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Beginning Your New Career as a Paralegal

published January 22, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
Published By
( 131 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
Many recently graduated paralegals start their first day on the job uncertain of what to expect. These uncertainties concern how they will be viewed by the other staff and/or utilized as a member of the legal team. It is important to remember that starting a paralegal job is like starting any other new job for which you received educational training; your first several weeks are a "getting acquainted" period with the staff. Paralegal training does differ from program to program and many lawyers are still experimenting with how to use paralegals most effectively.
Beginning Your New Career as a Paralegal

Prepare in Advance Before your first day of work, review your notes and textbook readings from your paralegal training program to familiarize yourself with the legal terminology and procedures that you were taught, since there may have been sometime between your graduation and your first day on the job. It is best to refresh your memory by reading over these course materials.

You may find that your first position involves work in an area of law with which you are not familiar. If so, ask one of your former instructors to recommend a book or two in that area of law so that you can do some homework, which will make you feel more confident on your first day. In addition to preparing for the type of law which is practiced by your new employer.

it is also a good idea to do some in-depth research about your new place of employment if you did not do so before your interview. If it is a law firm, then go back to their listing in Martindale-Hubbell Become familiar with the names, backgrounds, and areas of legal expertise of the firm's lawyers. This will assist you in feeling more at ease with the lawyers you meet on the first day.

If your first job is in the legal department of a corporation, you should go to Standard and Poor's or Dun and Bradstreet and acquaint yourself with the company's size, products, divisions, subsidiaries, and locations. Such information can help give you confidence, make you more useful in the first week or two of the job, and demonstrate to your new bosses that you are interested in your new job.

Government agencies frequently have annual reports and pamphlets prepared to inform the public of their functions. Pay a visit to the agency to pick up some of this information before you begin your employment. The facts that you learn by reading through the reports and pamphlets will demonstrate to the other staff that you are interested and concerned about your new position.

You may want to pay a visit to your new place of employment before you start on the job. You can meet informally with the lawyers and paralegals before starting work. You can introduce yourself to your fellow employees and ask any questions about the work setting, and types of law that you will become involved in. Sometimes this is done before accepting the job offer, however, it's easy to forget about it in the excitement of accepting the job offer.

Taking the opportunity to make a short informal visit before beginning the job is perfectly acceptable and is usually recommended. Dress for the first day on the job as you dressed for the interview (see page 90 for suggestions). It is always possible that once you begin the job you will find that the legal staff dresses casually and you may wish to follow suit. But on the first day of the job you should always dress somewhat more formally; it can only make a better first impression with the lawyers.

Allow extra time for getting ready on the morning of the first day of the job since you will probably want to arrive a half-hour earlier than usual. First, you want to be certain that you know how to get to the job (don't be late!). Second, you will need some extra time in the morning to meet with the person in charge of personnel. If you received a letter confirming your position at an agreed upon salary, you should bring it with you on the first day. You should also bring with you several more copies of your resume. Many personnel offices need a resume on file for each employee.

The resume that was sent in for your interview may have been written on and/or kept by one of the attorneys who interviewed you. You will probably be asked to fill out numerous forms on your first day. These forms may include an application for employment, as well as health and insurance forms. Some companies may also expect you to have a physical examination by the company doctor.

The numbers that you will need to have on hand may include your Social Security number, your spouse's Social Security number, telephone number of your spouse's place of employment, telephone numbers of your references, and the numbers and names of your health insurance policies. You may also be given a booklet on the office's policies in regard to vacations, sick days, personal days, and overtime.

Next, the personnel director or the attorney with whom you will be working most closely will escort you around the offices to introduce you to the other staff members. You will also be shown the typing and stenography pools, the word-processing area, the law library, the file room, and the firm's or company's dining room, if there is one.

You will also be instructed on how to fill out your daily time records. Either before or after your tour of the office you will be shown to your own office. Many paralegals start in their jobs by sharing an office with other paralegals. In fact, many attorneys will also share an office if the law firm has a problem with office space. The advantages of sharing an office are that you will not feel isolated during your training period. You will usually have some one close by to answer your questions. You will also have the opportunity to develop some camaraderie with the other paralegal staff.

The disadvantage of sharing an office is that you may have distractions or noise when you are trying to complete an assignment which requires deep concentration. Or you may have some problems when making phone calls to clients or interviewing clients in person. The law library or the conference room, when not in use, may be the place where you might want to relocate temporarily when there are too many distractions in your office.

Remember, as you become a more senior member of the paralegal staff there is always the possibility of being moved to an office of your own if the space is available. Your space within the office, whether or not you are sharing it with other paralegals, will have a desk, chair, and phone. Usually there will also be a bookcase nearby for you to store some of your paralegal texts. The bookcase can also be used to store some of the case files you may be using when you assist an attorney on a case. Some paralegals share a secretary with another attorney or with another paralegal. Usually the secretary will be next to your office in order to facilitate your bringing work for him/her to type. In other law offices, paralegals may use only the typing pool to assist them in their work. Many lawyers will take their new paralegals out to lunch on their first day as a ''welcome to the office" gesture. In some offices the existing paralegal staff may take the new paralegal out.

Ask Questions One of the most common concerns of a novice paralegal is what he/she will be expected to do during his/her first few months on the job. Will he/she be given a complex assignment with few or no instructions and be expected to handle it on his/her own? How much of the paralegal's training will be applicable to the job? Most attorneys will not give difficult or complicated assignments to a new paralegal. If you are given an assignment which you do not understand or are unsure of, ask to be shown how to complete it. It is extremely important that you ask a lot of questions during your training period. It is part of the training process and the lawyers expect it.

Remember, too, that all of your work will always be reviewed by an attorney. The key to becoming a competent paralegal is to ask questions, to be unafraid of making a mistake, and to learn through your errors. By feeling prepared to start work as a paralegal, and knowing what you can expect on the job, you should be able to begin your paralegal career on the right footing.

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

More about Harrison

About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit www.LawCrossing.com.

published January 22, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 131 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.