December 6, 2023

Paralegal to Lawyer: Is It the Right Career Path for You?

By B&SC Blog Team

Paralegal to Lawyer: Is It the Right Career Path for You?

Paralegals are essential components of the American legal system. Far from being secretaries or administrative assistants, they have special legal knowledge and training that enables them to work closely with lawyers.

While it is possible to become a paralegal without a college degree, having an associate degree in paralegal studies may make it easier to find work in the field. It will also equip you with valuable skills and the legal knowledge you need to succeed. Additionally, having a paralegal degree can be a solid stepping stone on the path to becoming a lawyer.

Is a Paralegal a Lawyer?

A paralegal is not a lawyer, but they can perform several of the same legal functions. For instance, a paralegal can review client files, conduct legal research, prepare legal documents, interview witnesses, and assist the attorney at trial. They must do this work under the direct supervision of an attorney.

Paralegals cannot try cases, sign pleadings, or take depositions. Instead, it’s their job to act as a sort of advanced legal assistant, performing multiple tasks for the attorney they work for.

Can a Paralegal Become a Lawyer? How?

Anyone with the right education and training can become a lawyer. However, the career trajectory for becoming a lawyer may be expedited for paralegals because they already have some legal training. Also, paralegals employed in the industry already have many of the skills needed to transition into a lawyer role.

Requirements to work in the paralegal profession vary from state to state, but many paralegals begin their careers with associate degrees. In this instance, the next step toward becoming a lawyer would be to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Perhaps surprisingly, there is no specific field you must pursue to qualify for law school-but a well-rounded liberal arts background is recommended.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree requires 120 college credits, which equates to around four years of schooling. Those with prior education in related fields may be able to transfer applicable credits over to their bachelor’s degree program, meaning they can earn their degree more quickly and at less expense. This is especially true for students who hold associate degrees in paralegal studies.

Traditionally, anyone with a bachelor’s degree can attend law school, so what you study in college isn’t as important as your overall performance and grade point average (GPA).

Gaining admission into the law school of your choice is likely to be competitive. These schools are notoriously picky about whom they choose. For this reason, you must earn the highest grades you possibly can while maintaining excellent character throughout your college education.

Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

Another crucial step toward transitioning from paralegal to lawyer is to score well on the LSAT. Those who take the test earn scores ranging between 120 and 180. If you have your eye on a top-notch law school, you should aim for the highest score you can get, or at least around 170. You may be surprised to learn, however, that several top law schools no longer require applicants to take the LSAT.

Is the LSAT Required to Become a Lawyer?

The answer to this question depends on the school you wish to attend. Some schools no longer require the LSAT for several reasons. The test is not only one of the most difficult college entrance exams in the world, but it’s also expensive to take, costing several hundred dollars for each attempt. In addition, the LSAT is offered only four times a year, and studying for it is immensely time-consuming. These reasons come together to make the test an unnecessary burden, according to several renowned schools.

Colleges that no longer require the LSAT for admission include:

• Harvard University

• Yale University

• Stanford University

• Columbia University

• Cornell University

• Georgetown University

In lieu of the LSAT, your choice of law school may require the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). The key takeaway is to make sure you’re familiar with the individual requirements of each school you apply to. And you’ll want to make these inquiries early on. This ensures you’ll be able to meet or exceed the minimum requirements for acceptance once you’re ready to enroll.

Law School

Once you have applied and been accepted into law school, you can expect to spend an additional three years of full-time study to earn your Juris Doctor (JD), which is the degree you need to work as a licensed lawyer in the United States.

In law school, you will become an expert in the intricacies of the American legal system. You’ll also learn how to interact with clients and conduct yourself in a court of law.

