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Role of Contacts in Paralegal Job Search

published February 08, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
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To make your job search in paralegal world fruitful, you should see to it that you should not stick to contacts that did not give you any benefit. You will stand a chance of getting a job if you judiciously make new contacts. Any seminar in insurance sales will tell you that sales success is a matter of simple arithmetic. The phrase you hear in these seminars is, "It's a numbers game." This attempt to reduce the problem to a matter of arithmetic is designed to focus the salespeople on keeping up their numbers of contacts. If they spend too much time on old contacts that show little promise, they are not playing the sales game correctly. In the effective job search, the challenge is much the same.

If you make 200 contacts (or 25 contacts) over a given time, you will experience good fortune and bad fortune in a certain proportion. Of course, you disregard the bad fortune and maximize the good fortune. The one with 200 contacts has "more" good luck-more chances for good fortune to play a role-and so can play the opportunities against themselves and take more control of the negotiating process. The one who has made only 25 contacts over the same period of time is going to react more strongly to the bad fortune, and will "hope and pray" that the good fortune brings employment, thus minimizing negotiating power and confidence. This process is like a roulette wheel to the latter, more like a card game to the former.

Let's look at three job seekers:

Job seeker No.1, Anne, got the job offer. Next week she would get calls from two other people for interviews because her job search was active enough that she had "several arrows in the air" at once. Her "crop was coming in" and she was reaping.

Job Seeker No.2, David, suffered a "downturn" for a time after his rejection because he was counting on getting that job. He was counting too much on one event. He stopped all activity on his job hunt while the interview process was taking place. He had a "special feeling" about that job from the first time he saw it advertised. The first interviewer made him feel so good that he was sure the offer was 80 percent complete. He was devastated when he was turned down. Since he had ceased all other activity, his sadness slipped into depression. It took him ten days to get back in a proper job hunting frame of mind, and then because he had not been making contacts there was less "crop coming in" as the weeks passed.

Job Seeker No.3, Marjorie, was disappointed that she was turned down.

She went home that night, talked it over with her husband and went to see a movie to get through the negative feelings. By Sunday, she had her nose back in the newspapers and was conducting a direct mail campaign for a practice area in which she was interested. But this was nothing new; she had been conducting a fruitful search ever since her graduation. The next week, she got two interviews from mailings and contacts she had made a month before. She had too much momentum to slow down. She was too busy making things happen to go into a two-week funk.

Remember: you only need one- job- one- key element separates job hunting from sales. In sales, you must perform and succeed and meet quotas every month. In job hunting, you just need that one job. Once you get that one full-time paralegal job, your job search can go on "hold."

After an arduous job search, a job seeker once received two offers in one day. When the jubilation died down he stared blankly into the TV and listened to my wife's gentle admonition: "You can't show up at both jobs. You have to accept just one of them."

She startled him out of his partial paralysis on the evening he had to decide between two offers. This is the heartening, but ironic, twist to this process, if you are lucky enough to entertain multiple offers.

One graduate mailed 92 letters to her home state of Nebraska. Some went to Omaha, some to Lincoln. She also mailed letters and resumes to advertised leads. About three weeks after graduation, she was entertaining three offers in a three-day period. Two were in Omaha and one in Lincoln.

She decided to turn down the Lincoln offer because it was just a little lower than the one in Omaha. On the day she was leaving her apartment (she was staying in Lincoln at the time) the Lincoln firm called her up and said, "We are not going to let you get away from us. How about $2,000 more per year?" This example demonstrates that one piece of good fortune can play off another. She was able to maximize all of her good fortune and end up with a pleasing result. But, in the end, she could only take one of those jobs.

Which contact will lead to a job?

Maximum effort is necessary because you never know what is going to work! Ask the woman in Lincoln about the original 92 letters she sent out. Ask her if 75 would have worked, or just 20. She cannot know.

Efficiency cannot be a goal in the job search. Only after the fact can you see what worked and what did not work. The only thing you can do is work your hardest. You never know what contact will lead to that one job you need. If you are half-hearted in your effort, you will always wonder how much more effort might have worked. Effort is the pure and simple answer to the fortune/misfortune factor. Work hard, so then you can feel secure and poised to take advantage of the results.

