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Alternative Careers in Law If You Can't Attend Law School

published February 27, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
Published By
( 119 votes, average: 4.7 out of 5)
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If you want a career in law and can't attend law school, you can investigate the options available to paralegal professionals. Paralegals perform skilled legal services (some of which traditionally had been performed only by attorneys) under the supervision of lawyers. They interview clients, analyze documents, investigate, do legal research, prepare letters and other documents, and even negotiate with government agencies. Recent research has found paralegals employed in a wide variety of legal areas, including family law, immigration and naturalization, criminal process, landlord-tenant law, real estate, taxation, unemployment compensation law, welfare law, and workmen's compensation law. New specialties are constantly being created. In addition, paralegals are employed by government bodies, colleges and other large organizations.
 
Alternative Careers in Law If You Can't Attend Law School


It's possible to have a good, challenging career as a paralegal. Moreover, there is always the possibility that if you work in the legal world for a while and acquire skills useful in legal practice, you will improve your attractiveness to law schools. In small but steady numbers, paralegals do go to law school.

It's quite true that you can have a professional career in the legal field in this way, and it's also true that there are many creative and independent jobs for paralegals. But not every paralegal has such a job. Many complain of repetitive and mindless work; others suffer the land of burnout that comes with high stress coupled with lack of control of one's work situation. As in comparable "helper" professions like nursing, the pay tends to be low. According to one study, paralegals are paid about two-thirds the starting salary of a lawyer. Although it's true that some paralegals support themselves with office work while attending law school at night, others find their jobs too demanding for them to study part-time.

If you are interested in paralegal education, the best suggestion would be that you investigate your options carefully. Many programs recruit aggressively on college campuses, and information will be available from your placement center. Training programs vary in length and cost. You should understand exactly what kinds of jobs a program will prepare you for before you enroll. Some train you for nothing more demanding than clerical work. Ask what kinds of jobs alumni have gotten and, if possible, talk to some of them. Schools vary in quality as well. The American Bar Association accredits some paralegal programs. It's not necessary to attend an accredited program to qualify for a good job (at least not while there's a shortage of trained people), but accreditation provides a guarantee of at least minimal quality. If you consider a non-accredited program, it's even more important to understand what you're paying for, and how well previous students have done, before you enroll.

There are other, less well known ways to remain in the legal field. Most require some graduate work. For example, there is a growing demand for judicial administrators who manage big-city court systems, large law offices, and similar businesses and bureaucracies. The University of Denver offers a Master of Science degree in judicial administration, a one-and-a-half- or two-year program that includes coursework in various aspects of legal management and a full-time internship. Its graduates have become court administrators, clerks of appellate courts, and administrators of the offices of prosecutors, arbitrators, and mediators. The University of Southern California has a similar program, and other graduate schools are also entering this growing field.

As prison systems expand, there are also growing opportunities in the field of criminal justice. Jobs in police administration, penal system management, and the like, are usually filled by college graduates who majored in criminal justice administration, sociology, social work, or other liberal arts subjects. But some schools, including Rutgers, Washington State, and Indiana, offer advanced degrees in criminal justice administration. Graduates become prison wardens, police administrators, and managers in bureaucracies oriented toward criminal justice.

Finally, you may want to investigate other career opportunities in government. Public administration is a growing field. Most careers require some graduate work, most commonly an M.P.A. or a similar degree. Ask your prelaw adviser to refer you to whomever on your campus does the career advising for these fields.

Students attending these law schools face considerable obstacles. Because the schools are not obligated to follow the national curriculum prescribed by the ABA, their courses of study may not be adequate for legal practice. Nor is there any consistent guarantee of quality. (Some states provide state supervision of unaccredited law schools but most do not. California has its own state system of accreditation, but not all of the non-ABA accredited schools in California have been state-accredited.) To keep costs low, unaccredited schools tend to rely more heavily on part-time instructors and may skimp on facilities and libraries. And since most students at such schools are there because they were unable to obtain admission to ABA-accredited schools, the learning environment may not be as fertile. Because of these educational handicaps, smaller proportions of graduates of unaccredited law schools pass the bar exam than graduates of ABA-accredited schools.

Unaccredited law schools qualify their graduates to take the bar exam only in the state in which they studied. It is virtually impossible for a graduate of such a school to establish a legal career in another state.

Still, if you don't get into an ABA-accredited school, where else can you go? Unlike young people interested in medical careers, you can't attend a foreign professional school. (Although North Carolina and a few other states treat graduates of certain Canadian, British, and Australian law schools like graduates of ABA-accredited law schools, the foreign schools are themselves highly selective.) An unaccredited school may offer you a chance at a legal career that would otherwise be unobtainable.

Moreover, unaccredited law schools are not without advantages. They are usually cheaper. Most recruit heavily among older nontraditional law students, conduct their classes in the evening, and may better accommodate themselves to the scheduling necessary to hold a full-time job while attending school. Being taught by local practitioners, their courses may better equip attentive and capable people to practice local law. Some argue that ABA-accredited schools overemphasize library law and claim that their own small classes and emphasis on clinical practice better prepare students for the real world.

If you consider an unaccredited school, make sure before you apply that you will be willing to spend the rest of your professional life in that state. Find out as much about the school as you can. (This may be difficult; most of the usual sources do not discuss unaccredited law schools.) Try to find out the attrition rate, the bar passage rate, and the turnover rate for faculty members. Ask about the kinds of jobs that graduates have been able to get. Be suspicious if the school is unable to provide lists of satisfied graduates in the local area, if it appears to be concealing statistics (like placement rates) that most law schools routinely make available, or if the bar passage rate is extremely low.

Some unaccredited schools are actively seeking ABA approval and advertise that they are gradually upgrading their standards to meet ABA requirements. If a school receives accreditation while you are a student, you will receive the benefits of attending an accredited law school at the cost of an unaccredited one. Some actually attain ABA-accredited status, but most of these successes are new schools that acquire ABA status fairly rapidly. It's best not to be too optimistic. Conversely, if an unaccredited law school folds while you are attending it, your credits cannot be transferred to another school. You'll just be out of luck.

published February 27, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
( 119 votes, average: 4.7 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.