Legally Speaking

July 24, 2023

In this episode, we talk with Samantha Wood, who is a paralegal and lawyer in training at New England Law in Boston. She tells us about the ins and outs of law school, the Bar exam, and what exactly it means to be a litigation paralegal.

Listen to the episode here!


As always, we opened this episode of The College Access Chronicles with a joke: What did the lawyer name his daughter? Tune into our next episode to learn the punchline, but stick around now to learn more about law school, becoming a lawyer, and being a paralegal.

Samantha Wood is currently attending law school part-time at New England Law in Boston, Massachusetts, and working as a paralegal to gain experience with the ins and outs of legal proceedings outside of the classroom. When she graduates with her juris doctorate (J.D.), Sam wants to practice health law, inspired by her own struggle with health insurance agents to treat her chronic illness. She wants to help others who’ve had similar experiences and create a more inclusive healthcare system.

Sam graduated from the University of Maine in Farmington with two Bachelor’s degrees, one in Political Science and one in International and Global Studies, and a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. And while this set her up well for going into law school after receiving her degrees, she shared that you don’t have to major in something during your undergraduate experience that’s related to law or politics. “A lot of the time they recommend that you have a major that requires a lot of reading,” Sam shared on what someone should study before applying to law school. Some of her fellow students have English degrees, and one is even a medical doctor who decided they wanted to change careers and go into law.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll just let anyone into law school. You do need a Bachelor’s degree of some sort to apply, and you need to take the Law School Admission Test, also called the LSAT. This is a standardized test, much like the SAT and the ACT taken in high school, that’s designed to assess a student’s ability to comprehend different texts and their reasoning skills. “It isn’t technically like a law-related test,” Sam explained. “It’s more about logical thinking.” There are free websites online that you can use to study for the LSAT, like the LSAT website itself and Khan Academy. And don’t fret if you don’t ace the LSAT the first time. Most people take the exam more than once before they pass, even the best lawyers.

So you’ve taken and passed the LSAT, applied and been admitted into law school—now what?

Like all colleges, you still have to pay tuition, but law schools do offer financial aid in the form of scholarships and different research assistantships. Sam was fortunate to be awarded a full merit-based scholarship due to her high GPA and what she learned while receiving her Bachelor’s degrees, as well as political internships she took on. “If you want a better chance at scholarships and getting accepted to the school that you want, apply as early as you can,” Sam advised. “That’ll guarantee you better scholarships and a better chance to get into the schools you want to get into.” But if you don’t manage to snag any financial aid, fill out the FAFSA—yes, you can fill out the FAFSA as a graduate student!—and you may receive aid from the federal government to put towards law school.

There are different kinds of law, like criminal law, health law, international law, property law—the list goes on—but you won’t get to choose which type of law you want to study until after your first year of law school. “So [for] your first year of law school, they have all the classes set up for you,” Sam explained. This is actually regulated by the American Bar Association (“the Bar”), which is a group of voluntary lawyers who formulate guidelines for how law can be practiced in the United States, because they believe there are certain subjects law students must learn in order to be prepared to practice law. But after your first year, you’re free to take and tailor classes that fit into what you envision your future in law will look like.

But that’s not the only time the Bar will pop up in law school. “Before you are legally allowed to practice law,” Sam explained, “you have to pass the Bar Exam.” The Bar Exam is a test administered by the state you want to practice law in once you finish your law degree, and it’s such a hard exam that it’s recommended you don’t have a job while studying for it because it requires your undivided attention. But once you do pass it (we believe in you!), you’ll be able to become a lawyer and start your career in law.

Sam is planning to take the Bar Exam when she graduates, and she’s hoping to take the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), which would allow her to practice law in multiple states without having to pass an individual exam in each state. Though not all states offer the UBE. “I had a professor describe it to me as any state you would go for a sunny vacation in, is not a part of the Uniform Bar Exam,” Sam shared, so while it’s a good opportunity, be aware that not every state has that opportunity.

But becoming a lawyer isn’t the only thing you can do with a law degree, though it is a profession that you need to be licensed in through the Bar. Some legal firms and legislative government agencies will hire someone who has a law degree but isn’t licensed because they want people who are familiar with law. And you don’t need to be licensed to teach law in a college either, so you can also become a political science or law professor with just your degree.

One job you can do in the legal field is a paralegal, which is what Sam is currently doing. “Essentially [a] paralegal is a legal assistant to a lawyer,” Sam explained. “A lot of it is proofreading documents, doing minor legal research, preparing documents that don’t necessarily need to be prepared by a lawyer […] and just helping them out wherever they need [help].” Paralegals don’t need to have a law degree or be licensed by the Bar to work in their field. They can have a four year degree in a related field, like political science, or they can complete a two year degree or certificate in paralegal studies. Being a paralegal is a good career on its own, but it can also help someone gain experience for a future career in law because they’re immersed in legal proceedings and learning how practicing law in the United States works.

Like the rest of us, Sam is also obsessed with legal media, and her current recommendations are the show Law and Order, which is actually a very good example of how law works, and the Dateline podcast. She also recommends, if you’re on the fence about going to law school, to find the area of law you’re most
interested in and work in that field for a little bit to see if it’s a good fit. Take the time to figure it out, and if you think it’s what you want to do, then go for it.

The joke from our last episode was, What do you call a cruise full of college students? and the punchline is, A scholar-ship! You had to know it would be punny. Don’t forget to come back next time for the answer to this week’s joke, which is What did the lawyer name his daughter? and to learn more about the New Hampshire Scholars program.

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New England Law Boston
LSAT website
American Bar Association
Uniform Bar Exam