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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Law Clerk or Paralegal?

This week's question in the "Crossroads" column of the New York Lawyer asks whether or not it is a hindrance for a student to work as a paralegal as opposed to a law clerk. This is a question we get a lot in the Career Services Office, especially from evening students who are working full- time. Below is the answer from Linda E. Laufer, the Director of Career Development at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.

"One of the difficulties for many evening students is the inability to give up the financial stability of their current position so that they can gain legal experience. As a paralegal, you are in a position to mitigate that issue. How much advantage you gain can depend on factors such as your responsibilities and the type of matters that you handle.

In looking at your resume and comparing to other candidates in your class year, employers will be particularly interested in the exact nature of your legal skills and substantive knowledge. For example, they are likely to look for legal research and writing. Without the opportunity to exercise those skills, or engage in other work similar to that performed by your classmates, you can be at a disadvantage.

[...]Consider whether you can ask your current employer for assignments that will enable you to accomplish that goal. If your employer hires law clerks, perhaps you could be placed in one of those positions. "

In short, it is the work you are doing rather than the job title that is important. The danger of becoming a paralegal instead of a law clerk is that the substantial bulk of your work will be administrative. However, if your employer is also able to assign you in-depth legal research and writing assignments, then serving as a full-time paralegal while attending law school is a good way to gain legal experience.

For more advice from the Crossroads column, visit the New York Lawyer website. You will need to register to access the site, however registration is free.

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