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Should I Stay a Paralegal or Go On to Law School?

Both lawyers and paralegals are trained to practice within the legal profession. However, there are important differences between the two legal professionals.

Paralegal vs Lawyer : What’s the Difference?

At its most basic level, a paralegal differs from a lawyer in that a paralegal is appropriately trained to practice in the legal profession; whereas a lawyer is licensed to practice law.

Lawyers, because they have passed the bar, have the ability to practice law independently, or with the assistance of a paralegal or a legal assistant. In fact, paralegals are only permitted to perform work that has been delegated to them by a lawyer. This is because, the lawyer assigning the task, not the paralegal, remains completely responsible for the actions of the paralegal and the results of the task.

Historically, the concepts of paralegal vs legal assistant have been used interchangeably. However, four years into the 21st Century, the National Association of Legal Assistants differentiated the two by offering a distinct certificate for each specialty. So, at present, there is now a distinction between a paralegal vs legal assistant, with the duties of a legal assistant more in line with that of a traditional legal secretary.

Many professional paralegals, after working in the legal profession for some time, find they have a renewed piqued interest in becoming a lawyer. The transition from paralegal to lawyer is somewhat of a natural progression, but it takes careful planning. Most paralegals find helpful guidance from law school programs and the legal professionals with whom they currently work.

Is a Paralegal Degree Worth Pursuing?

In other words, how much do legal assistants make?

Great Question.

According to the federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for a Paralegal/Legal Assistant was nearly $51,000, or approximately $25 hour in 2018. The government’s statisticians anticipate that paralegal pay and compensation will grow at a pace of 15% through the year 2026 — a rate that is considered much faster than the average expected growth of all occupations combined.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earnings for all United States’ salaried and wage workers in the first quarter of 2019 was $905 per week or approximately $47,000 annually. The same BLS newsletter denotes that US workers, who have earned only a high school diploma during the same timeframe, earned a median weekly salary of $739 per week.

So, how much do legal assistants make?

Given the salary statistics provided by the federal government, it is clear to see that a paralegal pay, on average, exceeds the median of all workers, especially those workers who have yet to earn an associate’s degree or a more advanced degree.

Is it worth it to Switch to Law School?

One of the simplest ways to determine if it is worth switching to law school while earning your degree studying for a paralegal education is to compare the salary of a paralegal vs lawyer salary. And while understanding the earning potential for each legal professional is a legitimate comparison, it cannot be the only variable used to base an important decision (and commitment) that is required to attend law school.

The higher salary commanded by a lawyer is due to the lawyer’s lengthy education and the responsibility they undertake as licensed stewards of the law. On the other hand, paralegal education is less costly and can be completed much faster.

As one considers switching to law school, it is also critical to consider the fact that becoming a lawyer does not only require an additional commitment in terms of time and money. A Juris Doctor (JD) graduate, which is no small feat by itself,  must be able to then pass the state bar to actually be able to ‘practice law.’

Finally, one of the most fundamental reasons to consider switching to law school is that you know that you want to be a lawyer and, that practicing law is the career path that will bring success and happiness.

As the old adage profoundly states — You never work a day in your life, if your work is something that you love.

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