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How the Way the Paralegal Profession Was Born Defines Paralegal Job Realities

published February 19, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left

( 5 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)

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How the Way the Paralegal Profession Was Born Defines Paralegal Job Realities

There are no job openings in this profession, like there are openings / for a spot on a production line. Paralegal employment situations are probably better described as opportunities, or better yet, windows of opportunity. This is a prime concept in your overall professional development. Networking is a word that you will continue to hear repeatedly as years go on. It is one of the main ways your professional development will continue after you obtain your entry level paralegal employment.

When a lawyer calls my office and asks for someone with common sense, what he or she is asking for is a little life experience, that is someone who has a practicality about them. Lawyers do not simply require a "near-lawyer" as a paralegal. Lawyers want professionals with a broad array Certified skills who are flexible, adaptable and willing to work hard (and always long) hours to get the job done.

Importance of Job Search Skills

Academic achievement and successful job searching are separate skills. The most brilliant paralegal in the world who cannot employ basic job search skills will most probably be unemployed. The most average academic achiever in your class could be the most effective job search professional and thus the most happily employed paralegal in your class.

But I managed 25 people in my old job!

As you seek a paralegal position, the lesson to be learned from the law firm structure is: You must bring your skills, not your titles. Many people have uttered variations on the phrase, "But I managed 25 people in my old job!" with complete conviction and wonder, after I told them to "sell your skills, not your titles." You must keep in mind that the paralegal profession was created for the practical reasons of workload-to get the job done as efficiently as possible. Your rank and title in a previous job are irrelevant in the search for a paralegal position. What you can do, not who you were, is what matters. Likewise, the profession is not organized hierarchically. You will not find five levels of paralegal. You do not get battlefield commissions or suddenly have "vice president" placed after your name. You are what you are by virtue of the work you do, your reputation and your achievements.

Alternative career tracks

The "alternative" career or the nontraditional paralegal is a recent phenomenon in the United States. Nowadays, paralegals work in foundations, factories, courthouses, state legislative agencies, city governments, racing and gambling commissions, software companies, research laboratories and federal bureaucracies. They can be found working everywhere. From manufacturing to service, from transportation to construction, from industry to the professions, there is a potential legal fact directly or indirectly involved every time the sun rises. As the department head of a major corporation confided to me over the phone, "I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but I think it's a paralegal."

How the paralegal profession was born

"I'd Like to Get One of Those!"- As one attorney said to another upon meeting a third attorney buying lunch for her paralegal: "I'd like to get one of those." The initial job order for this first theoretical paralegal situation probably went something like this: "Do you know somebody else like you?"

All of the initial paralegal jobs were networked. They went out and found "someone like them." Who were they? "New Paralegals" told "Experienced Legal Secretaries" that there were jobs to be had that carried a new professional status. Both attorneys and new paralegals filled the ranks with existing associates and friends. They were from the world of law. They were coffee-break friends, coworkers and past associates from other law firms. They were already qualified by experience, confidence and professionalism in the law. They were known quantities. They came from existing legal and professional networks.

Let us marvel a moment on the evolution of the paralegal profession-the profession for which you have been trained. As more and more paralegals have arrived at the scene, it has become very clear what a good paralegal is. Lawyers can use generalists. Even though many careers demand specialization, the new paralegal can be a declared generalist and not suffer for it. A liberal arts education can be very desirable!

What has been called the "fastest growing profession" is today a profession that invites broad experience and a diverse background. In addition, lawyers benefit from paralegals with some professional experience. It is fine to be an ex-teacher or an ex-cop or restaurant manager or small business person.

Special educational backgrounds are relished in specific practice areas, as long as you have a flexible professional approach. In fact, as I sit behind my career development desk a single message comes through all the job orders. They may all want lots of different things, but they also all want one thing: professionalism. They say, "I want someone who will double- and triple-check their work-put out a professional work product," or "I want someone who doesn't 'punch the clock.' If it takes 30 minutes or an hour extra to get a job done, I need a professional who will make sure the work is perfect and gets out the door in time."

So, a profession was born that required practical, skilled, well-trained support professionals who could use judgment and discrimination on a daily basis and apply all the tried and true work values and ethical standards that were needed to represent the law.

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

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