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 10 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 under 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.
Learn about 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.
Do serious networking
A networking contact is someone who knows a working attorney through any source, other than an advertisement. With this contact, written or oral communication on your part can lead to interviews. Networking is the key to employment.
You must also be aware of (and wary of) firm politics when you interact with your friend or contact. A barrier or labyrinth exists at the front door of a law office. The back door, or the path of networking, does not have the same barricade to the decision makers. Often, due to networking, you are talking to decision makers very early in the process.
Don't forget thank-you notes
The thank you note is an extremely effective strategy that will hold you in good stead when you interview with everyone in me interviewing process.
They can be short and friendly:
Dear Ms. Jones:
Thanks for the time you spent with me yesterday. I enjoyed talking to you about your practice and feel I could be an effective part of your team.
Dear Mr. Smith:
Thanks for the interview on Wednesday. I hope we can work together in the near future. I look forward to your high-energy office atmosphere.
Mail a little Hallmark card to everyone with whom you interview. Everyone. The thank you note falls under the category of "Highly recommended, but highly neglected." It can act as an "extra salute" to someone, or a "patch" on an area you might have neglected, or a "restatement" of enthusiasm and interest you might have underplayed. In any case, in this context it helps you remember the political terrain upon which you are treading. It is important to know this terrain, since you might be walking it for years after you are hired.