to complete a certificate or bachelor's degree in legal studies.

Attention to detail

Legal researchers may review pages of legal clauses to find a section that can help the case. Legalities surrounding a case can often be very complex, where clauses become redundant because of other clauses. Having attention to detail can help a legal researcher make connections between laws and decide if it's a valid law for the specific case.

Teamwork

Legal researchers typically work within a legal team which can often comprise varying professionals with different skill sets and experience. Having teamwork skills can help legal researchers when interacting with their team members. Good teamwork can promote efficiency and improve the effectiveness of the team. To improve your teamwork skills, you can develop your communication and try to consider others before making decisions.

How much does a legal researcher earn?

The average national salary of a legal researcher is $86,002 per year. As a legal researcher, your salary may vary depending on your level of qualifications and experience. Salaries may also be different in each state, as the cost of living and demand for researchers typically differ. As a legal researcher, you may specialise in a specific type of law. This can increase your expertise in the law industry and may provide you with a higher-paying career.

Frequently asked questions

Below are some commonly asked questions about working as a legal researcher:

What can a legal researcher specialise in?

The court of law covers several types of laws. The two main areas of law are criminal and civil, though within those areas are various subcategories. A legal researcher may specialise in many legal fields, such a corporate law, property law, environmental law, litigation law and laws that deal with criminal acts.

What is the difference between a paralegal and a legal researcher?

The difference between a paralegal and a legal researcher is that a legal researcher primarily focuses on researching laws and regulations. A paralegal may also conduct research, but their tasks cover a broad range of duties within a legal team. Legal researchers are essentially specialists in reviewing information, while paralegals are specialists in assisting a legal team.

Is legal research a good career?

Legal research can be a good career in terms of career satisfaction and career progression. Working with a legal team to help win cases can often be mentally rewarding. There are also usually many opportunities for you to progress your career by specialising in a category of law. Your level of enjoyment in your career as a legal researcher can often depend on your interpersonal skills, passions and motivations in life.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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