Wherever there is government, there is law-in abundance. And wherever there is law, there will always be a need for employees with law-related skills and training. Perhaps that is why the federal government is the largest for opportunities in government, but you have to look beyond job titles. Check actual job descriptions for internship slots where paralegal training is highly relevant
-regardless employer in the United States, with a civilian workforce of about several millions, working in roughly two hundred different jobs. As a group, state governments cannot be far behind.
Though many government jobs call for law-related skills and training, the job title of "paralegal" may not appear in any listing you check. If you hope for experience in this arena, you must focus on the job descriptions you find-not on job titles.
In the federal government, hiring is a highly structured process usually involving written tests administered through several different federal offices of personnel management. This highly structured process sometimes makes it difficult for federal agencies to conform to the scheduling needs of any particular school.
Internships with state and local agencies, on the other hand, can be much easier to arrange due to the greater flexibility that often exists at that level. Thoughtful and well-prepared inquiries about internship opportunities
in state governmental offices can be surprisingly productive.
Federal and state government offices frequently parallel each other. Because of their overlapping subject matter and similar procedures, internship experience at the state level can be useful in later seeking employment at the federal level. So if interning in a state office fails to bring permanent employment, it at least enhances candidacy for employment in a corresponding federal office, where salaries may be considerably higher.
Whether state or federal, government agencies tend to fall within one of two categories: regulatory agencies and service agencies.
As a rule, internships in government agencies do not lend themselves to future law office employment. These internships should only be pursued by students with career goals that are clearly related to the subject matter the agency addresses. Career changers with a work history in one of these regulatory or service fields may find that their paralegal training now makes them doubly useful in that setting.
In local government offices, paralegal interns can be given heavy responsibilities and learn extremely valuable skills that transfer easily to many law office settings-particularly those dealing with municipal regulation.
In schools where the paralegal program has long been linked to a criminal justice program, law enforcement internships are nothing new. Other schools are only beginning to see some appropriate connections between these two related fields, and a few may still need to be persuaded on this point. Virtually all schools, however, are quite willing to place interns in the office of a local, state, or federal prosecutor.
Although police work normally requires additional specialized training and special tests, paralegal skills can be extremely useful
in the office or community-service aspects of police work. In these settings, students can develop analytical ability; communications skills; and familiarity with legal principles, terminology, research, and procedures. Schools report useful internship experiences in the following areas:
- State Attorney General's Office
- County Prosecutor's Office
- Regional Office of the United States Attorney
- Regional Office of the United States Department of Justice
- County sheriffs' departments
- State or local police department headquarters
- Parole offices
- Corrections facilities
Before accepting an internship position with police, sheriffs' departments, or parole offices, students should check the office's prior experience with paralegals and with interns generally. Be sure your law enforcement internship gives you the chance to handle challenging and productive law-related assignments-not just to observe others at work.
The court clerk and his or her staff act as an administrative buffer between the judges of the court and the attorneys who bring cases before them. In the municipal, district, superior, and appellate courts of your state, the clerk's office ensures that deadlines are met and that appropriate steps are taken when deadlines are missed. It organizes and maintains court documents and schedules court proceedings.
Students vying for a future in litigation can get a detailed, behind-the-scenes view of the process while working in this setting. As interns, students gain familiarity with all kinds of litigation documents, get a clear picture of procedural strategies available to litigants, and may have frequent contact with attorneys appearing before the court. The networking opportunities here are sometimes among the best an intern can find. The skills and knowledge a student can acquire in this setting translate well to future law office employment-and also to continued employment as courthouse personnel when an opening becomes available.
Do not overlook the federal courts in your locale. The offices of some bankruptcy courts, for example, have actively sought paralegal interns for years. United States District Courts cannot be far behind. The trend toward paralegal utilization in the courts seems slowly but finally to be catching hold on the federal, as well as the state, level.
Students located in or near their state capital may enjoy the excitement of working directly with elected lawmakers in researching the law, gathering data, and helping to create new legislation. Some find internships in the offices of individual state senators and representatives where they also help respond to citizens' complaints and requests. Others pursue challenging assignments with the state's Office of Legislative Services or Office of Legislative Research (the name varies) providing general research and drafting support. In a few states, such offices have begun soliciting highly competent interns on a regular basis. Often these internship slots are competitive.
Interning with a state senator or congressional representative is also possible, even for students located far from Washington, DC. All United States legislators maintain at least one office in their home state and many have several local offices. These home offices mostly serve the local constituency- responding to inquiries, acting on complaints, and assisting voters in their dealings with federal offices and agencies.
The names and locations of senators and representatives on both the state and national level can be found in the Lawyer's Directory for your state or at the reference desk of your local public library. Your school's library will also have this information.
Students interning with individual legislators gain great organizational and problem-solving abilities and rapidly heighten their communications skills. Some also find the influence of a well-known legislator useful in future job hunting. Those pursuing mainly research and bill-drafting assignments build impressive skills for use in law school some day or in some specialized paralegal positions
. And those with definite political ambitions can hardly find a better place to start.
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