It would be meaningful to discussing the first moves for the job search before looking into effective job strategies:
  1. Looking for a job is an emotionally grueling and psychologically demanding experience.
  2. But employment is worth the effort. We define ourselves by what we do. Employment is not only a necessity, but also it is our first and largest response to the challenge of living.
  3. The job hunt finds you at your worst when you need to be at your best.
  4. Since full-time work is what you need, turn finding a job into a job. See yourself as an employed "Full-Time Temp," with the goal of being an effective paralegal job seeker.
  5. Strategies and plans that work in the legal profession over the long-term are essential to this full-time temp job.
  6. The paralegal profession is growing and provides constant new opportunities for the candidate.
  7. The effective paralegal job seeker must have a level of sophistication and understanding to be considered a viable, employable paralegal candidate. You must look, act, and sound like an employable paralegal.
  8. Though fortune and misfortune are real factors in the job hunt, more effort and increased contacts maximize good fortune and decrease the significance of bad fortune.
  9. You need only one job. You must work as hard as you can on your job search, because you never know what contact will lead to that one job you need.
  10. The effective paralegal job seeker needs strategies-- Strategies for approaching law firms of different Sizes

The sole practitioner

Do not think of a sole practitioner as a "country lawyer." Avoid assumptions about where the attorney comes from or whether the practice has the "sophistication" of a large firm. It is best to meet sole practitioners as you find them and respond to their stated needs. A sole practitioner might have left a large firm because of a desire for independence and being one's own boss. He or she might have been practicing for the last 30 years and have a client list inherited from a multi-generation law family, or might want to:
  • remain a sole practitioner for his or her entire career;
  • grow to a certain small controllable level, take on several partners, and then stop there;
  • become the biggest law firm in the city and eventually hold the position of senior partner in that firm
  • re-establish himself or herself after a firm break-up and eventually grow back to a larger size.

While you cannot assume certain things about this kind of attorney, you can still make some very solid assumptions based simply upon the fact that they are alone and have a relatively small number of support personnel:
  • The sole practitioner will want support personnel to wear more than one hat.
  • The sole practitioner will probably want you to work with clients to a certain degree.
  • Strategies for approaching law firms of different Sizes
  • The sole practitioner will need word-processing support.
  • The sole practitioner will hire based upon an array of priorities.

“Find a need and fill it” -- This much-quoted saying speaks volumes when it comes to approaching a sole practitioner. When one takes job orders for entry paralegals from sole practitioners, the conversation typically goes like this:

Sole Practitioner: I need someone to help me out with my practice. You know . . . someone who can help me out in every area. I need someone who is willing to answer the phone, handle document preparation, do client interviews, help me with billing, make filings at court……things a paralegal can do. You know, do everything which I normally do when I can't do it.

Do you have anybody like that?

Career Development: Certainly! What's your practice area?

Solo Practitioner: I handle almost everything that comes through the door, but mainly my practice is personal injury, Workers' Comp, criminal defense, some real estate, some estate planning, and some family law. I need someone who can train quickly, who's bright and enthusiastic, can handle the computer, be good with people, and work hard.

Many a Paralegal Career Started with a Sole Practitioner. Every employment situation has positives and negatives. You will hear paralegals argue until they are blue in the face as to why they hate real estate and love litigation and vice versa. You can hear a horror story about a sole practitioner, and then turn around and hear one about a large law firm. Despite all of the comparing and complaining, the one key point that may get overlooked is: In the quest for that hard to find first paralegal job, sole practitioners are more flexible and are more likely to give entry paralegals an opportunity if they like the way the applicant interviews and if his or her training and background meet their needs.

The sole practitioner does not have to check with a hiring partner, "run you by" a special committee, or worry about whether the senior partner is going to like you. The sole practitioner is the hiring partner, the committee, the senior partner, and every other management/legal title there is. He or she can pick you because you seem to be the best choice out of all those who have interviewed for the position. Many a paralegal career had its beginning in the hunch of a sole practitioner who thought that a certain someone would be just right for their practice and clientele.

What does the sole practitioner need?

Strategies that work with sole practitioners are ones that demonstrate an understanding of their particular world. The world of the sole practitioner is different from the lawyer in the large firm. Same profession, different lives. The sole practitioner must worry about the business end of the practice, so the more accounting, balancing, bookkeeping, and/or cash handling you have done the more practical and "real world" you will appear. The sole practitioner needs clients coming through the door, and values people who have had exposure to the public or been in customer service situations. A background in which you have learned that "the customer is always right" actually has meaning to a sole practitioner.