State Bar

After you’ve obtained your juris doctorate degree, you must then sit for the state bar exam offered by the American Bar Association. The Uniform Bar Exam was developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners; in order to work as a lawyer in the U.S., a passing score is required. The test contains these parts:

1. Multistate Essay Examination

2. Multistate Performance Test tasks

3. Multistate Bar Examination

The test is offered twice a year, once in February and once in July, over a two-day period. In addition to the exam, bar examiners also research an applicant’s background and delve into their character to ensure they’re a proper fit for the role.

Law License

Once you have earned your Juris Doctor and passed the bar exam (and the character and fitness portions of the review), you’ll complete a swearing-in ceremony before the court. At this point, you will have a license and be able to practice as a lawyer in your state. The state bar will issue you an ID number, which then accompanies your signature on legal documents.

Once you earn your license, you must work to keep it. This means modeling upstanding behavior. It may also require the completion of continuing legal education (CLE) classes periodically. If you fail to maintain the requirements of your licensure, your license can be suspended or revoked.

Your First Job as an Attorney!

At this point, you may begin counseling clients and performing all the permitted duties of a lawyer in the state in which you practice. You’ll need strong communication skills, the confidence to be persuasive, and a thorough understanding of the law. This will be the beginning of your career as a lawyer.

Why Start Your Legal Career as a Paralegal

Is it an easy jump from paralegal to lawyer? Although no one would refer to the process as simple, it may be somewhat less challenging if you’ve already worked in the legal field as a paralegal. You’ll already have some legal knowledge and be familiar with the type of work a lawyer does. There are several good reasons to consider beginning the process from the position of paralegal.

Less Time to Enter the Legal Field

With your existing training and experience, it may take you less time. Transferring credits from an associate degree into a bachelor’s degree program could shave up to two years off the typical four years required. Some colleges may also award credit hours based on life experience. This is ideal for students who are already employed as paralegals.

Work Experience

The knowledge and experience you’ve already gained by working as a paralegal may give you a better understanding of most of your coursework. In other words, the coursework may feel easier than it otherwise might, and you may be able to earn a higher GPA with less effort thanks to your prior work experience.

Hands-On Knowledge

As a paralegal, you’ll already have hands-on, real-world training in the legal arena. Your insider knowledge may make it easier to master many of the concepts required. You’ll have more realistic expectations, too. Due to your familiarity with the duties required of legal professionals, there’s less risk you’ll grow to regret your choice of career.

Work (and Earn Money) While Becoming a Lawyer

As a paralegal, you’ll have the distinct advantage of working within the legal field as you move toward your law degree. Because most of your work is comparable to that of a legal assistant, each task you perform may make it much easier to succeed in school.

Exposure to Things Covered at Law School

Your paralegal experience could also expose you to unique legal situations you would normally not encounter as a first- or second-year law student. You may be able to explore these experiences in greater depth in the classroom.

Develop Soft Skills

Working as a paralegal could help you learn most of what you need to know to be a successful lawyer. It also fosters useful soft skills, such as communication, collaboration, and emotional intelligence. You’ll become an effective problem-solver and be able to creatively think your way around obstacles.

Paralegal Skills Make a Self-Sufficient Attorney

As a paralegal, the tasks you perform are of high value to the lawyers you work for. Once you become a lawyer yourself, you may employ your own paralegal. However, if there comes a time you find yourself without one, your prior experience could help you be much more self-sufficient at the job.

Start Your Legal Journey With Bryant & Stratton College

If you would like to pursue a legal career and are interested in learning more about the paralegal profession, we invite you to explore the programs available at Bryant & Stratton College-with locations in New York, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. You may also complete many programs online or in a hybrid learning environment. Our Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies can be completed either way. The same is true for our Legal Office Assistant diploma. Both could prepare you for future success at a law firm.

Bryant & Stratton College has been helping students achieve their career goals for more than 170 years. Our dedication to excellence is exemplary, and though education has changed greatly over the course of the past few decades, Bryant & Stratton College is proud to offer traditional and nontraditional students the flexibility they need to be successful. To know more about our diverse program offerings, request information today.

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