Paralegal Pathways: Legal Assistant to Law Student
Written by Kristine Custodio Suero, ACP
Many of us contemplate it but do not actually make the leap from paralegal to lawyer. Yet some of us make that transition to lawyer early in our careers and some make the decision after many years of practice as a paralegal.
For those of us considering the law school route, what are some considerations that we should think about so that we move forward with our eyes wide open? I interviewed two legal professionals who made that leap and are currently in law school. Each has a unique and interesting perspective shaped by their personal and professional experiences.
Kioshi Addison-Bell, Former Immigration Law Legal Assistant, 2L at Stanford Law School
Q: Kioshi, can you please share a little bit about your background and the defining moment of when you made the decision to apply to law school?
A: I am a lifelong Californian. I was born in Modesto, California and moved to Carlsbad, California when I was a Sophomore in High School. I attended La Costa Canyon High School in Encinitas and spent two years at MiraCosta College in San Diego before transferring to UCLA, where I majored in Political Science. During my second quarter at UCLA, I enrolled in two law courses and realized how fascinating and complex the law is. In one of the classes my professor assigned five full landmark Supreme Court opinions as readings each week. I noticed that I was enjoying reading over a hundred pages of legal opinions a week and determined that I would probably enjoy law school too.
Q: What do you know now that you would tell your 18-year old self?
A: I would tell myself to welcome disappointment. There have been many times in my life when I did not get the internship I wanted or get admitted into a school I wanted. But life has a way of working itself out when you keep going. Each time something does not work out the way you expected or hoped, redirect that disappointment into motivation. I would also tell myself to recognize my strengths and weaknesses–try improving where you can and capitalize on the things you are good at. Of course, I would also tell my 18-year old self to show more respect to my parents.
Q: Law school is known to induce stress in students navigating the challenging environment. How do you stay motivated and keep your mindset positive and focused?
A: I try to remind myself why I came to law school in the first place: I found it interesting. Sometimes I must put a pause on law school, take a step off the hamster wheel, and recalibrate. I do this by talking with non-law school friends or family members, or spending time immersed in nature without technology. The most important advice is to not compare yourself with your peers. This will be incredibly difficult in practice and something that you cannot always do. But when you remember that you are in law school to learn and eventually become a lawyer, and that everyone is coming into law school with different skill sets and experiences, it helps. Maintain the relationships that you value, law school does not need to completely take over your life. Remember the people who helped you get to where you are.
Q: Who do you most admire and why?
A: My parents. Neither of my parents attended college and they did everything they could to help me go to college. They sacrificed things in their lives so that I could do what they did not. Their selflessness is something I find admirable, and I keep in mind everything they have done for me when I am stressed out.
Kai Huffman, ACP, CEDS, Litigation Paralegal, 2L at Northwestern California University School of Law.
Q: Kai, you and I have known each other for quite some time through the paralegal association world? What made you decide to shift gears and apply to law school at this point in your career?
A: I have always wanted to go to law school, but I had my two children at 20 and 38 so I was always raising my sons and working full time. I had actually earned my college degree while working evenings when my oldest son was growing up but never could make the time commitment to law school. It isn’t like college or a paralegal program where you can take a few classes a year and finish when you finish. I had started law school a few times, but it just wasn’t right for me or my family. With the pandemic and working from home, my sons grown and my very supportive husband, and the realization that I still wanted to go to law school when I grow up, I was in a place where I had the time to devote to law school, so I am.
Q: What is the most helpful part of your experience as a paralegal that prepared you as a law student?
A: I breezed through the Introduction to Law class but I think in a lot of ways it can be a deterrence in the same way that taking the CP exam after I had been a paralegal for a number of years was when I was studying for that. When you know a lot about a subject, you can kind of trick yourself into thinking you don’t have to study as hard, but the reality is you have to train yourself to think of things in a different way.
Q: If you had to do it all over again as far as your career is concerned, what would you change?
A: I have loved being a paralegal and working with associations and other paralegals from the local to the state and national level and advancing the profession, but I think if I had it to do over I would have taken the leap sooner and made the sacrifice of time for the four years of law school. It really does go by quickly.
Q: For other paralegals considering applying to law school, what pearls of wisdom would you offer?
A: I don’t know that I have any pearls of wisdom other than that you are never too old to follow a dream and that there really is a time for everything and sometimes it’s not today, but maybe tomorrow will be the time.
Kristine Custodio Suero, ACP is an award-winning legal professional, a published author and a highly sought-after speaker. A true servant leader, she has led the San Diego Paralegal Association and California Alliance of Paralegal Associations as President. Kristine teaches legal courses for a local San Diego paralegal program and lends her time to the program’s advisory board. Kristine is a member of the NALA Professional Development Committee and a past member of the NALA Continuing Education Council and past Ethics Chair. Kristine is a Senior Paralegal/Business Development Director for Butterfield Schechter LLP. Kristine may be reached at email@example.com.