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Paralegal vs. Lawyer

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Hello everyone, I donít know if this is the right forum for this or if anyone knows, but I was wondering if anyone had been or had considered being a paralegal. If anyone was a former paralegal or a current one, why are you now considering law school? My main concern about paralegals is that I donít want to be a pee-on for some lawyer at a firm and do most of their work while they get all the credit. Any feedback

I am a legal assistant that will be starting law school in the fall.  (Main difference between a legal assistant and a paralegal - at my firm at least - seems to be whether you have a formal paralegal certificate)  Paralegals make half the money that attorneys make if they're lucky and take half the credit but also only have half the responsibility and everything they do has to be supervised by an attorney, which takes the load off your shoulders.  In my position I deal with clients occasionally but spend most of my time doing legal research and writing for the attorneys that they read over before they talk to the client.  I've heard that to get your paralegal certificate you take an easier version of a lot of first-year law school classes, so it's something to consider if you think you'd want to be a paralegal for a while before going to law school.  Although you don't have as much direct responsibility, you can have just as much stress as the attorneys, especially if they don't delegate responsibilities well or just in general aren't good managers.  But, you can certainly have a lot less stress because you are not in the center of the storm, too. 

All that being said, I am counting the days until law school starts.  Working as a legal assistant has made me realize I want to be the one calling the shots, regardless of whether it is more work, more stress, etc.  It just fits my personality better.  But I have certainly learned a lot this way!

I agree with wunder.  I too am a legal assistant and find few difference btwn an asst and a paralegal.  I would say the main reason someone in a paralegal position would go to law school is because they know how an office runs from the ground up and why not go get your J.D. and make more money, maybe become an associate if are not interested in owning your own firm/office.  I've learned so much as a legal assistant and am now ready to make the next big school. 

I've been a paralegal for 14 years.  The difference between a legal assistant and a paralegal really depends upon where you work.  The legal assistants in my office are assistants to both myself and the attorneys.  Legal Assistant is sometimes the same thing as a legal secretary.  Again, it depends upon where you work.  There are legal assistants who know very little about the law, procedure, drafting documents and such- but there are some that know a lot and some paralegals act as secretary's.  In my firm, I have a secretary that I share with the attorneys.  It all depends upon the firm, the paralegal and their knowledge.  I disagree about the idea that there's less responsibility on a paralegal.  In my firm, anything and everything that I do is my responsibility.  The stress is very real and very much mine.  If I have a motion that's due in court tomorrow- I have to make sure it's drafted, signed, and correct before it goes to Court.  My job, my stress, my responsibility.

I am going to law school because I have reached my greatest potential as a paralegal.  I probably reached it quite a few years ago and am bored with not going to court to represent clients.  I"m tired of being in the office.  While I do sometimes attend trials and conferences and even get to negotiate settlements, it's not enough- it's not challenging enough for me.  It gets boring knowing everything about every aspect of what one is ALLOWED to do.  I'm not going for the money, either.  I earn more than most attorney's out of law school 5+ years and I live in New York.  I'm going because I should have gone 10 years ago- but couldn't due to health reasons.  Then I got married, had a child- and here I am.

Good luck to both of you with your applications!!

As the previous poster stated, there can be a huge difference between "legal assistant" and paralegal". This difference depends on the size of the firm, type of firm, and type of law.

At my firm, the legal assistants are pretty much administrative assistants; they have no "real" legal knowledge and they are there to be utilized mainly for clerical duties.

The paralegals at my firm do a lot more, and have use of the legal assistants for their clerical duties. The paralegals at my firm are also required to have college degrees and a post-bachelor's certificate from a ABA school. Quite frankly, I can't really tell the difference between the lawyers and paralegals (with the obvious exceptions of not being able to obtain and represent clients and set fees).  Our paralegals draft motions and complaints, work as a liason between the lawyer and clients, do legal research and assist in trial and litigation issues. And they are responsible for their work.

2 things to address:

While lawyers do make significantly more- as one of the lawyers here told me "It's a draw"- unless you are not taking out any student loans for law school, you will be in debt for a good portion of your legal career. People tend to forget that and get caught up in the large salaries.

Also, paralegals can be highly paid, and in some cases, more than many attorneys. In the midst of my law school application journey, I was sent listing from lawyers about paralegal salaries- and I couldn't believe what some paralegals were making. Well into the upper 70's on up depending on your field (IP and Real Estate paralegals bring in the biggest salaries)

Keep in mind (and again, I reference this from my current job at a law firm) the market is currently flooded with attorneys. Many law firms are looking to cut costs by replacing attorneys with certified paralegals. In California there is pending legislation about licensing paralegals due to their expanding duties.

Ultimately, you have to pursue whatever your dream is. I still plan on pursuing my dream of law school, but if need be, being a paralegal is perfectly acceptable for me in the interim.


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