Tips for Becoming a Successful Paralegal
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Tips for Becoming a Successful Paralegal

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"You don't have to practice law if you go to law school," she said. "I had attended a seminar put on by Deborah Aaron entitled '1,000 Different Things You Can Do with a Law Degree,' and she inspired me to think outside of the box...I loved law, learning, and helping people."

After teaching paralegal and pre-law students for many years, Cierzan has now spent nearly four years recruiting paralegals as the paralegal placement director at The Esquire Group in Minneapolis, MN. She gave us some tips on what clients look for in efficient paralegals and how efficient paralegals should be:

Why do individuals choose to be paralegals rather than practicing lawyers?

Law school is a heavy financial burden and requires a significant time commitment, so it is a very good option for people who cannot provide for that. Not everyone has the luxury to go through all that schooling. It is a good way to be involved in law without going through those struggles. Paralegals can sometimes even make more than some attorneys.

What tips can you give for a paralegal starting out in the industry?

You need to make sure you have a good resume, great communication skills, outstanding interpersonal skills—and be patient. The desperate job search is never good! Also, always remember every job counts; skills are always transferable! If you were a sales associate in a retail department, you likely managed money, interacted with clients, etc.

What do you need to do to become a paralegal?

In the market that I work in, it is becoming even more important that you have a bachelor's degree and a paralegal certificate. It does vary in every state you are in. Also, more and more employers are requiring that paralegals have paralegal certificates from ABA-approved programs, as they are questioning the online programs, etc. However, since the state has not implemented or required any specific training, anyone could really call themselves a paralegal if they have the experience to support the title. This is something that I suspect will change in the near future.

What kind of personality fits best with a paralegal career?

I would say a "type-A" personality fits best. They should be introverted and extroverted and highly organized. They can't really be an "idea" person only; they have to be somebody who completes tasks. The [average graduate] right out of school has the least amount of success and has a harder time, so life experience helps in being more successful.

What is the average entry-level salary for a paralegal, and how high can a paralegal's salary go?

The entry-level salary starts around $30,000 to $35,000. It can go upwards to over $100,000, though. I cannot disclose specific names or companies, but I've had clients get positions worth that much or more.

How should you approach an interview for a paralegal position?

Interview Dos:
  • Most importantly, you should bring with you a clean copy of your resume and references!

  • Be on time!!!

  • Dress appropriately...many make the error of being too overdressed.

  • Research the firm/company.

  • Have questions to ask about the firm/company.

  • Be able to give examples of your work or work ethic (anecdotal answers).

  • Establish rapport—the 80(them)/20(you) rule.

  • Save nuts and bolts for the right time.

  • Always be honest.

  • Don't forget to tell them you are interested in their position at the end of the interview.
Interview Don'ts:
  • Don't be late.

  • Don't wear a lot of perfume/cologne or scented lotion.

  • Don't dress casually, even on Fridays!

  • Don't complain about former employers.

  • Don't hide gaps in your work history.

  • Be careful not to exaggerate your work experience.

  • Interviewing is like a presentation. You need to prepare and practice; don't just wing it.
Where do you hope the paralegal industry will be 10 years from now?

I suspect the paralegal profession will be regulated by a state-by-state basis and there will be more federal regulations. I think there will be (and should be) standardization of the profession, educational requirements, and utilization requirements. Also, I hope that there will be more laws on certification and [that] people who have a rich education will obtain [prominent] jobs based on degrees and experience.

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