Thinking Outside the Box to Land Your First Paralegal Job

Many recent paralegal graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to find their first job in this economy. Law firms, attorneys, and corporations want someone with experience and superior skills, which most new graduates do not possess. However, do not give up; you can find a paralegal job if you do three things; gain experience, create a professional image, and find an open paralegal position. Now, you may be thinking that those are three pretty hard things to do, but let’s break it down and take it one step at time.

Paralegal Jobs

Thinking Outside the Box to Land Your First Paralegal Jobs

Step One- Gain Experience

It may seem impossible to gain experience when everyone who is hiring wants a paralegal that already has it, and while it is difficult, it is not impossible. There are three ways that anyone can gain the experience needed to land a paralegal job: volunteer work, internships, and freelance work. If you are unemployed and have the time, try doing all three!

Volunteer Work

Volunteer work will not only make you feel warm and fuzzy all over, it will provide you with the experience required to get a paralegal job and an opportunity to network with others in the legal community.  Meeting other paralegals and attorneys is a great way to learn about job openings and ensure that potential employers will think of you the next time they decide to hire. The ABA offers a National Pro Bono Opportunities Guide for paralegals, which allows you to select your state from a map in order to locate volunteer opportunities near you. You may also be able to find volunteer work in your community by contacting your state or local bar association. Locate your state and/or local association by visiting the American Bar Association’s (“ABA”) list of state and local associations. 

Unpaid Internships

Even if you are already out of school, you can do an unpaid internship for a local attorney, either through your local college or on your own, without getting college credit. If you decide to go through a college or university, it may help you find an attorney who wants an intern. If the college does not help with that or you decide to do it on your own, you can find an internship by visiting local law offices, providing a copy of your resume, and asking that the attorney contact you if he or she would like to speak with you about doing an unpaid internship. Call or e-mail each law firm to follow up a few days after you stop by with your resume.

Freelance Work

With a professional website, a great freelance profile, and the right wording in proposals and bids, anyone can start a freelance paralegal business providing document preparation, writing, and virtual paralegal services to both attorneys and non-attorneys. Working as a freelance paralegal can give you experience, networking opportunities, and an income while you are looking for a job.

Step 2 – Create a Professional Image

Creating a professional image can help you appear competent, skilled, and dedicated to the legal profession. So how does one go about creating a professional image? Have a great resume, maintain a good online reputation, and develop awesome interview skills.

Create a Great Resume

Your first impression on a potential employer is usually your resume, so you need to have a great one. Your resume should make you stand out from other applicants by highlighting your skills, accomplishments, and assets. For step-by-step instructions on creating a great legal resume see 10 Steps to Create a Legal Resume to Get you an Interview.

Maintain a Good Online Reputation

One of the first things that most employers do, after receiving a resume, is run an internet search on the applicant’s name. When they do this, you want the first two or three pages of results to be positive sites about you. Professional social profiles, informative blogs, and business listings describing you as a legal professional make a great impression on potential employers. So create or update your Linked In and Facebook profiles and start making sure you appear in business directories as a professional paralegal by creating entries and profiles in every one that you can find. If you are good writer, create a blog and write about topics of interest to legal professionals.

Develop Awesome Interview Skills

A job interview is not an interrogation, and if you are prepared, it will not feel like one. An interview is an opportunity for you to sell yourself to an employer. For more information on how to prepare for a paralegal job interview, see Eight Steps to Have a Successful Job Interview with a Law Firm.

Step Three- Find an Open Position

Now that you have experience and the skills to land a paralegal job, you just need to find an open paralegal position. Traditional methods of finding a job, such as posting your resume on Monster and Career Builder and searching for job postings on a regular basis can be a good start, but in today’s competitive job market, it is just is not enough.

Look for jobs in other places

Monster and Career Builder are great places to find job openings, but everyone who is looking for a job sees the same openings that you do. Finding open positions that do not come with so much competition means looking for jobs in lesser-known places. A great way to locate open positions is to visit the websites of local attorneys. Many firms post job openings to their site before paying to advertise them elsewhere.

Advertise yourself

Who says that you have to wait until you see an advertisement for a job opening to apply for one?  Prepare a list of law firms in your area that you would like to work for, and then mail them all a resume with a personalized cover letter. Follow up with a phone call a few days later, checking to ensure that your resume was received, and asking if there is an open position for which you may be a good fit.

Network

The experts agree that networking is one of the best ways to find a job, but what exactly is networking? Networking encompasses a number of activities, many of which can be done from the comfort of your own home. Some networking activities you may wish to try include:

Using social media to connect with other legal professionals. Invite other legal professionals in your area to connect with you on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In. Social media contacts can be a great resource for finding unpublished paralegal job openings.

