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My Opinion

Few Inquire About Esquire

For most paralegals, law school isn’t part of the future plan.

By Heidi Lowry

November/December 2008 Table of Contents

 

At one time or another, many paralegals have been asked if, or when, they are going to law school. In the most recent My Opinion survey, LAT wanted to know the answer to that question and found that it’s a resounding “no.” Our survey results indicate that 98.8 percent of respondents currently are not attending law school, while only 1.2 percent are enrolled in law school.

Of those who are not attending law school now, 72.4 percent have no plans to attend in the future and only 27.6 percent of respondents said they are planning to go to law school one day. “There have been occasions since I graduated from college that I’ve seriously considered law school [but], to be honest, especially at this point in my life, I’m very happy as a paralegal and have absolutely no regrets about making this my career,” said Mathew Laskowski, an 11-year senior paralegal from Manville, N.J.

Twenty-seven percent of those who are not planning to attend law school in the future said one of the reasons is that they don’t have the time or the money. “I have wanted to be a lawyer for quite some time now, but the finances just don’t permit it ...,” said Penny L. McCracken, a 14-year certified paralegal from Cameron, W.Va. “I love the law field and would very much like to become [an attorney].”

For 21.8 percent, their career as a paralegal already is professionally fulfilling. “Working for a government agency allows me the same (and sometimes more) job satisfaction [as] an attorney,” said a 10-year paralegal from Grand Rapids, Mich. “I find that my position allows me to do the ‘fun’ part of the job such as investigations, research, writing, discovery and interviews.”

Other reasons for not attending law school include never having an interest in going to law school or becoming a lawyer (13.4 percent) and not wanting the responsibility that comes with being a lawyer (13.4 percent). “The lawyers I work with are always on call. I can’t imagine that being worth it,” said a 20-year senior corporate paralegal from Dallas. Many respondents also expressed an appreciation for having the ability to leave work at work as a paralegal. “I prefer to be a professional who is not chained to, or obsessed by, his job,” said José Pedro Santos, AACP, a 17-year senior paralegal from Cincinnati. “To me, being a paralegal fulfills my needs to serve others, to be respected, to use my creative skills, to keep learning and to have a life outside the office.”

For 12.6 percent of respondents, being a paralegal has made them realize they never would want to become a lawyer. “I have appreciated this profession for the vast legal experience and flexibility it has provided me. If I had become a lawyer (especially in litigation), I strongly believe that this flexibility would not exist,” said Ken Isaacs, a 26-year paralegal from San Francisco.

Additionally, several paralegals also cited family as one of the top reasons they are happily choosing not to attend law school now or in the future. “At one point, I did want to be a lawyer,” said Christine M. Parizo, RP, a 4-year registered paralegal from Northampton, Mass. “Finances prevented me from going to law school and a friend suggested I check out a career as a paralegal. I’m glad I did because I have found it to be very professionally fulfilling and I still get to work reasonable hours and have time for my family.”

Twenty-two percent of respondents who are planning to attend law school in the future became a para-legal as a stepping stone to becoming a lawyer; 18.6 percent are doing so because they have hit a glass ceiling in their careers and want more; and 17 percent want the higher salary, benefits and perks that come with being a lawyer. Others with law school on their educational horizon want to be able to make legal decisions on behalf of their clients (15.2 percent) and some said being a paralegal has made them realize they want to become a lawyer (13.6 percent). “I used to think I’d never be able to be an attorney. But now … I think I could make a difference in some clients’ lives. I wish I could do more for the client…,” said a 7-year paralegal from Houston.

Deborah Myers Fernandez from Philadelphia recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in legal studies from Kaplan University and plans to use paralegal experience as an edge in becoming a lawyer. “I have plans to become a lawyer in the future but … the talk of the many hours that new lawyers put in had me thinking that I would want to gain experience as a paralegal for awhile before going on to law school,” she said.

According to our survey results, 49.4 percent of respondents don’t feel that they have come across more new paralegals who are entering the field solely as a stepping stone to law school, while 34.1 percent said they are seeing that trend. “I teach at the local community college’s paralegal program. In the last three years, I have seen about 25 percent of our students complete their bachelor[’s] degree and go on to law school. It’s great that paralegals are going into law school with the advantage of experience in the legal field,” said Deana M. Waters, an 8-year advanced certified paralegal from Fairbanks, Alaska. “However, at the same time, it’s also discouraging that some really excellent paralegals are leaving the profession to become lawyers.”

On the other hand, Baxter Quinn Andrews, a 3-year litigation paralegal from Boise, Idaho, is making law school plans to enhance her chosen paralegal profession. “I would stay working as a paralegal but would use the education to be a better paralegal,” Andrews said.

LAT’s survey also found that most employers (67.8 percent) don’t offer any incentives for attending law school. Of those that offer incentives, 8.9 percent pay for some of the costs; 2.2 percent give time off to attend law school; 1.1 percent offer a monetary incentive; and 1.1 percent pay tuition and all costs. Laskowski’s firm gives its paralegals who make the grade in law school strong consideration for summer associate positions.

Still, for paralegals like Wendy Kimbel, a 30-year advanced certified freelance paralegal from Mebane, N.C., deciding whether or not to go to law school isn’t a personal or financial choice, but is dictated by supply and demand. “With four well-respected law schools in my geographic area, lawyers are easy to find while good paralegals are not as readily available,” Kimbel said.

 

Survey Results

Are you currently attending law school?

     Yes: 1.2%

     No: 98.8%

 

Are you planning to attend law school in the future?

     Yes: 27.6%

     No: 72.4%

 

If you currently are in law school or plan to attend in the future, what are the reasons?

     I want to be able to make legal decisions on behalf of my clients: 15.2%

     I became a paralegal as a stepping stone to becoming a lawyer: 22.0%

     I want the higher salary, benefits and perks that come with being a lawyer: 17.0%

     Being a paralegal has made me realize that I want to become a lawyer: 13.6%

     I have hit a glass ceiling in my career and want more: 18.6%

     Other: 13.6%

 

If you are not planning to attend law school in the future, why not?

     My paralegal career is professionally fulfilling: 21.8%

     I never have been interested in going to law school or becoming a lawyer: 13.4%

     Being a paralegal has made me realize that I never would want to become a lawyer: 12.6%

     I don't want the responsibility that comes with being a lawyer: 13.4%

     I don't have the time or money to go to law school: 27.0%

     Other: 11.8%

 

In recent years, do you feel that you have come across more new paralegals who are entering the field
     solely as a stepping stone to law school?

     Yes: 34.1%

     No: 49.4%

     I don't know: 16.5%

 

Does your employer offer any incentives for attending law school?

     Yes: 13.3%

     No: 67.8%

     I don't konw: 12.2%

 

Total survey responses: 87

 

 

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