By: KATHRYN GORDON
New Paralegals: This article is for you!
Experienced Paralegals: We know you don’t “need” this article, but we could use your help! Read it and let us know if you feel we left something out! You’ve probably been there, done that, right? We welcome your participation and feedback. The newbies need you! We need you! Please leave your comments below.
One: If you know what type of law that you want to concentrate on, join as many professional associations that focus on that area. While there are professional paralegal associations, there are also practice specific associations that have members from all walks of life, attorneys, judges, vendors, paralegals. This will help you to be able to network as much as possible.
Two: Find a mentor that has the career that you envision for yourself. They could be local to you or not. Complete a search of paralegals on LinkedIn, read profiles and reach out to them. If they don’t have the time to mentor you, they may know someone who could.
Three: If you have not completed an internship, start looking for one now. Believe me – I know it sucks to have to work for free, but in the Legal Profession, experience is worth three times as much as the education for most organizations. I remember when I was in my undergrad and I had to suck up not only working for free, commuting downtown, paying parking but also paying for a three credit class to work for free. However, my internship gave me invaluable contacts in the legal industry and taught me what it means to be a professional. When you start the internship, ask them if it is okay to use any of your work product (briefs, motions) as part of your portfolio if you blackline or redact it.
Four: If you have completed an internship, ask the internship if you can get a written recommendation from them (either your supervisor or one of the supervising attorneys). Ask them if it is okay to use any of your work product (briefs, motions) as part of your portfolio if you blackline or redact it. Keep in touch with those you interned with because a position may have opened up and they may think you found another position. If you really liked your internship, ask them if you could continue to work there until you find a full-time gig.
Five: Volunteer in the community. This could be for Legal Aid, a homeless shelter, Habitat for Humanity, CASA, etc. It is during these types of experiences where you make the most crucial networking. All walks of life volunteer at these establishments and most opportunities are through word of mouth.
Six: Do mock interviews with your school’s career services center and local law firms. If your school has resume writing or dressing for success seminars, take them and take them to heart.
Seven: Write and rewrite your resume. Get a ton of people to review your resume and cover letter. Make sure they are perfect in relation to tone and grammar. Grammatical errors and improper tone will make a candidate seem incompetent and careless. If you are a “career changer,” make sure that you writing your resume as a functional candidate and not chronological. I have worked with career changers on their resume and while it hurts to not have all of your work experience on the first page, the legal education and experience is what is going to matter hiring managers. I suggest having a separate section entitled “Other Professional Work Experience” for non legal experience.
Eight: Research where you want to work. This could mean looking up all the law firms in your area on Martindale and compiling a list of law firms that have the practice area you are interested in or are the size you are looking for. Review the law firm’s website, find out who the hiring manager is or the paralegal manager. Research everything you can on them, send them a letter that evidences that you have some background on them and the firm and send your resume. Follow up with a phone call and if they indicate there are no positions, ask them to meet you for an informal coffee so you can make yourself a better candidate.
Nine: Brush up on your technology skills. Become an expert at Word, Outlook, Excel and Access. Get certifications in them. Learn everything you can about e-discovery because whether you work at a law firm or in-house, e-discovery is going to affect your working life.
Ten: Read any and all articles in your local legal community newspaper or blog. Follow the cases of the local attorneys because you never know who you might land an interview with. If you can bring up some notable cases while on the interview, you will win many points.
Eleven: Assemble a portfolio of your work product, whether it is from a class, an internship or work experience. Make sure everything in your portfolio is pitch perfect.
Twelve: Put together a one page marketing brochure of yourself that can be handed out that is both professional and well-written. You should consider this to be in addition to your resume and cover letter. This should only be handed out in person.
Remember, an employer who sees that you have tried to better yourself during the period you couldn’t find work will be more likely to hire the candidate with the initiative to seek improvement rather than the one that did not. Best of luck!