Participating in paralegal forums, discussions, and websites. Websites created for paralegals, such as this one, can provide a great opportunity to learn, grow, and meet other legal professionals who can help you find job openings, and even recommend you for open positions in their own firms.

Doing volunteer legal work. Volunteer work will put you direct contact with other legal professionals in your community.

Joining a paralegal association. Joining your local paralegal association can give you an opportunity to meet other paralegals in your area and form important friendships, which can help you learn about job opportunities in advance, and provide you with great personal references.

About Shelley Riseden

Shelley M. Riseden is a freelance paralegal providing research, document preparation, and writing services to both attorneys and non-attorneys. She is an expert at conducting legal research and has a natural ability to grasp complex legal issues.Phone: 765.667.5139, E-mail: smriseden@earthlink.net or shelley@virtuallylegal.net, Skype: shelley.riseden, Yahoo: Virtually_Legal

  • http://www.facebook.com/maria.porzio.79 Maria Porzio

    Thank you! Tho’ I am doing/have already planned to do some of the spot-on activities you mention (even now – before I’ve completed my paralegal studies), your post pointed my in the direction of an org. that’s not too far from where I live AND which a) “accepts” paralegal volunteers, b) practices / provides legal services in MANY areas (including corp law & intellectual property – which are the ones I’m most interested in), and c) (best yet!) provides MENTORING & TRAINING!

    I can do this & gain that all-important “experience” before I’ve even completed my studies! Of course I’ll be implementing a lot of your other suggestions as well (or am already doing so) – and I’ll be signing on too w/the legal “section” of Robert Half International [RHI]. This is a no-brainer for me as I’ve already worked with/for (since 2007) a different RHI branch (The Creative Group), so I have contacts and a history w/them already – even if a bit “indirect.” I also already possess a BA (in English, w/>30 credits in Bus Admin) and have 12 grad-school credits to my name…plus many transferable skills obtained during my >15 yrs of work/business experience.

    Your ideas may just give me that push/edge I need to obtain that all-important first job. Many thanks!

    (PS: I’ll be catching up on many of your oh-so-helpful blog posts in the coming weeks/months — looks like there’s a lot og great info here.)

    • http://www.paralegalalliance.com/ Sean Herndon

      Hi Maria,

      Thank you for the kind words.

      It’s great to read that you are thinking ahead while you are in school. The more you network and push for volunteer opportunities you can get now the more you will be ahead once you are out of school. RHI Legal is a great recruiter resource. Another way you can get your name out there and have network opportunities try to do anything with your local paralegal association.

      Please keep us in the loop on your journey and let us know if we can be of help.

      Sean

      • http://www.facebook.com/maria.porzio.79 Maria Porzio

        Thanks Sean, and the P.A. staff, for the encouragement & add’l advice. Since my last post here, I’ve made several new legal contacts (including a local attorney who’s offered to pass on my resume to colleagues after I have my cert.), joined more legal groups on LinkedIn, started making inroads into volunteering, contacted RHI Legal, & joined the NJ State Bar Association (including their LinkedIn group). I’ve also read more blogs & such on your site, and am making plans & preparations to take the NFPA PCCE soon after I’ve completed my cert. program.

        This is at times a stressful process & journey (tho’ I know it’s the right one for me), esp. as a currently underemployed career changer. Tho’ some ppl support me & offer help, there are times I feel alone, ignored, invisible, etc., even tho’ I offer & provide as much help as I ask for, or more. Yet you/your site is always here (or on Facebook) for me. I can check out a new blog post, etc., and I’ll find hope again that I will gain the skills I need, excel at them, and put them to use for an employer very soon. Many thanks for the services you provide.

      • http://www.facebook.com/maria.porzio.79 Maria Porzio

        Thank you, Sean. I’ve already started tackling some of these important activities, from growing my legal/professional network (nationally & locally) to joining the NJ State Bar Association & becoming a member of their LinkedIn group. I continue to read the advice, articles, and blogs you & the P.A. staff email me and post (here & elsewhere). I also share some of it on my Facebook page and/or on LinkedIn (with my connections & with paralegal groups I belong to).

        Will keep you all posted, and will hopefully have great “first job” news before too long.

        Thanks for the advice, support, and encouragement you all provide here. It is a big help for all paralegals, and esp. for those of us just entering the field, as that can sometimes be a tough and even lonely endeavor. Appreciate you all being there for us.

        Maria

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