Paralegal Certificates: A Path to Law School?

A paralegal position can be helpful because it will allow you to “get your feet wet” and learn some tangible, transferable skills.  Such a position will also allow you to see the practice of law first-hand before deciding whether the field is the right fit for you. Moreover, law school admission departments and hiring partners at law firms will see the experience as a positive aspect of your resume.  Working as a paralegal (or anything else) prior to law school will not make up for poor grades or low LSAT scores, but it may offer a better chance at admission in some cases.  Some schools, such as Harvard and Northwestern, view work experience as nearly a prerequisite to admission.

Deciding whether to pursue a paralegal certificate prior to law school is an additional decision that requires serious contemplation.  A certification in paralegal studies can cost thousands of dollars in tuition as well as months of additional schooling.  The debt accrued in terms of time and money may not be worth the investment for someone who is not considering a paralegal position as a possible career path in itself.  Moreover, the costs associated with a paralegal certificate may not be necessary because some law firms are willing to hire job-seekers for paralegal positions without a certification.

Going straight from undergraduate to a paralegal position without any law firm experience can prove difficult, but that is not the only available option.  One non-conventional path to becoming a paralegal is to take a job at a law firm as either an assistant or another similar administrative role.  This will allow you to learn how the firm works and what is required of its paralegals.  During your time at the firm you can speak with current paralegals about their responsibilities and make clear your intentions to join their ranks.  With such knowledge and experience in hand, you can apply for a paralegal position within the firm or elsewhere.  The issue with this path is time.  Often a transition of this type may take at least a couple of years.  If you foresee yourself applying to law school within a year of graduation, the paralegal route may not be the best option.

Becoming a paralegal can have many advantages in terms of learning the legal industry, developing tangible skills and becoming more attractive to certain law schools.  Additionally, if you are on the fence about applying to law school, working as a paralegal will give you first-hand knowledge of the field, while also allowing you to save up for tuition expenses.  Working prior to law school can be a valuable asset for your career, but it is not required at all law schools.  If you are not sure whether to work for a period of time prior to law school, speak with friends and family or check with schools you are interested in to see how highly they value work experience.

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