Does this scenario sound familiar?
You’ve been a paralegal for a few years. You have a passion for the law. You love saying “reasonable doubt” and “preponderance of the evidence” and “malice aforethought” and “arraignment.” You are an excellent paralegal—even if you do say so yourself. You do most of the work for the attorneys in the law firm where you work. Heck, sometimes you think that you would make a better attorney than your lawyer-boss….
Well…maybe you would.
Paralegals Can Become Attorneys
There are paralegals who have become attorneys, and you can too…if you’re willing to commit yourself to a few more years of hard work.
The major benefit to advancing from a paralegal to an attorney is that it’s not that big of a career stretch. You are already doing most of the work of an attorney right now.
The Fine Legal Line Between a Paralegal and an Attorney
In most states, paralegals can do anything that an attorney can do except directly practice law. What this usually means is that you cannot set legal fees, give legal advice, or present a case in court. Everything else is considered within your level of authority.
Depending on the employer’s preferences, a paralegal may be expected to:
- Draft pleadings
- File cases with the court
- Research case law
- Interview clients
- Investigate legal cases
- Draft contracts
- Obtain Affidavits
…and many more lawyer-like tasks.
It’s not that big of an imaginative leap to see yourself presenting these cases in court—as a lawyer.
Benefits of Advancing from Paralegal to Attorney
As a working paralegal, you have an advantage that most aspiring lawyers do not—legal experience. You already know all of the legal terminology and such legal concepts as:
- Setting legal precedent
- Legal procedures
- Double jeopardy
- Miranda Rights
- Evidentiary value
This knowledge and work experience will give you an advantage in training to become an attorney.
Pursuing a Law Degree
In most states, becoming a licensed attorney takes at least seven years. You must have a bachelor’s degree plus a three-year law school degree in order to practice law.
The best way to advance from paralegal to attorney is, first, to check with the law firm in which you work. Many of these firms have tuition reimbursement programs that will pay for your schooling.
Obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree
In order to attend law school, you must have bachelor’s degree. There are no standard “prelaw” undergraduate majors. Though your bachelor’s degree can be in any discipline, it helps if you have a degree in political science, criminal justice, or paralegal studies.
If you are a paralegal who entered this field with an associate’s degree in paralegal studies—as many do—most or all of those credits you earned may be transferrable to a bachelor’s degree program. (Check with the university that you wish to attend to see their credit transfer policies.)
If you already have a bachelor’s degree…
You may proceed to law school.
Applying to Law School
Admission to law school is not an easy process. Most schools require law school applicants to take a comprehensive exam called the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). In addition, the quality of your prior education, your prior work experience, and other aspects of your life will be considered in the admission process.
Check with the Law School Admission Council for more information on law school admissions processes.
Once accepted into law school, be prepared for three years of intensive training in law and the legal field.
After you graduate from law school, there is still one major hurdle to jump on your path to becoming a paralegal—passing the Bar Exam.
The Bar Exam is an intense test of your legal aptitude and of your fitness to become an attorney. This exam varies from state to state, but many states require you to take a 6-hour Multistate Bar Examination (MBA) as part of your Bar exam.
Once you pass this exam, you can—finally—call yourself an attorney. More importantly, everyone else will call you an attorney, too.