As a paralegal, you may be wondering about your career options. The next logical step is to become a practicing lawyer, utilizing the legal knowledge you’ve gained to further your law career.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of lawyers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations. When considering a career as a lawyer, it is important to know the right steps to take and to understand the benefits you’ll gain.
How do I become a lawyer?
The first step to law school is to obtain a bachelor’s degree – those that already have a bachelor’s degree and earned their certificate in paralegal studies are already well on their way to attending law school. Many paralegals, though, don’t hold a degree or they have an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. These paralegals will need to enroll in an undergraduate degree program. Paralegals that hold an associate’s degree will be at an advantage, as many of the credits they earned for their associate’s degree will transfer to a bachelor’s program.
There is no one degree that potential law students must pursue. Many schools offer undergraduate degrees in pre-law but that is by no means a requirement. Any undergraduate program that will help develop writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills to put you on the right track to enroll in law school. Most universities also offer part-time bachelor’s degree programs so you can continue receiving income as a paralegal while you complete your undergraduate degree.
Once you have completed an undergraduate degree, the next step for prospective lawyers is to complete their Juris Doctor (J.D.) from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. The vast majority of law schools require that applicants take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) as a perquisite to enrollment.
A paralegal’s work experience in the field should make the topics covered on the LSAT more familiar. A J.D. program typically takes three years to complete if attending full-time, or four years if attending part-time. Upon completion of the J.D. program, prospective lawyers must be pass bar exams to practice law in their state.
What is the benefit to becoming a lawyer?
The biggest reason for paralegals to pursue a career as a lawyer is the significant jump in salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for paralegals in 2016 was $49,500. The median wage for lawyers is significantly higher, at $118,160. That is an increase of nearly $70,000 per year. Even when you look at the median entry level salary of $68,300, there is still a significant wage increase.
Some paralegals may have hesitation because of the significant costs associated with bachelor’s degree and law school programs. A simple calculation, though, shows there is a significant return on investment for pursuing a career as a lawyer in a relatively short period of time.
For this example;
- The average cost of a public in-state law school for 3 years of $78,792
- The average cost of a public 4 year undergraduate degree program of $39,880
- The total cost of an undergraduate degree and completing law school is $118,672
When you divide that number by the increase in salary of 18,800 from a paralegal to an entry level lawyer salary, you will break even in just over six years. Paralegals that hold a bachelor’s degree will see an even quicker return on investment, with the break-even point at just over four years.
This is also a conservative estimate, as it is very likely you will see a significant jump in salary from your first year as a lawyer to your sixth, resulting in a quicker return on investment. Also for those who enter the process with an associate’s degree, the cost of a bachelor’s degree will be lower depending on your number of transfer credits.
The path to a becoming a lawyer can be a long one but is undoubtedly rewarding. The significant increase in salary coupled with the return on investment makes pursuing a career as a lawyer a tremendous career choice.