Traynor Brah wrote:
albpert wrote:I would not get experience as a paralegal.
Imagine in two years you decide law's not for you. Good luck getting a upward mobile non-law career going without further graduate education after 2 years experience as a paralegal. The alternative is you like the law and you go to law school, which plenty of people determine without 2 years as a paralegal. Where is the upside?
Do you something you think you'll enjoy and if in two years you still want to go to law school, go.
This is a credited response.
TL/DR (my post really is too long): I think to say it is the CR not to work as a paralegal is just really, really stupid. Of course not all paralegal positions are created equal and working as a paralegal may not be the best option for a lot of people, but it can the perfect choice for some, particularly those who are still trying to understand what being a lawyer is like and want some experience in the legal realm before law school.
Strongly disagree that this is the credited response, with the caveat that I am still working at a V10 law firm as part of their two year paralegal program, where most of the paralegals come from very good schools (e.g., Amherst, Williams, UPenn, Duke, Colgate, etc.) and have above average grades. As such, I can't speak to the benefits of being a paralegal during and after law school as much as I would like, and paralegals at my firm are generally already well situated to succeed post their two year stint.
First off, I think a lot of people who started with me as paralegals at my firm benefited extraordinarily from the experience simply because they realized they did not want to be lawyers before they wasted three years of their lives and $100,000s on getting a degree they do not need or want. I would say if working as a paralegal makes you realize you don't want to be a lawyer before attending law school, then it has already been a worthwhile experience. I am fairly certain 75% or more of the individuals in my program would have either gone straight to law school after undergrad or gone to law school after one or two years working in another field if they had not worked as a paralegal first. In the end, however, only around 40% of my starting class even applied to law school, as the rest decided to pursue different job opportunities in a wide variety of non-law related fields (many of which, contrary to the above posters opinion, are jobs that provide a whole lot of upward mobility).
Second, if an applicant is working at a well enough regarded firm with national name recognition, I think there is at least some benefit provided to their application. The name stands out to AdComms, as made evident by the fact that admissions folks commented on the firm I work at on a number of occasions. Further, I think it helps having letters of recommendations from attorneys who are generally very well written, have gone to top law schools themselves, and can speak to your abilities in a legal setting. And lastly, if you are desperately looking for something to write, working as a paralegal can provide you with some good stories for a personal statement. Anecdotally, the paralegals who applied to law school this year from my class did very well, and I think, at least somewhat, outperformed their numbers (the six of us who applied are attending Yale, Harvard, Columbia, NYU, Penn, and Fordham respectively). In the end, working as a paralegal is probably not going to allow you to far outperform your numbers, but I think it might push you ahead of some of your closer competitors for admissions and scholarship money (e.g., K-JDs), particularly if the firm you are working at has some name recognition.
Third, the connections you have the opportunity to make are pretty awesome. A couple of examples of from my own experience as a paralegal:
1) The day I needed to decide where to deposit for law school, I spoke with five separate attorneys, each of whom attended the schools I was considering (I was admittedly having way too tough of time making the decision on my own), and even more would have been willing to talk had I asked. The advice one of the attorneys provided ended up really helping me make the final call.
2) I had some questions about law firm hiring practices in another city, so I reached out to both a junior partner and senior associate I had worked with in the past from my firms satellite office in the city at question. The senior associate took the time to call me while she was on her first vacation in over six months (I did not know she was on vacation when I initially emailed), while the partner talked to a number of other partners in her office, as well as her husband who worked at another firm in the city, before giving me a final answer. That was just a cool experience, as I was really impressed by the lengths they went on my behalf.
3) One of the associates I spent a lot of time with on a trial, and who is about to clerk for SCOTUS, told me to very explicitly to call him if I ever have any questions regarding applying for clerkships once I start law school (not that I am all that likely to get the grades needed for a clerkship, but cool nonetheless).
I have no way of knowing for sure if these connections will help at all when I am applying for jobs, but my guess is that they very well may if I maintain them and use them correctly.
Fourth, working as a paralegal provides some grounding and background info that can make law school more interesting, if not exactly easier. For example, when I was sitting in on an evidence class during an ASW, the class discussed a number of the hearsay exceptions that had been at issue during a trial I worked on, as well as Daubert motions, which I had read twenty or more of over the past few months. It was actually really awesome from my perspective to learn about the theoretical background for some of rules that had so dictated my day to day life for the past year and a half, and I even felt like I had a fairly good grasp on hearsay exceptions before the class began and was able to follow along fairly easily.
Fifth, my bet is that working as a paralegal can help individuals find 1L summer positions and find success during OCI. At the very least, having experience in a high pressure legal environment for two years can't really hurt, and having worked in a professional environment for some time has to be a plus. Further, I have to think that my five week trial experience and fairly substantive work on a pro bono matter will at least give me something interesting to talk about come OCI, even if my 1L summer is a completely dud.
Sixth, I think working as a paralegal can help once you start working in BigLaw. Personally, I know what to expect from BigLaw -- I have worked back-to-back-to-back 120 hour weeks, I have seen the nasty emails from partners, and I have felt the pressure created by midnight and 7 am deadlines alike. I can't see how this won't ease my transition to BigLaw if I decided to that route. Sometimes I think people on TLS seem to forget that it is not all about getting into a good law school and finding a good job, but also about performing once you get the job. From my own experiences, and talking to attorneys who were paralegals themselves, it does seem to be the case that working as a paralegal makes being a first year associates a little bit more bearable.
Lastly, you can make decent money as a paralegal due to the overtime as compared to a lot of other fresh out of college jobs. I made north of $80,000 last year, and, as a result of my going to trial, I am going to make around $65,000 in the first six months of this year. Overall, during my two year commitment, I think I will have made around $175,000. (Note, however, I averaged about 60 hours a week last year and 90 hours a week during the first for months of this year, so my job became quite a time suck).
That is it for my manifesto on why it is worth working as a paralegal. It is way too long and I doubt anyone will read it, and I admittedly failed to mention some of the other downsides (i.e., mind numbing work, a lot of pressure, truly absurd requests, etc.).