Now that you have your paralegal degree, you want a job. Unfortunately, finding your first paralegal job may be a very frustrating and long process. The assurance of a bright, successful career promised to you by school administrators may seem more like a dream after a few months of sending resumes with no results.
I recall when I graduated from school with my paralegal degree how frustrating it was that I could not find a paralegal job. The program’s coordinator had filled our heads with the idea that we would be directing our secretaries what needed to be filed on our way to court wearing our perfectly tailored suits and carrying our newly monogrammed briefcases. While that was a wonderful marketing ploy for the college, it was not a realistic view of the legal community.
Being a paralegal is not just a job it is a profession. You are now expected to be able to work without the necessity of being supervised at every step. You are expected to act in a professional manner, dress as a professional and have the communication and management skills associated with upper level staff. Paralegals are not hired to be taught how to do their job but they are hired with the expectation that they will know what must be done when it falls onto their desk.
Because of the high level of expectation that attorneys have for paralegals, it makes it difficult to gain experience. In order to get experience, you must first find a job but having no experience makes it difficult to find your first paralegal job. However, with perseverance and determination, you can find an entry-level paralegal job and gain the experience you need to transition into a better paralegal job.
7 Tips for finding that first paralegal job and making the most of it
1. Accept whatever job you can in a law firm – In order to get experience in a law firm, you may have to accept a position other than a paralegal position. Working as a junior legal assistant, file clerk or receptionist will give you experience within a law firm. It will also help you begin to make contacts within the legal community.
2. Join a paralegal association – If you have not already, join your local and state paralegal associations. Most associations give discounts to paralegal students. You will be able to use the connections you make within the organization, in addition to the association’s resources, when you begin searching for your first paralegal job.
3. The value of a strong network – Do not wait until you graduate from college to begin building your network. The first step is to join your local paralegal association and begin making friends. These are some of the men and women you will be working with when you find a job. Volunteer for any committees that are available within the association so you can get your name in front of as many people as possible. You should also be networking while in school by getting to know your professors and the people in your job placement office.
4. Internship – Most colleges now require a paralegal internship as a requirement for graduation. If your school does not, seek a paralegal internship on your own while in school. Contact law firms in your area and offer to intern for them while in school. This is an excellent way to gain real-world experience while increasing your network.
5. Use our job openings resource – Visit the jobs page at Paralegal Alliance to find jobs in your town or in other areas that you may want to relocate. This is a great source for any paralegal searching for a job.
6. Volunteer in your community – Volunteer for Legal Aid, Habitat for Humanity or other local organizations. You can establish crucial networking contacts through volunteering. Volunteering is a great way to learn of job openings that are being passed around by word of mouth.
7. Be organized in your job search – Searching for your first paralegal job can be frustrating; however, being organized and pragmatic will help you stay focused. Use a spreadsheet (i.e. Excel) to maintain a list of each attorney and law firm you contact regarding a job. Use Google and other search engines to make a list of attorneys and law firms in your area (you can also get this list from local bar associations). Use your spreadsheet to list the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and contact information for each law firm. Note when you contacted them and when you need to follow up.
Watch, listen and learn
Once you obtain an entry-level position in a law firm, read everything that comes through your hands including correspondence, pleadings and cases. Offer to make copies and read what you are copying. Ask other paralegals if you can help them prepare for court or if they need help carrying boxes or files to court. Listen to everything that is going on around you and learn from what you hear. You will learn a lot by simply reading what you have in your hand and listening to what is going on around you.
In addition, make friends with the legal secretaries and ask them questions. They have valuable information they can teach you if you are willing to swallow your pride a little and allow them to be the teacher. Find the secretary that has been there the longest and watch her carefully to learn much more than you can from any book or class.
With a little patience and a lot of work, your first two or three years as a paralegal will pass quickly and then you will be the one that is answering questions for the newbie on the block.