Graduating from a Paralegal to an Associate in a Law Firm: Myth vs. Reality
Actually legal staff in law firms have two different mindsets regardless of what label is given to their jobs, and regardless of their degrees and certificates: The first mindset is of an administrative assistant or legal secretary, and the second is that of one who likes learning and solving legal cases and matters. If you enjoy doing the job of a legal secretary, this article is not for you, but if you are a legal staff working in a law firm who wants greater control over solving legal work and challenges, this article is for you. Before jumping to make investments of time, effort, and money, it is good to know about what is myth and what is reality, when comparing between the positions of a paralegal and an associate attorney in a law firm.
It is no myth, but reality, of course, that if you are a ‘competent' associate attorney you can count on gaining everything that lawyers are known to earn including reputation, prestige, independence, and money. However, it is a myth that just becoming an “associate” attorney in a law firm would improve your lots over that of a paralegal. It is better to remain a competent paralegal than becoming an incompetent associate.
To even beginning to think of joining law school, earning a JD, and becoming an associate attorney, there are many things to consider:
Are you ready to spend the time? Given that there are law schools which offer earning JD for working students, still do you have the time?
Are you ready to spend the money and get saddled with the proverbial law school student loan?
Are you ready to go for a full-time law school course?
Is your earning career really going to improve when you balance what you lose in terms of time, loss of earning and accumulation of debts, against opportunities to have greater control over work, earn by the billable hour and gain direct access to legal and intellectual challenges?
You need to do a very patient and serious strengths and weaknesses analysis before you decide on the course to graduate from a paralegal to a law firm associate. If you like the work, and feel cut out for attorney work, by all means go for it, because how you live is more important than how long you live.
If you like intellectual challenges, earning a law degree and becoming an associate attorney in a law firm would provide you with the following opportunities:
You'd be able to earn more money.
You'd have complete knowledge of the matter you are working on and would not be kept out of most things
You'd have the opportunity to implement your own ideas and work on a case from the ground up
You'd be happily spending much longer hours at work than an average paralegal is required to spend
You'd now be open to malpractice issues and cases
You'd have much more stress at work
You'd take work home almost every day
You'd need to have more accountability
You'd have many, many more career options than working as a paralegal
Something that you'd find is not a myth but a reality is that as a trained paralegal, you'd have chances to outshine novice students at law school, because you have a chance to be more organized and experienced. In fact, you have a chance to do better at law school exams, simply due to your documentation and organizing skills that you learned as a paralegal. But, when you become an associate attorney you just gain a different level of existence, there's more pain, and more of almost everything except time for your family.
As a word of personal advice, if you are really bent upon graduating to an associate attorney from a paralegal, a track that suited some of my friends is first, taking a job of a paralegal in an in-house corporate business. Using the scheduled hours of an in-house position and the lesser stress to cope with earning the JD either online or through other programs for working people. Talking it out with the employer while doing the J.D. so that when you become an associate in a law firm, you can continue to handle legal work of your employer. Usually, at this point, the employer offers an opportunity, or would like that you join the law firm which handles legal work of the company. Finish your JD and start your career. This strategy helps enormously to gain a foothold as a new associate, because you are referred by a big client and would be deputed on work of that client. Your past as a paralegal would have no negative impact on your future as an attorney.