An Insider Perspective on Criminal Justice Careers

law practice store front

By Sarah Stevenson

Aileen Stevenson
Law Practice Administrator
Law Offices of Donald M. "Steve" Stevenson
Stockton, California

After 20 years as an information technology professional, Aileen Stevenson started a new career in the field of criminal justice: she joined the Law Offices of Donald M. "Steve" Stevenson as a law practice administrator, where she has worked for the past 11 years managing the office's accounts and day-to-day business.

Like other criminal justice careers in the legal field such as paralegal and legal secretary, law office managers provide critical administrative support to lawyers, from preparing documents and maintaining client records to handling budgets and communicating with clients and attorneys.

A certificate or associate's degree in law office management is often the best preparation to enter the field, but it isn't mandatory. While Stevenson received most of her law-related training on the job, she found that the business administration classes she'd taken for her previous career came in handy for managing a law office. Other criminal justice careers such as paralegal or legal secretary can also lead to jobs in law office management.

What do you do in a typical day at the law office?

My job responsibilities include:

  • Answering the phone
  • Accounts receivable and accounts payable
  • Preparing legal documents
  • Filing documents with the court
  • Having documents recorded
  • Maintaining computer software and hardware
  • Maintaining the attorney's calendar of appointments and significant legal events
  • Billing and payroll

How is being a law practice administrator different from other criminal justice careers, such as legal secretary or paralegal?

A legal secretary or paralegal may not have the administrative duties of maintaining and running the office.

Did you study criminal justice in college? If not, what did you study and how did it prepare you for your current career?

I did not study the law or criminal justice. I earned a bachelor of science in math at Hayward State University. To prepare for the job, I spent a week with the previous paralegal on-the-job-training.

More than anything, my skills at managing projects has helped me the most. Learning the computer programs was easy, having worked in information technology for many years. I also took business administration classes while working in my former profession, which was very helpful in knowing what it takes to run a business.

What skills or characteristics are essential for criminal justice careers like law office management? 

  • Attention to detail is a must. Legal documents must be prepared properly with the correct information and processed in the proper order to be legally recognized.
  • The ability to use computer applications. Interaction with the courts frequently happens over the Internet. There are legal applications used to produce legal documents, to maintain the practice, pay the bills and generate invoices.
  • Good social and phone skills. There's a lot of interaction: personal, over the phone and by email. Your behavior represents not just you but also, and maybe foremost, your employer.
  • The ability to follow and/or set procedures.
  • The ability to become competent by asking questions, observing and getting answers.
  • Courtesy. Getting my job done requires cooperation from many people and resources. People are more receptive to assisting me if my behavior is courteous and I am appreciative of their efforts and realize that my priority is not necessarily also theirs. It's also more fun and rewarding when the interaction is friendly and mutually respectful.
  • Project management skills: the ability to prioritize and keep track of all the projects. You're always working on many unrelated projects at the same time and need to be able to know where each one stands and what needs to get done next by what date. The courts don't take excuses.

Are there any specific career or educational strategies you'd suggest for students interested in law office management?

A well-rounded education makes you more interesting as a person and also gives you more interests to pursue. Any class that encourages interaction will build your social skills. As I stated before, you'll have to deal with all kinds of personalities.

PC literacy is a must. Knowing how to use the range of Microsoft Office applications will give you a head start. It will also give you the skills to readily learn law and office management PC applications. I'd also suggest that those interested in criminal justice careers in law office administration acquire basic accounting skills, as proficiency in accounting is invaluable in this profession.