Paralegals may play an important role in legal practice, but you may aspire for the responsibility and higher pay of a licensed attorney. It's not an easy feat by any means, requiring extensive education and a good deal of late night pouring over law books. Nevertheless, it is quite possible. The path for advancing from paralegal to lawyer varies depending on the state.
For instance, California has 4 ways to become a licensed lawyer. You can attend a law school approved by the American Bar Association, attend a non-ABA approved course that has state approval, study law for 4 years in an approved program under the supervision of a lawyer or judge, or have a law license from another state. Then you must pass the California Bar Exam. Other states have similar requirements. Most require a formal law education and the passage of the Bar. Paralegals have a head start on their law education, since they learned the basics in their current legal profession.
The real benefit to becoming an attorney after working as a paralegal is you're not making much of a career stretch. You already have a taste for it, since you do most of the work of an attorney right now, but don't get paid for it. Complete your legal education and pass the Bar, and you'll make the money you deserve. Sounds easy, right? Think again. It's a lot of hard work, but the end result is well worth it.
Back to School
Getting into law school requires some sort of undergraduate degree, ideally in an appropriate field such as paralegal studies, political science or criminal justice.
In most states, it will take you about 7 years to become a licensed lawyer, depending on whether or not you go to school full time.
Tackling the Bar
Once you've completed your law education, there's one hurdle left- passing the bar. This is a very intense legal aptitude test that gauges your fitness to become a lawyer. The examination varies from state to state, but most require a 6-hour Multistate Bar Examination as part of the test. If you pass it, congratulations. You're a licensed attorney, subject to better salary and higher privileges. Once you've done that, you can shift your focus to find contract attorney jobs.