Paralegal Career Paths
There is plenty of opportunity for advancement under the paralegal career umbrella. A great many transferrable skills, such as writing, research, computer proficiency, organization, and communication are learned during paralegal training and honed during the early years of a paralegal’s career, making advancement a very real possibility. An experienced paralegal can find opportunities inside and outside the traditional avenues of law firms and government agencies, such as in the insurance industry or in real estate.
As with other professionals, the bar is raised according to a paralegal’s performance. Paralegals typically are rewarded (?) with more responsibilities and less supervision (but always some supervision) as they grow in knowledge and experience. For example, senior paralegals who work in large law firms, corporations, or government offices may be called on to supervise junior paralegals and legal secretaries, and may delegate assignments to them as well. Paralegals often advance through a promotion to a management position within a law firm or legal department.
Some paralegals may find it easier to move to another law firm when seeking increased responsibility or advancement, especially if they are employed with a company or small law firm that cannot offer them opportunities for advancement. Some paralegals even decide to become self-employed, offering their services on a contract basis or remotely as “virtual paralegals.”
Some paralegals choose to give themselves the ultimate promotion: becoming a lawyer! While some paralegals enter their profession on a decidedly temporary basis with the long-range goal of law school, others get their feet wet as paralegals and then decide that they covet the increased responsibilities and career opportunities that many attorneys enjoy. Some paralegals enter law school for the earning potential it promises, as paralegals rarely are paid over $90,000 per year, although their long hours may be rewarded with overtime pay, a luxury attorneys don’t have.
Unlike potential law students who must pass the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT) to gain entrance to law school, most paralegal schools only require a high school diploma or equivalent for entrance into diploma or degree programs, and at the most a Bachelor’s degree is required to enter a paralegal certificate program.
Paralegal school is much more affordable than law school, so if money for education is a concern (and it usually is), some individuals with an interest in the legal profession will choose paralegal training over law school for this reason. Most paralegals begin their careers with a relatively small number of school loans to pay back, whereas recent law school graduates are often looking at debt approaching the six-figure salary range.
Upon graduation, paralegals are not required to be licensed to work, and certification remains voluntary. Lawyers, on the other hand, must pass their state’s Bar Exam to obtain a license to practice law. To obtain an undergraduate degree and complete law school but fail the bar exam is a reality for some individuals, so the paralegal profession may be viewed as a “safer route.”
Although some busy paralegals would disagree, an attorney’s job is usually more stressful than that of a paralegal, because of the increased responsibility and ethics requirements. However, many ambitious paralegals may begin to find some of their job responsibilities mundane and routine over time, causing them to crave more challenge. Because they are often limited in their chosen areas of specialty by the types of law that their supervising attorneys have chosen to practice, some paralegals decide to go to law school to expand their horizons regarding career growth potential and earning opportunity.