Law School Discussion

Paralegal to Lawyer?

Paralegal to Lawyer?
« on: June 17, 2015, 08:30:55 AM »
Hi all:

I've a full time, consistently working paralegal.  I have 8 years of experience under my belt (4 years in complex litigation, 1 in insurance law, 3 in bankruptcy).  I have recently gone back to school to finish my long-neglected BA in sociology.  I plan on graduating next May (2016) and have decided I want to attend law school when I'm done.  My question for the hive mind is this:  How will my prior experience be looked on when I'm applying for law school?  In school itself?  Applying for jobs afterward?  Will it be a case where I need to show off my knowledge or be humble?  Also, when should I tell my bosses?  I would love their assistance in the application process, but I'm concerned they'll write me off (even though I wouldn't leave my job for a year from now).  Thanks for the advice!

Re: Paralegal to Lawyer?
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2015, 09:58:40 AM »
Hi Geeklawgirl (great name). I'll try to match my responses to your specific questions.

Your experience will help a little, but not much. Law school admission is a numbers game, and your GPA/LSAT profile will dominate the process. Work experience (even something highly relevant like paralegal) is a soft factor. It kind of helps, but that's about it. If your numbers are below median at a particular school, being a paralegal won't make up for that. If your numbers are average or a little above average, it might help.

Especially at part time programs, there are lots of paralegals attending so it's not especially unique.

In Law School
Your research experience will help and you will be more familiar with legal terminology, reading cases, and maybe understanding legal rules than your classmates. However, it may be less useful than you anticipate.

Law school is an academic process, and it's really REALLY different from the practice of law. For example, if you take a class on Bankruptcy your prior experience will definitely be useful. But, nothing that you've done as a paralegal will prepare you for engaging in a Socratic method grilling on Torts, or spotting a Rule Against Perpetuities issue on a Property exam. Law school has it's own culture and rules, and they aren't really parallel to the world of legal practice (as goofy as that may seem). There is a shared language, but the processes are fundamentally different.

Getting a Job
Yes, it will help you here. In fact, it might help a lot. You will have a better network than most new lawyers, be more mature, and understand what law firms/agencies are looking for. This is huge, and I think this is where your experience will pay off.

The degree to which your experience will help is somewhat dependent on your pedigree and the specific job your applying for, however. Certain firms/agencies are still going to want a pedigree and high grades. At those places your experience will probably not be enough to overcome a non-elite degree or low grades.

In other words, if a Whittier grad with paralegal experience and a Stanford grad with no experience both apply to a Biglaw firm, the Stanford grad will probably get the job anyway. At smaller firms and government agencies like the PD/DA, however, your experience will definitely help.

Paralegal experience can also help if you decide to open your own office. I had a friend who was a family law paralegal for years before and during law school. She opened her own solo practice straight away and was actually successful, which not common. Her experience in seeing how a firm runs and what needs to be done on a daily basis was crucial to her success.

When to Tell Your Bosses
Can't answer that. You know them better than anyone here does.

Re: Paralegal to Lawyer?
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2015, 01:58:53 PM »
Thanks for the reply.  I'm nervous about this, as the culture that the attorneys seem to share is pretty different from "the help", but I love the legal field and feel I would do well in law school.  My GPA is relatively low (should be around 3.0 by the time I graduate, although it might be as low as 2.8), but my "raw" practice LSAT was 153 and the one I took last week (after 2 weeks studying) was up to 160.  I'm shooting for an LSAT between 168-170 and only looking to get into local schools (a tier 2,3, and 4 are all within driving distance of my home).

Re: Paralegal to Lawyer?
« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2015, 04:14:52 PM »
Definitely try to bring up your GPA as much as possible, and focus like crazy on the LSAT. I really cannot emphasize that enough. The LSAT, in my opinion, is a bigger factor than your GPA. A high LSAT score can overcome a low GPA, but not the other way around.

Even if you don't score 168-70, which is like top 3-4% I think, you can still get into plenty of law schools. But yes, the higher the score the more options you'll have and the more scholarship money you can get. I would definitely look into a prep course when the time comes.

Re: Paralegal to Lawyer?
« Reply #4 on: June 23, 2015, 10:15:18 AM »
Maintain is offering great advice.

However, like most potential 0L's you are putting the cart before the horse. Your only focus at this point is to get the best LSAT score you possibly can and as Maintain said odds are you will not get a 168-170, but I hope you do. However, even if you get a 153 there are plenty of ABA schools that will accept you. It is important to realize that 99% of lawyers/judges did not attend the top 1% of law schools or score in the top 1% of the LSAT.

This is also true when you enroll in law school whether you attend Harvard or Cooley there is a 90% chance you will not finish in the top 10% of your class. Most law students have a hard time accepting this, because at every ABA school 100% of the students are smart, hard-working, motivated people and 100% of them think they are finishing in the top 10%, but obviously 90% can't.

As to your specific question your paralegal experience won't hurt and it is good that you got your feet with the law before jumping in. However, most incoming law students have some legal experience prior to enrolling in law school and it is not something that will set you apart, but it certainly does not hurt.

However, first and foremost do the best you can on the LSAT and look at your options. Once you have an LSAT score this is a great article about choosing a law school.

Re: Paralegal to Lawyer?
« Reply #5 on: June 23, 2015, 09:49:21 PM »
I wish you the best. I know lots of people in your situation (or at least prior legal jobs-sometimes law enforcement, sometimes admin,etc) but I want to be honest with you too. Study TONS for that LSAT. I am not trying to be mean but GPA tends to be a significant indicator of LSAT (just as LSAT in turn tends to predict your law school GPA-and all of which indicate your bar pass odds)

Get into a part time program (weekends or 5 year plan if possible). Just ask yourself, which is worse "debt" or the same job until you die?
That will be your answer.

Now go kick ass and prove me wrong. I hate not being proven wrong.  ;)