Although you will not be relied upon to get clients or keep them, the sole practitioner is often concerned that clients will be impressed with your professionalism, appearance, and conduct. In some practices, the main support paralegal has close and continual contact with many key clients, in contrast to a large law firm where client contact is often minimal.

Successful sole practitioners have probably stood at the copy machine until midnight once or twice. They expect the same flexibility from you. Sole practitioners often make their own coffee and prepare their own documents. They have purchased their own equipment, or leased it. The sole practitioner does not see work separated out like a union shop in which certain individuals will not do this and others can only do that; he or she sees an end result-getting work out the door and keeping clients content. Work is what everyone pushes out the door. A sole practitioner knows how to interview for the quality of flexibility. They will ask "what if" questions and hypothetical issues to determine what kind of worker you will be. Expect questions such as: What do you consider your most important attribute as an employee? Are you willing to make filings in court occasionally or run an errand or two?

Strategies for approaching law firms

You probably have some favorite practice areas. How would you feel about working in a general practice?
If you exude the qualities of enthusiasm, flexibility, energy, and "roll your sleeves up" gusto, then you will outsmart paralegals who go to their interviews touting their high marks in legal research class.

Approach: Friendly and Personal? Even (If You Dare) in Person In general, you will find handing out resumes in person from office to office walking down Main Street to be an unsuccessful and discouraging exercise. You get so few interviews for all of your effort. Applicants with resumes are generally stopped at the front desk by the receptionist.

However, it might work with the sole practitioner. Approaching a sole practitioner on your feet with a cover letter and resume in hand takes a degree of boldness that most do not have, and it may seem to be a nonproductive use of time. In many cases it is. But because the sole practitioner is often in a small office, is more accessible, and is often more egalitarian and less stuffy than his or her big firm counterpart, showing up in person with a resume and a cover letter properly addressed could get you an interview.

If the sole practitioner is not around or cannot be made available to you, be very warm to the person who takes your letter and resume. Do not push. This is the very reason you must have a cover letter prepared ahead of time. If you do not get an audience, you have a letter that explains your purpose. By simply dropping off a resume without a cover letter, you are signaling that you are unprepared and you are just "trying your luck" blitzing a certain part of the city. If you succeed at having a chat with a sole practitioner who just might greet you at the door or give you a casual interview, then you have reached a decision maker--someone who can hire you!

One paralegal candidate discovered that if she called between 5:00 and 5:30 in the afternoon, the attorney would answer the phone. She concluded that a visit might have a good result. She walked into a law office in a small shopping center at 5:15 one day and struck up a conversation with the only person there--the sole practitioner herself, sitting at the front desk, writing a note. She got a short friendly interview that led to an offer three weeks later.

Can you type?

Today's paralegal must have a reasonable typing speed and be willing to learn any software programs to which they are exposed. If you obtain employment that does not require much word-processing and computer utilization, get ready, because your next job will. That being said, if you are writing to, speaking with, and networking amongst sole practitioners, be sure that they are going to want you to fit into their computer and word-processing needs. Sole practitioners will hire people who fit into their situations with enthusiasm, skill, and versatility.

Word-processing and computer proficiency is demanded of paralegals at every level nowadays, but for sole practitioners it is an absolute requirement. This does not mean you will be typing all day. The strategy you must employ with a sole practitioner is to convey an attitude of confidence, ease, and comfort with word-processing. Usually, they do not want to train you; they want the technical aspect of the practice to be a "given" going in.

They are concerned about it because they do not want to have to worry about it. Sole practitioner #1 might have no other support personnel besides you. This means you will be responsible for all the word-processing apart from that which the attorney produces.

Another sole practitioner, however, might have a secretary and an associate. In this situation, you might be responsible for occasional secretarial work, your own work, and pleadings preparation. Let's look at how that might happen in a hypothetical office with a sole practitioner, an associate, and one secretary:
  1. Fill in for the secretary on sick days, vacation days, and lunch hours, and be capable of handling everything that the secretary does. Answer the phone, deal with clients, and handle notices and communications with opposing counsel.
  2. Always be able to perform all of your own assignments so that the secretary is not burdened with an additional workload. Remember, if you are a burden to the already overworked secretary, then the sole practitioner does not benefit from hiring you.
  3. Volunteer to handle the docketing if they do not ask you to first. This will relieve the secretary, give you an automatic view of the entire case load, and make you immediately valuable.

