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Securing your first job as a paralegal will be fairly easy if you have graduated from a reputable paralegal program in your geographic area. The good news about looking for a paralegal position is that jobs are always becoming available. A paralegal usually stays in his/her first position for two years before moving on to another job, or going on to law school or business school, or being promoted to an administrative or managerial position in his/her firm or company.
Whenever an employed paralegal makes a job change, another paralegal position opens up. In addition, new positions are continually being created as lawyers realize the economic advantages in using paralegals in their practices. The best way to guarantee yourself a paralegal position as quickly as possible is to take an active approach in seeking it.
The active approach to job seeking means hitting every angle when you are looking for your paralegal job. Only about 20 percent of the available jobs are advertised. The other 80 percent are found by remembering that looking for a job is a full-time job in itself.
When you start to look for a job tell all your friends and acquaintances that you are looking for a paralegal position. Read the newspapers and their classified advertisements for paralegal jobs, and most importantly, send out your resume to law firms, corporations, banks, insurance companies, public agencies—any place that might hire a paralegal.
Finding out about paralegal positions may take some perseverance, but the majority of graduates from reputable paralegal programs will find positions utilizing their training. The first point to bear in mind, is that 80 percent of jobs are not advertised. This means that these available positions are known only to those already working in the legal community. They are not positions advertised in the papers. This is important to remember since a paralegal graduate can become dismayed when looking in the classified advertisements every day and seeing only a few paralegal jobs listed.
This does not mean that there are no jobs for paralegals. It just means that the paralegal positions are going to be filled either through contacts that the law firm or corporation has with paralegal programs, or through the resumes that are on file in the personnel offices.
Thus it is imperative that you send your resume to law firms and corporations even if they are not advertising for paralegals. Many lawyers keep resumes on file and will pull them out, instead of advertising in the newspaper, when a position becomes available in the office. Another source of jobs will be the placement office of the paralegal programs.
A paralegal program operating a good placement office will have an active and established relationship with the legal community. Lawyers like to go to paralegal programs for their graduates since paralegal programs, unlike employment agencies, do not charge the employer a fee.
The placement office of a paralegal program will also screen its graduates for the type of background that the lawyer is requesting. An active approach in looking for a paralegal job is best. Not only is it better for the student's self-esteem to be actively job searching on his/her own, but results will come faster if the student is sending out resumes to a carefully selected group of law firms and corporations.
The first step in looking for a paralegal job is to narrow down the number of places where your resume can be sent. There are many places that a paralegal can send his/her resume, but it is important to decide first on your geographical boundaries. If you live in a large metropolitan area, how far do you want to commute? How big a law firm or corporation do you want to work for?
And finally, before you go any further, give those places a call to find out if they hire paralegals, and if so, to whom you should address your resume. The trick here is to get the name of the person in charge of hiring so that you can address your letter and envelope to him/her personally. You have a far better chance of getting a response if you address your letter to a particular person. Getting the names and addresses of law firms is not at all difficult.
There is the lawyer's directory, Martindale-Hubbell which lists many firms and their lawyers. Included in the listings are the telephone numbers of the firms, the names of many of the partners and associates, plus the kind of law practiced in the firm.
If you have an interest in a particular kind of law you might address a letter to the partner or department head whose specialty it is. Martindale-Hubbell has several large volumes, is up-dated yearly, and lists the firms alphabetically according to state and city.
Corporate directories such as Dun and Bradstreet and Standard and Poor's will give you the names and addresses of large companies in the geographical area you are interested in working in. A phone call to the general counsel or the personnel office should furnish you with information on whether the company hires paralegals, and to whom you should address a resume.
Similarly, banks, insurance companies, and pension-consulting firms will be listed either in trade magazines or the Yellow Pages of the phone book. This research is most important in your letter- writing campaign, since you will be doing this before mailing out your resumes.
Every state has a law journal which is published daily. Once or twice a year there will be a survey of law firms and corporations with salary information for lawyers, the number of lawyers employed, and the number of paralegals employed. This list can be extremely helpful in your job search as it will provide you with the names of law firms and corporations that actually hire paralegals.
When you phone those places you will ask for the name of the person in charge of hiring paralegals. Some paralegal graduates seeking a job head first to an employment agency hoping that the agency will conduct the entire job search on their behalf. Usually this technique reaps meager results. Most agencies are more attracted to paralegals with significant work experience in a particular legal field since their clients are seeking experienced paralegals.
However, some agencies have a division for placement of paralegals on a temporary basis. I suggest a temporary position when the paralegal wants to sample different kinds of paralegal jobs to find the work setting most suited to his/her background.
Usually the temporary paralegal work offered is more routine and task-oriented since it is "filling-in" on a big project which has an end in sight and does not justify hiring permanent employees. The paralegal is paid on an hourly basis by the agency and does not get any benefits. Some paralegals do find that this temporary work can evolve into permanent employment.
At the very least though, the paralegal will gain work experience and references. And temporary work usually allows the paralegal to leave at any time for job interviews that may come up. In suburban or rural areas, a paralegal graduate may find that the law practices are smaller, more self-contained, and the attorneys may not be completely sold on the idea of using a paralegal.
Supplying the lawyers with written information concerning the economics of using paralegals is one idea, but some graduates find that working out a part-time schedule to demonstrate how effective their presence can be in the office is a more useful way of approaching this problem. Several years ago one paralegal graduate started out by working on a volunteer, part- time basis and shortly afterward was commanding $200 a day as a paralegal working in the same position!
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