Paralegals, previously known as legal assistants, are part of the support staff in a law firm that makes an attorney’s job easy. However, they have more on-the-ground experience than new associates and have a better inside view of legal practices.
If you’re a paralegal, at some point, it’s natural to think about whether or not you should pursue becoming a lawyer. You may wonder how you can apply your learning to climb the ranks and become an attorney one day. Well, you might want to put a pause on those thoughts first and explore the opportunity in a bit more detail before making a big move.
Is it Time to Think About Law School?
Our friends, like the personal injury lawyers at Ehline Law Firm, have compiled relevant information to help you decide whether you should ask for to law school and make a career switch and, if so, what are some of the things to consider before making a decision.
Paralegals Vs Lawyers: The Difference
You may refer to a paralegal as a legal assistant however, that changed in the 21st century. The roles and responsibilities of a legal assistant are more in line with those of a legal secretary (responsible for carrying out administrative tasks) than a paralegal. Paralegals focus on legal research and aiding attorneys with their cases, which means that they are highly trained in practicing law.
Both lawyers and paralegals receive training to practice law. However, there are differences between the two professions. The main difference lies in the fact that although paralegals receive training to practice law, only attorneys have the license to practice.
This is because to become a paralegal, you don’t need to go to law school. Instead, you need an associate’s degree, while an attorney must go through seven years of education (4 years of undergraduate and 3 years of law school) and pass the state bar to receive a license for practicing.
Since a lawyer has already cleared the state bar, they can either practice law independently or work together with paralegals or other attorneys. On the other hand, paralegals can only work under the instructions of a practicing lawyer.
Factors to Consider Before Attending Law School
Will You Receive a Salary Upgrade?
You may feel tempted to become an attorney because of the higher salaries they make or perhaps because of all the glamor that comes with the job. Remember, all that glitters is not good.
Unlike paralegals, attorneys do not receive any more than their salaries, and there is no overtime pay for them. On the other hand, paralegals make money according to the work they do. Since their payment is by the hour, paralegals have the opportunity to rake in a lot of cash during trial situations when a typical workday is 20 hours!
Law School is Expensive!
A law school education can cost upwards of $100,000, and that amount will add to your student debt. Do your math before you decide to invest and see if the return on the investment is well justified before you apply to law school.
Will the Career Transition Affect Your Quality of Life?
Since the pay is by the hour and they receive compensation for overtime work, a paralegal job offers a more balanced work-life environment, as attorneys and law firms do pay some attention to their workload. If you’re an attorney, you have to make sure you’re available all the time, and this can be something not everyone can stomach.
What Responsibilities Do You See Yourself Carrying Out?
Some paralegals who want to make a transition towards becoming an attorney do so because they find that the work is more interesting and challenging. That said, it is important to understand the responsibilities young attorneys carry out.
Oftentimes, we look at how glamorous of a lifestyle a senior partner at a law firm lives. However, to get to that point, young attorneys fresh out of law school must strive constantly to compete with a wave of competition. There are long working hours without overtime pay, monotonous rote work, and the student debt payment trenches.
You Should Talk to a Lawyer Before Making a Decision
It is best to speak to a lawyer in your own law firm to learn more about their responsibilities, their working routine, and other necessary information to help you make that decision.
What Type of Job Do You Think You’ll Get at Law Firms?
Paralegals pursuing law school to become lawyers in the future expect to land a really good job at a prestigious law firm since they have considerable work experience. However, that is not the only criteria for securing a good position or job in a prestigious law firm. The legal profession is a highly competitive field, and the top law firms in the country will only hire from the top law schools in the country.
Personal connections do play a role, but in the legal industry, a law degree still holds a lot of weight.
Lawyers You Know Can Help You With Your Decision
That said, it doesn’t mean you can’t make it as a lawyer. If you’re still adamant about becoming an attorney, talk to lawyers to get their perspective on the career. They’ll be better able to guide you on the workload required and the expectations from a practicing attorney. This information can make it easier for you to decide.
How Can Paralegal Experience Help with Law School Applications?
As a working paralegal, you do have considerable experience with law school applicants and can use the resources and connections to make your way into one. Here is how your paralegal working experience can aid in your law school application.
The Right Skills for Practicing the Law
Lawyers work on drafting legal documents, interviewing witnesses, and presenting arguments in court, among many other responsibilities.
Behind the scenes, lawyers require the help of paralegals to help with legal research, negotiations, administrative tasks, and time management. Working as a paralegal, you have the skills necessary for legal practice which makes your experience highly valuable when applying to a law school.
A Personal Statement to Draw Them In
When applying to a law school, the personal statement of the applicant is just as important, if not more, than the LSAT score.
A personal statement displays a student’s passion for the field and how they are going to contribute in the future. As a paralegal, you may have certain stories that truly highlight your contributions to a case or law firm. That information in a personal statement is really powerful.
Perhaps you have a story to share about the evidence important to a case you gathered, or perhaps your smooth-talking persuaded a bureaucrat to expedite a critical records request. Whatever it is, real-world stories about solving challenging, complex problems easily draw the attention of a reader.
Solid Recommendation Letter from a Law Firm
Some law schools may require a single letter of recommendation from someone involved in an academic setting, while many require at least one letter of recommendation from someone outside of the academic setting. Paralegals work with attorneys and it is difficult to beat a recommendation letter from an attorney or a reputable law office vowing for your skills on a law school application.
A Legal Network
Paralegals work with many practicing lawyers in their own law offices and outside of them. This allows them to have a vast legal network that any other law student may not have after they graduate. Such connections in a law office make it slightly easier, as compared to other law students, to secure places as interns in law firms and have a head start in their legal careers.
Some law firms provide incentives to their employees planning to pursue a career in law to further their studies. They may subsidize your LSAT fee or provide you with a tuition fee reimbursement. This is a great opportunity for paralegals wanting to work in the same law firm as a lawyer.
Should You Take the Leap of Faith?
Even after considering all the elements mentioned earlier, there might be something holding you back, and you would need to take that leap of faith if you wish to make a career transition.
Perhaps you may have to quit your job to pursue law school, or perhaps the law school is far away from your residence, requiring you to shift to a new state. What if you don’t get a job at the firm you’re aiming for after graduating? There is always a certain element of risk that might stop you from making the right decision, so should you take the leap of faith and attend law school?
Focus on Two Things Before Changing Your Career Path
The only two things that you should focus on right now when making the decision are a personal and financial commitment. Do the salary jump and prestigious job title justify the long working hours and the other challenges that come with becoming an attorney?
Remember, it is not just attending law school and passing with flying colors. But to be a lawyer, you must get through the state bar and receive approval for your moral character. With so much time and money already invested in becoming a lawyer, failing your bar can make things a lot more uncertain careerwise until you’re able to succeed.
If you feel that you’re not able to make that personal and financial commitment, excelling as a paralegal might be the best option for you. If you’re able to dedicate the time, energy, and financial resources while remaining committed to your goals, perhaps it is time to take that leap of faith and fill out a law school application.
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