Remember, sole practitioners tend to focus on your technical abilities so that when filing deadlines are looming and late afternoon hours.

Strategies for approaching law firms of different sizes approach, they know that everyone will contribute. The message is simple: Do not let a lack of computer skills be an obstacle to your hiring.

Summary: advantages and disadvantages of working with a sole practitioner

  1. Greater consideration is given to the individual applicant than to the level of experience. A sole practitioner may be more likely to hire an entry person.
  2. You can learn about how a law practice works: The ins and outs, the filings, the rules for service and evidence, and the many complex details that make a law office function. These fundamentals are invaluable.
  3. If personalities are well matched and the working atmosphere is reasonable, it can be a full, varied, and enjoyable experience.

With the right chemistry, this can be the most fun and rewarding experience for a paralegal.

  1. The pay can be lower than in small, medium, or large firms. Many sole practitioners realize that they are giving you an entree into the profession and thus feel that this is a trade-off for the beginning paralegal.
  2. If you want calm and ordered work setting, a sole practitioner's practice can be a difficult place to work. His or her practice will be filled with change and unpredictability on a daily basis.
  3. Because of the intimate setting, working with a sole practitioner can be extremely uncomfortable if there is bad chemistry.

Your sole practitioner may be working alone for a reason. Since you must see each other every day, if you do not like each other as people (or at least respect each other) you can be in for a long and wearing tour of duty-or a short one.

Strategy for winning over a sole practitioner

Let us assume you have made contact, you have the proper qualifications, and you are being considered along with other candidates. The winning candidate will probably be (all other factors being relatively equal) the one who builds enthusiasm in the sole practitioner about his or her practice and the role of the paralegal in it. You must:
  1. Be persuasive and convincing about your flexibility and enthusiasm.
  2. Ask questions about the practice. Build a level of genuine interest in the sole practitioner's practice areas. Convey your excitement for this new profession. Generate a sense of team spirit. Remember, the sole practitioner is succeeding without a full team of cohorts and equals; what little team they have is very important to them.

Looking like an enthusiastic potential team member and exhibiting flexibility are attractive features to any size law firm, but the sole practitioner has a personal attachment to their practice unlike members of larger firms. The key attraction then is not only your skills and enthusiasm but, most significantly, your ability to communicate a strongly felt desire to work for that person as a professional.

Small and midsize firms

Strategies for appealing to small and midsize firms vary according to practice area and the firms' internal organizational structure. From the first contact to the last interview, the challenge for the aspiring paralegal is to be informed about the law firm, so let's look at the internal organizational structure of these firms.

They usually have four to ten attorneys (the partner/associate ratio varies), and a legal administrator, office manager, business manager and/or a combination person who handles these assignments or farms them out. There are secretaries and paralegals and maybe a part-time runner/file clerk.

How does this firm approach hiring? There comes a point in the evolution of a law firm when a person making paralegal hiring decisions is appointed. At some partnership meeting in which one partner was attempting to hire a friend of a friend, and another was interviewing someone she met at a professional luncheon, they all concluded that the hiring of support personnel should be by one person. There are different ways to handle this process, but a common one is to have a hiring partner work with an office manager. The hiring partner may change yearly or less often, but the office manager does much of the preliminary screening and early interviewing. Often it falls to the office manager to do the initial interviewing of the paralegals, with the recruiting and advertising for associates being assigned to an attorney.

Who is the contact person?

A common strategy that often misfires is to just write to the first named partner in the firm. A quick look at the Martindale-Hubbell directory of lawyers may reveal that he is dead, or Of Counsel, or so old that you know he does not interview paralegals, or (more likely than anything else) just does not have the time to interview paralegals, especially the first time around.

Many do not even take that quick look at a resource book. They simply call the firm and ask something like "Who would I write to regarding the hiring of paralegals?" or "I need the name of the person in the firm who would receive paralegal resumes." They may be given an associate's name, a junior partner's name, a senior partner's name, or an office manager's or business manager's name, depending upon the size of the firm and their philosophy about paralegals. They may not be given the right name. Without the proper contact name, their letters could be immediately tossed into the wastebasket by the first person who opens them.

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 February 08, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 6 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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