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Paralegals & Legal Assistants: How Going to Law School Can Help Advance Your Career

published April 08, 2023

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( 241 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
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Paralegals and legal assistants have taken the next step to become lawyers by attending law school. For those in the legal field wanting to take the next step in their careers, the legal profession offers many options. Attending law school is one of the most common paths for those looking to transition from their current roles as paralegals or legal assistants to that of a full-fledged lawyer. This article discusses the many factors to consider when deciding to attend law school, including whether it is the right course of action, the rigors of the program, and the financial burden.

Before considering law school, it is important to reflect on whether this is the right option for you. As a paralegal or legal assistant, you already have experience in the legal field which can help you decide whether this is the right choice for you. Additionally, the time, effort, and money required for the program should be taken into consideration. Law school is very demanding and requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Financially, the costs of law school can be very high, so it is important to consider how you will cover the tuition and other expenses.

The application process for law school is a step-by-step process. This includes choosing a school, researching the program, taking the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), submitting applications, and attending interviews. Once accepted, the program is divided into two parts, with the first two years dedicated to classroom lectures and the final year primarily focused on clinical experiences. During the first two years, students must gain knowledge in the foundation courses such as property, contracts, torts, civil procedure, and constitutional law.

Becoming a successful lawyer requires a great deal of hard work and dedication. After graduating, the necessary licensure exams must be taken and passed in order to practice law. There are also career options outside of being a lawyer that paralegals and legal assistants can pursue, such as legal management or compliance.

For those in the legal profession looking to take the next step in their careers, attending law school is an option that should be considered. Although the process can be strenuous, it can lead to new and exciting opportunities in the legal field. Considerations such as the educational and financial aspects of the program should be taken into account before embarking on this journey. With hard work, dedication, and the right resources, paralegals and legal assistants can evolve into successful lawyers.

Paralegals & Legal Assistants Advancing in Their Field

Paralegals and legal assistants have long been a helpful resource to attorneys in the legal field. Professionals in these positions have a wide array of duties, including researching existing legal precedents, drafting legal documents, and providing basic legal advice. With the increasing availability of paralegal and legal assistant programs, many professionals have chosen to receive formal training in these areas, allowing them to make highly informed contributions to the legal field.

Furthering Education with Law School

As the field evolves, many paralegals and legal assistants are exploring the possibility of furthering their legal education by attending law school. With the development of more specialized legal information and the increasing complexity of legal cases, a law degree can be a valuable asset for those wishing to move up in the legal field. A law degree can open up a range of career options for those with experience as a paralegal or legal assistant, from becoming an attorney to working in legal research or in a private practice.

Law School Application Process

The process for applying to law school is an inherently competitive one. Most law schools require applicants to have completed an undergraduate degree, as well as one or two years of law school-specific coursework. Additionally, many law schools also require applicants to submit a personal statement explaining their interest in attending, as well as previous related experiences or accomplishments. A strong academic and personal background can, therefore, be essential to a successful law school application.

Eligibility Criteria for Paralegals & Legal Assistants

For paralegals and legal assistants seeking to apply to law school, the eligibility criteria may vary. Those with extensive legal experience and knowledge may find that the admission process is easier than for those without such prior knowledge. Generally, however, paralegals and legal assistants are just as likely as any other applicant to be accepted to law school. With careful preparation and a strong background in the legal field, many paralegals and legal assistants can be successful in their applications.

Enrolling in a Juris Doctorate program means immense professional advancement for the paralegal. ''Going to law school meant great professional improvement,'' said Renee Sova, a former paralegal and current Director of Alumni and Advanced Specialty Programs at the American Institute for Paralegal Studies, who decided to attend law school after more than seven years as a paralegal.
Taking the Next Step: Paralegals and Legal Assistants Going to Law School

And the decision to enroll may be beneficial to the firm as well. ''My employers were really the ones to push me to go to law school,'' said Ms. Sova. As the profession continues to evolve and gain respect, law firms realize paralegals' worth and strive to keep valuable employees. In fact, some firms even offer reduced work hours for part-time law students or the prospect of a job upon graduation.

''I think that [going to law school] gave me more credibility and respect in the office,'' said Kathleen Malone, former legal assistant who recently finished law school and passed the Bar Examination in Massachusetts. ''However, some law firms may not be as accommodating,'' Ms. Sova warned. ''The lines between attorney and paralegal are becoming less blurred, and attorneys may be reluctant to let a good legal assistant or paralegal go.'' Ms. Malone agreed, ''Law firms are 'caste' system, and…a firm [may not] see you as a lawyer if you have worked as a secretary [or legal assistant].'' Another potential problem? ''If an employer knows that you want to 'learn the law,' they will not hesitate to dump research projects [on you] and seek to give you things to 'help you learn,''' Ms. Malone recounted.

During the applications process, legal knowledge may not amount to much. ''Getting into law school rarely depends on pre-law courses [or knowledge of the law],'' said Wendy Margolis, Director of Communication for the Law School Admissions Council. ''Writing skills and critical thinking abilities are what count.'' While knowing how law firms work doesn't give candidates an edge, actual work experience may. ''Schools look at each person individually, and work experience is counted as part of the whole,'' Ms. Margolis said.

Once admitted, however, those with legal experience have a definite advantage. ''I made law review and got the highest grade in my Legal Research and Writing class,'' Ms. Sova recounted. ''My work experience helped me to better understand legal terminology.'' Students with legal experience often also fare better at the ''clinical'' side of law school, understanding the day-to-day operations behind the legal theories. ''For example, I had drafted pleadings and done research at work, and I better understood the reasons behind studying those,'' Ms. Sova explained. ''I could see how things fit together and put some classes, like Civil Procedure, in a 'real world' context,'' said Ms. Malone. ''Some of these concepts are new and abstract, and no matter how well a text explains them, seeing the real-life operation is something that cannot be matched.''

Having legal experience may also help job seekers upon graduation. ''No graduate out of law school has 'lawyer experience;' you cannot get that until you pass the Bar. However, familiarity with practice and procedure, no matter what level, is attractive to employers,'' Ms. Malone explained. ''Whatever you already know is [that much] less they have to invest in teaching you.'' In addition to legal procedure, former paralegals and legal assistants have the upper hand when it comes to firm culture and environment. ''Working in a legal environment gives you insight to the daily transactions of lawyers, lawyer etiquette, habits, and customs in the trade,'' said Ms. Malone. ''You can avoid looking like a 'green hack' when you first practice and save yourself some agitation and potential embarrassment.''

So, should you make the move? Paralegals and legal assistants who are interested in attending law school should assess their goals, experts say. ''Figure out what you want to gain by going to law school,'' advised Ms. Sova. ''Is it more money? Added respect and responsibilities? New knowledge? The opportunity to broaden your horizons?'' Law school is an extensive time commitment; even part-time programs that are designed for working adults can stretch for 15-20 hours of class time per week—add to that at least twice as many hours for reading and class work at home. Law school also comes with tremendous costs: according to the LSAC's website, three years of tuition can exceed $150,000. ''Consider all the factors before jumping in,'' Ms. Sova said. ''Some paralegals may find that they aren't really looking to change careers, but merely to change jobs. They simply aren't working for the right firm.''

But for those paralegals and legal assistants who are determined to get their Juris Doctorate, law school is an increasingly viable option. ''Go for it!'' Ms. Malone said. ''As long as you have a true love of the law, there is nothing holding you back.''

published April 08, 2023

( 241 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.