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Introduction to Paralegalism as a Profession

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Networking

Make as many contacts in the legal profession as you can as soon as you can, attend meetings of your local paralegal association (which usually have reduced student fees), join NALA-or NFPA-associated organizations, and subscribe to paralegal newsletters and publications (NALA publishes Facts and Findings and NFPA publishes the National Paralegal Reporter). Paralegal associations provide networking opportunities with working paralegals, have job bank services, and usually list local job openings. If you find someone in one of these organizations who is willing to mentor you, take them up on it. Ask if you can "shadow" them at the office for a day or more to get an idea of what a typical day at the office is like.



One way to get information about specific areas of practice is to conduct informational interviews in which you ask the attorney or paralegal about what they do. This is not a job interview (and should not be turned into one), but is rather a means of learning about a particular type of law practice. It can also help you in discerning what a typical day in the office is like, what kinds of tasks the individual performs, what the most challenging and frustrating aspects of the job are, how one might best prepare to work in this area of law, and other questions of interest to you.

NET NEWS

There are job listings at the World Wide Paralegal Resume Service, which you can access by going to www paralegals.org and clicking on "Career Center." On the NALA Web page (www.nalanet.org), click on "CareerNet" to connect with "LawMatch," which facilitates connections between employers and those seeking employment. Another site hat will facilitate your job search through the newspapers is CareerBuilder-ioww.careerpath.com. The best source of paralegal jobs is found at LawCrossing.

Want Ads

You may not be graduating for another few years, but begin reading the want ads in your local newspaper now to get a sense of the employment opportunities in your area. If you want to peruse the national picture, consult the National Law Journal or the American Lawyer. On the Internet, you can locate want ads from all over the United States and post your resume as well.

Mock Interviews

The ability to interview well is a critical skill. Some students with superior skills and wonderful attitudes do not always get the best jobs because they have not mastered the art of interviewing. Find out where you can participate in mock interviews. Then ask to be videotaped so you can see yourself and appreciate how others see you. Observe your body language, your tone of voice, your speech, your mannerisms, and your visual reactions to certain questions. You may learn a lot about yourself you did not know. With those insights, you can change those things that may improve your chances of successfully landing the job of your choice.

Many schools have placement offices or career centers that discuss the interviewing process and provide mock interviews. You can learn what types of questions to anticipate, the purpose of these questions, suggested ways to respond, and the types of questions that are illegal. Take advantage of these services and practice, practice, practice!

Selling Yourself

Getting a job often involves learning to sell yourself: to convince employers they are making a good investment in hiring and training you and that you are a better choice than your competitors. Doing this takes courage, initiative, and creativity.

Consider one of our former students who placed an ad in the local legal newsletter after having completed one year of community college classes. In the ad, he described in detail his legal knowledge, his attributes as an individual, and what he would bring to a law office. He received so many replies that he ended up connecting his fellow students with some of the attorneys who responded. Not only did he get a job immediately, but he employed several of his friends as well!

Ask yourself, "Why should an attorney hire me?" Be as objective as you can about yourself. What are your best selling points? What aspects of you could stand to be improved? If you were an agent for yourself, how would you go about promoting you? Beginning now, what do you need to do to support this promotion?

A paralegal (also known as a legal assistant) is someone who, through formal education, training, or experience, has the knowledge and expertise of the legal system and of substantive and procedural law to perform legal work under the supervision of an attorney. Paralegals should be distinguished from legal technicians and lay advocates, who do not work under the supervision of an attorney. Successful paralegals are detail-oriented, well-organized, analytical, logical, proficient with a computer, effective communicators, resilient, well-prepared, and generally able to use good professional judgment.

Two professional paralegal organizations, NALA and NFPA, are involved in paralegal education and political action activities. Through NALA, entry-level paralegals can become certified by taking a CLA exam, and through NFPA, more advanced paralegals can receive certification by taking PACE.

Those interested in obtaining a paralegal job should begin by assessing their skills and determining the areas in which they need remediation. They should focus particularly on improving their computer and communication skills and getting experience working or volunteering in some kind of legal capacity. They should also network, look over the want ads periodically, begin preparing a resume, collect writing samples, participate in mock interviews, and consider what they can do to best sell themselves to future employers.

See 6 Things Attorneys and Law Students Need to Remove from Their Resumes ASAP If They Want to Get Jobs with the Most Prestigious Law Firms for more information.


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