Paralegals and law school

25 05 2010

In virtually any field, a bachelors degree will carry you only so far.  Eventually, career advancement requires some form of graduate degree.  Obviously, in the legal field, if you want to maximize your career potential, this means earning your J.D.

While I still dream of penning the “great American novel,” realistically I know I need to go to law school to advance my own career. Last summer, while searching for the proper law school for me, I attended an information  session for the part-time, evening program at the SMU Dedman School of Law, a program designed specifically for working professionals. The event organizers stressed that the program was ideal for paralegals, yet surprisingly few paralegals applied. In fact, I met only one other paralegal during the seminar. This made me wonder, in an age where almost every law school offers some form of part-time evening program, why do more paralegals not apply to law school?

As a paralegal, we have an intimate understanding of the legal field. While this certainly does not guarantee success in law school, it does make us a little more prepared for the dense subject matter to be presented in the classroom. The practical knowledge we gleaned through personal experience should help us understand the application of the material, making it easier to digest and process. We all worry about the economics of earning a law school degree, but we also understand that the degree can easily pay for itself in a few years of practice.

What other elements keep paralegals from taking that next step? Do some firms discourage their paralegals from seeking their J.D.? Has working as a paralegal pulled back the curtain too far, revealing too much of the reality of being an attorney?

Personally, I know I must take that next step.




2 responses

7 06 2010

The truth is that right now paralegals have more opportunities than attornies for both advancement and employment in general. The legal market is so saturated with lawyers, both recent grads and experienced lawyers who have been laid off, that there simply are no jobs for attorneys right now. It isn’t going to get any better because there are simply too many law school pumping out new lawyers every year and nowhere for them to work. Also a lot of firms are sending work overseas, so most of the jobs that new associates used to do are being done abraod for cheaper. The jobs that are available have low wages and poor quality of life. Most pay only slightly more (if not less) than an average paralegal salary. Doing a search on any job site will show you that most firms are looking for legal support staff, and a lot won’t even accept JD’s to apply. If you have a good job now that you are happy with, you’re better off staying there rahter than racking up thousands more in debt for law school just to be unemployed and miserable upon graduation. Please do some more research before going to law school. It isn’t the fastrack to success that everyone thinks it is.

7 06 2010

Thanks for the great response. You cover a lot of bases in your response that repeat what I hear from my sister (a former attorney who now runs her own recruiting agency). She is currently writing a book on the use of social media in searching for legal jobs and has traveled to law schools around the country to lecture on this topic. As she meets with admission staff, they tell her that applications for admissions are up across the board, both from college students putting off entering the “real world” and from people looking for a second career in this down economy. I raised this very concern to my sister and her boyfriend (another attorney turned author) and they both assured me that J.D. is worth far more than a job in a law firm. It helped each of them land publishing deals they would have otherwise not been able to land.

It’s a very difficult proposition to navigate and, as with any career choice, it carries its own risks. I think the best piece of advice I have received from the attorneys in my life is to examine the legal field and see where there is a need for good attorneys.

It’s interesting that you mentioned firms outsourcing jobs overseas. I didn’t realize how prevalent this was until the sales presentation I discussed in my post on “Vendors”. I mentioned that the agent patched in another participant telephonically. The guy was from India and managed an office of attorneys who handled document reviews for US law firms. When he began discussing the amount of cases they handled, I was baffled.

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