According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the paralegal and legal assisting field is expected to grow at a rate of 17% between 2012 and 2022. This is 6% faster than the average industry growth rate. Now, here’s where most of you reading this, say “No Way! I don’t believe that for a second!” In today’s economy, it can be difficult for anyone without at least two years of experience to land a job as a legal secretary, not to mention one as an actual paralegal. This leaves many new graduates wondering if they made a mistake when they decided to become a paralegal. But you shouldn’t worry, there really are paralegal jobs out there, they might just be harder to get than some of your previous jobs were. After all, you are now a professional and there can be quite a bit of competition for professional jobs. So how can you make sure that you are ahead of the competition? You can start by building your professional reputation.
How to Build a Professional Reputation
If you have been looking for work as a paralegal for very long, you have likely heard before that you need to network, get your name out there as a professional, and gain some experience by volunteering. This is what experienced paralegals say because it is what really works. You can build your reputation as a knowledgeable professional by doing five relatively simple things.
- Use LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network. Employer’s, scouts, and headhunters use LinkedIn to find and recruit employees. So if you are not on LinkedIn and/or do not use it regularly and correctly, you really are not doing everything you can to get a paralegal job. For more information about how to use LinkedIn to find employment, see Using LinkedIn to Find Paralegal Jobs and How to Use LinkedIn Groups to Advance Your Career.
- Join a paralegal association. Joining a paralegal association will do several things for you. First, it will get your name out there as a legal professional in your community. Second, it will give you the opportunity to interact with more experienced paralegals who can provide you with great tips and advice and hopefully, not only tell you when there are job openings at local firms, but also recommend you for such jobs. Third, it will help you learn more about the practice of law in your area, allow you to meet some potential employers, and provide you with a chance to network. Finally, it will give you something professional sounding to add to your resume.
- Volunteer. Not only does volunteer work provide you the experience that you need to get a paying paralegal job, but it gives you something great to put on your resume, helps get your name out in the legal community as a caring and dedicated paralegal, allows you to meet some potential employers and co-workers, and provides you with a great chance to network.
- Network. Once you are using LinkedIn, have joined a paralegal association, and are doing some volunteer legal work, you are ready to move on to other networking tasks.
a. Attend conferences and special events sponsored by your local bar or other legal associations.
b. Start a paralegal blog and/or follow a few blogs written by other paralegals. Interact with anyone who comments on your blog posts and/or join in the conversation on others’ blog posts.
c. Use Twitter. Not only should you join twitter, but you should learn to use it correctly, so that it can help you build your reputation and find the best job openings. For more information about how to do this, see How to Use Twitter – the Right Way.
d. Use Google Plus. Google Plus is second only to LinkedIn for professional networking. Create a free account, fill in your profile, and start interacting with other legal professionals in your community. More about why you should be using Google Plus can be found in my blog post, Why You Should Use Google Plus for Professional Networking.
e. “Stalk” some local attorneys. In many communities, the attorneys who drink mostly all flock to the same local bar to do so. Find out where the lawyers in your town drink, who is a regular there, and then go hang out. Even if you do not drink, you can grab a bite to eat, be the designated driver for a friend, and/or participate in events held at the bar. Do your research on the potential employers who gather there, so you know what type of law they all practice, and then strike up a conversation. Buying a guy a beer at his favorite drinking hole can lead to some great opportunities.
- Practice your interview skills. Not only do interview skills come in handy during a job interview, they can also help you speak intelligently and expertly with potential employers when you become engaged in casual conversation while doing volunteer work, attending a conference, or event, and/or introducing yourself in a social situation. For more information about interviewing for a paralegal job see How to Interview for a Job Like a Pro, How to Answer the 5 Most Difficult Interview Questions, and 8 Steps to Have a Successful Job Interview with a Law Firm.