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By: Kate Craven
So you’ve got your paralegal college degree and now you’re ready to put all that knowledge to work in a law firm. But wait! All the posted jobs require experience. So how are you going to get experience if no one will hire you? Well, there are a gazillion articles posted on the Internet about how to overcome this hurdle and most of them give good information. The point is that this kind of a job search isn’t a battle – it’s a campaign. It requires patience, creativity, and a bit of sales moxie.
As a career advisor with 18 years of legal experience, I can tell you that doors do open when you knock on them long enough and hard enough. Start from where you are. Put a killer resume together. Practice your interview skills. Get out there and talk to people.
When I started, I had a college degree and a smart mouth. I wasn’t afraid of anything and I loved to type. I asked a lawyer who was a client what it would take to work in his office. Though he didn’t have any open positions, he had a big, hairy filing project. I hauled the boxes home, made piles in the living room and returned several chronologically ordered files to him and collected a nice check. I continued to talk to that attorney both as client and job seeker. About six months later, I was hired as a legal secretary at a firm across the hall from his. That attorney said he hired me because my college degree indicated I could finish something.
What’s your strong point? Are you a whiz at organizing? Do you type like the wind? Can you look at a pile of documents and know what goes where? Did you get an A and a smiley face in your legal research and writing class? If you can do any of these things, that should be the focus of your resume.
Because resume writing has been my forté, and because that’s where the job search starts, it’s essential that your resume accentuates the positive and eliminates the negative. If your school has a career services department, use them! They are the experts and they’re ready to help.
There’s so much free information about resume writing and samples of good resumes posted on the Internet. Put those research skills to work. Assemble a resume that highlights your transferable skills and achievements. Get a free resume critique at a job fair, through one of the online job boards, or from a local service provider. Review actual job descriptions for legal phrases and keywords that should appear in your resume. Do you have to reorganize to make things work efficiently? Have you ever worked independently? Can you maintain confidentiality? Are you conscientious? Did your attention to detail make a difference in the organization’s production? That’s what makes a good paralegal.
Once that resume is the best you can make it, it’s time to get creative.
Applying online will only get you so far. Step away from the keyboard and join something! If there isn’t a paralegal organization in your area, call the local bar association to find out about legal placement services. Get registered with agencies like Robert Half Legal. Look for a local job seekers club. Check out the Chamber of Commerce business directory. Talk to real people, face-to-face. Get out there because it’s not just who you know – it’s who they know.
There is a right way to network and it doesn’t mean asking people for a job every time you see them. Good networking starts with sincere relationship building based on information giving and getting. When you’ve done that, then you can ask, “Hey, do you know of a firm or organization where my skills and abilities might be a good fit?” You want to be top of mind when someone in your circle hears about an opportunity.
Though your dream job is in a high-powered law firm downtown working on really cool stuff, be prepared to learn the law from the file up. Or by answering the phones. Or as a temp to hire. When I first started, I did nothing but filing for a week. It taught me how to build a file, who the clients were, what the attorney needed to do the work.
Apply for jobs in title companies, construction companies, and other administrative support roles to build your portfolio. Your local courts are great way to get good experience because their job requirements aren’t as strict. Explore legal research opportunities such as the Paralegal Network. There’s never enough help at the local legal aid office. And there’s always filing to be done everywhere.
If you’re bilingual, get certified as a court interpreter. Become a notary public in your state to add to your hard skills inventory. Practice your typing speed so you’re at least 50 words per minute. And most importantly – quit whining that no one will hire you because you don’t have experience. Give them reason to make you an offer.
Build an awesome resume. Practice your interview skills. Find a mentor. Read, ask questions, and talk to people. Wanting to work in a law firm without knowing what goes on there is like writing a book report without reading the book. Present a professional, competent persona with energy and personality, and someone will take a chance on you. Be confident that somewhere, someone will have a use for your skills, your knowledge, and your abilities.
A love for the logic of law was the reason Kate stayed in the legal environment for almost 18 years. Now she applies that knowledge and a sincere desire to help in guiding job seekers on their chosen career path. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hear that, TPS readers? Forget being a job seeker – you need to become “the candidate” and run your own employment campaign in 2013! We’re totally available…if should happen to need a bevy of savvy paralegals to idly stand by, eating Belgian chocolates, while engaging in friendly table chatter and waving the TPS flag in support of our favorite job seeking candidate! Go You!!! Gotta say we make some pretty mean posters, too.
Have an absolutely fabulous day in the land of legal! Drink those caffeinated beverages of happiness and guard those esquires. We’ll see you soon.