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By: Tashania Morris

Greetings TPS Nation! Hoping you made your way to the paralegal playground fully-caffeinated and partially-sane on this Major Monday morning (at least momentarily). Tashania is here today to share some tips to inspire those brave souls in search of that first legal job in the trenches. If any of the paralegal lifers among us have any additional tips to add, we’d love to hear ’em.

Besides, any post containing the word “chocolate” is sure to be a hit in this profession! Keep reading. 

It has been said that school teaches you everything except how to land the job. I don’t know about you but I don’t remember taking a career development class in college, a Meyer Briggs test or even speaking with a career counselor before choosing a major. The closest I came was researching income for first year attorneys in a Legal Studies class. When the thought of becoming a paralegal enters your mind, you think of all the wonderful cases you will be working on, the great insight you will be giving your attorney and how he/she will praise you for discovering some hidden facts only you, with your superb skills, could have. In the words of Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are gonna get.”

Interviewing and looking for a job are sometimes unpredictable and let’s not talk about the nervous system and the many tricks being played while waiting for the phone call. The one that says, “Congratulations, you are hired.”

Most people start their job search optimistic and end up becoming discouraged because it is not going as planned. Maybe you are not getting calls for interviews having submitted one resume after the next or perhaps you have gone on a couple interviews and haven’t been offered a position yet. To make you feel better, my first “real” interview for a paralegal position right out of school went up in flames. For those 15-20 minutes I wished I had superhuman powers. I tried clicking my heels like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, but to no avail – it didn’t work; I couldn’t disappear. I would have, if I could.

Right out of school, I knew I wanted to work for a Personal Injury firm, having interned for a great attorney that practiced personal Injury amongst other things. I really enjoyed the client interaction, doing legal research and learning new things on a daily basis. It’s been six years since I graduated and I was never able to land a job at a personal injury firm. I can’t tell you how many times I romanticized about it in my mind, staying late, doing legal research, working on big posters with oversized   pictures, retelling a story gone horribly wrong.

I remember my first interview after graduating and the excitement I felt when I received the call.  I quickly researched the firm and was extremely excited because of the various areas of law they practiced. I remember going to Macy’s and purchasing a black suit on sale. Why black? I read that wearing dark colors, such as black and grey, makes you look smart and since that was the look I was going for, it was perfect. I arrived ten minutes early, extremely nervous and jittery. The office was beautiful. As I walked to the reception desk, I could picture myself working there. She asked me what I was there for and told me to sign in – someone would be with me shortly. I sat and waited and waited, then waited some more.  I am not sure why they make you wait for fifteen to twenty minutes for a scheduled interview; in most cases I am pretty sure they know the date and time you will be arriving.

As I waited, my anticipation grew and my confidence left little by little. I kept reminding myself not to stutter, something that occasionally happens when I get too nervous. Finally, a well- dressed lady approached me smiling, ushered me into a room and the interrogation began. (Okay let me not exaggerate it really wasn’t an interrogation and she was extremely nice under the circumstances.) I was prepared to answer the basic questions, “tell me something about yourself”, and, “why are you interested in this position?”, however; I was in for a big surprise.  Instead she asked, “What are the five types of discovery?” I smiled, thought about it, and like a deer caught in headlights asked if she could repeat the question again. It’s not like I forgot the question, I just couldn’t remember the answer. If only my civil litigation professor was there; he would be extremely disappointed.

I wasn’t prepared for a legal terminology quiz. No…not today, not when I am dressed in a jacket and feeling a little uneasy with butterflies swimming around everywhere in my body, not just my stomach. I don’t think my pleasant personality will be able to get me out of this one. I confidently said, “Deposition”, that was all I could remember. She then proceeded to ask me if I knew what the difference between a pleading and a motion was – she asked about motions I had never seen or heard of in college.

Just to be transparent, I was not a paralegal major, we didn’t prepare motions in my prelaw classes. We researched, study the constitution, engaged in heated discussions and occasionally wrote legal memorandums. It was more theory and less practical.  I couldn’t wait for the interview to be over.

The interviewer told me that I didn’t have enough experience. I left the interview disappointed, but not defeated. I guess this black suit didn’t work after all.

