Whether you are changing jobs or entering the paralegal field for the first time, you want to be in the position of choosing between offers. What do you need to do to ensure that your education, training, and experience translate to firm offers of employment?
Networking is essential
in virtually every profession, but perhaps never more than in the legal field. Join paralegal and legal assistant organizations and associations. The contacts you make through these organizations often provide the best leads on new jobs. Being an active member of these organizations has multiple benefits, including:
- Continuing education
- Networking with others in your field
- Some offer job search assistance
- On a resume, being an active member makes a statement that you are serious about your career
Do not discount the value of networking through social media. If you have not updated your LinkedIn profile,
it is time to do so. Do not be shy about asking for recommendations from co-workers and former employers. The more specific their recommendations are, the better the impression it will make to potential employers who will check out your profile.
To make your LinkedIn profile as attractive to employers
and recruiters as possible:
- Make sure you have a recent headshot in professional attire.
- Fill in as much information as possible about your skills, education, and work experience.
- Use the skills section, but do not overdo it. Employers are unlikely to read every possible skill you have. Focus on only the ten or so most relevant skills.
- Search for jobs using the search function on LinkedIn
- Join high-quality groups relevant to the legal field, and remember to be an active member. Comment on other’s posts, read the articles and contribute when you have knowledge that might help someone else.
If you are trying to gain paralegal experience after completing your education, you may feel trapped in a vicious cycle. No one wants to hire a paralegal without experience, but you can’t gain experience if no one will hire you. If you find yourself in this situation, it might be time to think outside the box. Apply for internships, both paid and unpaid. These internships will help you gain valuable experience in the legal field. Consider volunteering
for non-profit organizations that provide legal aid.
Volunteering will give you valuable experience and are personally rewarding. If you cannot find an internship or volunteer opportunity directly related to your education as a paralegal, consider becoming a mediator or CASA volunteer
. Either of these opportunities will have you working with the court system, gaining experience all while serving others. You will also continue to network and meet people in the legal field.
If you need income while building experience, consider that you might have to accept a position and work your way up. With education as a paralegal, apply for jobs as a legal secretary or receptionist in a law firm. You will be gaining hands-on experience, earning a paycheck, and many firms like to promote from within the firm. It might not start as your dream job, but it is a step on the ladder.
Find a specialized staffing agency or recruiter. Interview any agency you might work with, and make sure you are a good match for their placement efforts. Ideally, find an agency that specializes in legal staffing.
Remember that you are an asset to a recruiter, whose client is expecting the recruiter to supply the perfect candidate. Be specific about non-negotiable requirements such as location and minimum salary. Staffing agencies and recruiters also offer resources such as resume review and interviewing tips, which can be valuable tools in your job search.
Make sure you have prepared a stellar resume
. Paralegals need strong writing skills and must be able to catch any mistakes, so an error on your resume will send your resume straight to the garbage can. Proof your resume, then reproof it. Then send it to someone else to proof.
Your resume is a snapshot of your skills and education, but it also needs to give potential employers a brief insight into who you are. The perfect resume should be concise and well-written. The most successful resumes contain
- A personalized and well-written cover letter. Do your research, and know the employer you are addressing. Point out what makes you a great candidate for the job, and use specifics. If this is a firm that specializes in corporate law, and your background is in family law, address that in the cover letter. Point out your ability to learn quickly, your classes in corporate law, and any continuing education you have in the field of corporate law. Avoid generic statements and formulaic cover letters at all costs. The cover letter is your place to show off your excellent writing skills, but also keep it concise and on-point.
- Your resume should, of course, list your education and work history. However, be specific. Give details about precisely what you did in your previous jobs and emphasize accomplishments.
- Include any volunteer work related to the legal field and a summary of what you learned.
- Keep it concise. A resume should be one and never more than two pages long.
- Consider the aesthetic appeal of your resume. You want the information presented in an orderly manner. The legal field tends toward conservatism, so do not add any flourishes to draw attention.
No other skill is more important than interviewing well. An interview is your one shot at selling yourself as the perfect fit for the job. Take time to prepare for the interview
. Learn everything you can about the attorney, firm, or company that has invited you to interview. Know what questions you want to ask and know what answers you will provide to common and expected questions. Doing this prep work will help you appear as calm and confident as possible at the interview. Other suggestions for interview success:
- Dress the part. Business dress is the norm in most legal practices, and it is always better to be overdressed than to risk being too casual.
- It is surprising how many people show up late or rush in at the last minute, for an interview. Life happens, and flat tires and traffic jams are a reality. You do not want to risk being late or rushed for an interview, so plan to arrive early. You can always use the time to give yourself a last-minute pep talk in the parking lot.
- Bring a portfolio with copies of your resume, reference letters, or a list of names and phone numbers if references are requested and a note pad and pen. Write down any questions you might have before the interview, and briefly jot down the answers.
- Consider bringing any sample motions or briefs that you have created. Be careful that your sample work does not violate client confidentiality.
- Project confidence, but be cautious about arrogance. You may know you have the perfect qualifications for this job, but if you come across as arrogant, that may put off the person interviewing you.
- Be prepared to talk about your prior experience. You might be asked to relate how you have handled deadlines in the past or your strategy for dealing with demanding clients. Avoid generic answers if possible, and instead, speak about specific times you have dealt with demanding issues.
The legal field is never static, and changes happen quickly. As a paralegal, you need to keep abreast of all the trends in the legal field. Some areas of law, like Environmental and Intellectual Property law, are seeing explosive growth. Paralegals with specialized knowledge or training are in high demand. Consider adding to your skills by pursuing continuing education or training in the areas that are seeing the fastest growth.
Technology is driving the demand for new skillsets for paralegals. Artificial intelligence (AI) based document management software is becoming more prevalent in the legal field. LexisNexis is at the forefront of legal analytics, helping attorneys and paraprofessionals map likely outcomes in cases. AI is also changing the face of legal research, and learning to use the online databases proficiently is an important skill. Paralegals who have training in the new technology will have an advantage in the workforce.
Many colleges, community colleges, and trade schools offer continuing education courses. You can also find online classes for learning new software or expanding your knowledge in certain areas of law. Many paralegal organizations also provide continuing education courses, so take advantage of as many of those as possible. Use these tools to make yourself a valuable addition to any workplace, and hopefully, you will soon be in the position of choosing the best offer for you.
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