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Going for Paralegal Jobs at Large Law Firms

published February 21, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 116 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
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How does an entry paralegal get into a large firm? Network through a friend, or the relative of a firm member, or the friend of a friend, or relative of an associate. Sometimes large firms go through agencies so that they do not have to interview until the end of the process. One entry paralegal got on with a large firm through a skiing club.
 
Going for Paralegal Jobs at Large Law Firms

The myth that large firms have the best pay often draws paralegals to large firms. Only then do they discover that large firms did not get large by throwing money around. They discover that pay policies are more structured and that raises are predictable and fixed (within a range). They discover that they will be paid well the longer they remain with the large firm, but that a large firm can be tough to negotiate with when discussing initial employment. The large law firm offers its reputation, good benefits, relative security, and a comfortable environment in which to labor.


Many large firms only hire paralegals with experience. An entry paralegal is often not considered because the large firm wants to see that you have been trained as a paralegal and know enough about the legal world and its standards to survive and succeed in a professional setting such as theirs. Occasionally, however, large firms will specifically advertise for recently graduated paralegals to work on large cases requiring litigation support assistance. These positions are often titled "Case Assistant," "File Clerk," "Document Clerk," etc. In these circumstances, apply if you are prepared to take a lower salary but want the chance to get established with a "name" firm.

The large law firm

The large firm varies by number and city and region. Suffice it to say that "large firm" probably has a specific bottom number of attorneys, like 50 in a medium-sized city, or 100 to 200 or more in a larger city. A large firm, from a placement and job hunting point of view, is one that is the largest in a given area. In stricter terms, it is a firm with a broad base of clients; it has practice areas with teams of partners, attorneys, and paralegals who often work in what are called "pods" (to use a newer term); it is highly structured and has broad corporate and personnel policies. Often, they employ a Human Resources professional and have "Hiring Committees" with designated attorneys as "chairman." These responsibilities change over the years as people rotate in and out of different functions. Large firms are very much like modern corporations and differ from the sole practitioner and smaller firm in kind. Yes, they practice law, but in almost every other way they differ as places of employment.

The Paralegal in a Large Firm

In a large firm most paralegals will have their own offices. This is a benefit indeed. Paralegal work in a large firm is highly delineated and compartmentalized. Some do "case management," which for many paralegals is very satisfying and rewarding. Others, after they reach large firms, long for the days when they had the greater independence and variety of the smaller setting. A "bankruptcy paralegal" in a large firm might manage large Chapter ll's, be an expert on Dbase or Lotus, and manage cases with very large numbers of documents. The debtor bankruptcy practice of a sole proprietor bears little resemblance to this. A real estate paralegal in a large firm might be handling scores of foreclosures or immense commercial transactions-work that can be fraught with pressure and tension, providing the stimulation that many enjoy in the world of paralegal practice.

The stakes are higher in a large firm, or at least they seem so. The paralegal has a case load to manage, much like their own practice. Perhaps he or she will be interfacing with two or three different specialty areas. Some in large firms work only with a single team or practice area. The challenge in a large firm is to be "busy, but not too busy."

There is only so much control you have over your own life, but the key lies largely in diplomacy and the ability to be efficient. At times you can say "No" to work if you are overloaded. Trying to gauge work level is the continual mission in a large law firm:

1. How busy am I right now?

2. How busy will I stay at this current level?

3. If a case settles, will I have enough work?

4. Maybe I should say "yes" to all the new work.

5. Maybe I should always say "yes" to all the work offered me.

6. How can I get into other practice areas in the firm?

7. Can I meet my monthly billing requirements every month this year? Are layoffs a possibility?

The large firm can be impersonal, and at times the paralegal can feel anonymous. The friendliness and team spirit of a smaller entity is just not there. The large firm should be viewed as a goal that many reach, but it should also be seen as a goal that might dash expectations. Large firms are simply like everything else we have been covering-a place in which there is benefit and risk, good and bad. The more you know and discover before making a decision, and the sharper your eyes are as you proceed through your career, the better off you will be.

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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.

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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.

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