While I did not get the job, it taught me a valuable lesson that sometimes interviews consist of so much more than repetitive questions and to always be prepared to answer difficult ones. The next couple interviews I went on, I did more than just research the firm I also researched the area of law and familiarized myself with basic terminologies and a couple motions and pleadings. You will never really know which questions will be asked, so it is impossible to study everything and be completely prepared.

A couple not so good interviews prepared me for future interviews. I wish I could report that since then, I was able to master every interview, get every question right but I would be lying. However, I knew that I did not want to go on another interview and leave feeling like a fish without water. I know how frustrating it is to be told time and time again that you don’t have enough experience. The truth is no one does, especially when starting out. If you feel as though you need to brush up on your interviewing skills, your school might be able to do a recorded mock interview and give you feedback on how to become better.

THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE AN INTERVIEW

Develop and maintain a great attitude. Attitude is everything; remember people normally do business with you when they like you and employers are the same. It is important that you are likeable. Express that you might not have hands on experience, however, you are a hard worker and willing to learn. It’s a weird thing, but as it turns out, people like it when you show enthusiasm. Attitude is everything. I have been offered positions before not because of experience, but because the interviewer liked my attitude.

Research the clerk of courts in your area. This site is a great way to familiarize yourself with legal terminology. It has a wealth of information.

Take advantage of the career center in your school. I wish I did. These are not created equal; some are better than others. If your school does not have a career center, find an employment center in your city that can assist you with resume writing, among other things. In my city it’s called: Workforce One Employment Center.

Research the firm and area of Law they practice. If possible, look up the interviewer on LinkedIn or any of the attorneys that currently work for the firm. This is a great way to familiarize yourself with their work and interest.

Volunteering is a great way to enter the field.  Try searching on volunteermatch.org some of the positions are virtual and consist of doing legal research. Another option is your local legal aid office or becoming a Guardian ad Litem if you have the time. Some courts have a volunteer program you can apply to become a part of.

Prepare an elevator speech, so you are not surprised by the question, “tell me something about yourself”. According to a career counselor I was recently listening to, most people are not prepared for this question, even though it is a predictable one.

Whatever happens, try to remain positive, it is okay to feel a little disappointed occasionally, but do not to get trapped in that state of mind. According to Tony Robbins, “our greatest resource is our resourcefulness.” Let’s think outside the box. We live in a country with resources that people in other parts of the world can only dream of. If you are not able to get your dream job right now volunteer, it’s a great way to give back, meet people, figure out likes and dislikes while learning new skills that might assist in helping you to find a job. If you have to work, you might be able to volunteer remotely, or on weekends.

Even thought life is unpredictable, we are all on this journey together, so let’s get out there. Be bold, be brave and be daring. Let’s happen to our careers!

Example of the information you might be able to find on the clerk of court or court website:

http://www.miami-dadeclerk.com/families_probate_sml_estates.asp-

http://www.jud.ct.gov/selfhelp.htm

http://www.mypalmbeachclerk.com/evictions.aspx-

Ideas and ways to volunteer:

http://ombudsman.myflorida.com/Volunteer.php- if you are interested in eldercare this is a great way to volunteer.  I once started the process but was not able to attend the meetings because of work.

http://guardianadlitem.org/vol_main.asp- If you are interested in helping a child this is a great opportunity.

http://apps.americanbar.org/legalservices/probono/volunteer.html- Various Opportunities

http://www.illinoislegalaidonline.org/index.php?volunteer – Live Phone operator.  This can be done remotely

http://www.floridaprobono.org/oppsguide/search?a=&p=&o=&t=&natl=0&c=6868- If you live in Florida

http://www.jud.ct.gov/vol/default.htm- State of Connecticut Judicial Branch Volunteer Program

http://www.mypalmbeachclerk.com/faq/volunteer.aspx#location- Florida-WPB  Volunteer program

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Have anything to add to the list, paralegals? If so, hit that comment button and tell us about it!

Wishing you an absolutely enthralling day in the legal mines, my friends. May the caffeine cups over-floweth, your sanity runneth over, and may you depart through those doors (on time) a better paralegal than you were the day before. Make it a great one! 

See you soon.