Now that you’re a certified paralegal, you’re going to want to get a job in private practice, industry or government. You might not even need to step out of your home to line up some interviews, but pounding the pavement the old fashioned way in the legal district of your city and dropping off some resumes is admired too.
Make sure that your resume and cover letter are concise and grammatically correct. You’ll want a professional looking photo on your resume too.
1) Tailor that Resume
Whether your interest is in criminal, personal injury, family, environmental, real estate or corporate law, tailor your resume for the role that you’re submitting it for. Use your studies and any experience to explain why you’re interested in a certain job.
Potential employers are going to become interested right away if you have specific interest and skills for an open position. Place your specifically tailored information near the top of your resume.
2) Gaining Experience
Employers look favorably on experience and hard work. Even working in a law firm as a clerk or a secretary separates a job candidate from the pack. They have a sense of how a law firm, business or government entity operates. They have learned a little bit about how to talk the talk and interact with lawyers.
Even if it means volunteering on a part-time basis in an agency that you’re passionate about, a potential employer will sense work ethic and dedication. On your end, you can think of that as gaining some valuable experience and positioning yourself for your new career.
During the interview process, be prepared for focused questions, especially if they’re coming from a lawyer. Just remember that you’re not in a courtroom and under cross examination. Remain pleasant, relaxed and articulate. Make sure that your cell phone is turned off before you walk through the front door.
Here are just a few sample interview questions:
- Have you gained any experience since you decided to become a paralegal?
- Are you thinking of ever becoming a lawyer?
- Do you realize that you’re going to be coming across confidential and sensitive information as a paralegal? Are you able to maintain confidentiality?
- Do you realize that you’re going to encounter some demanding people as a paralegal?
- Is there an area of the law that you have a particular interest in?
- Can you learn how to manage multiple tasks at the same time?
- How are your writing and grammar skills?
4) Tech Training
Tech skills are increasingly important. Get a grasp on Microsoft Office, Word, Word Perfect and Westlaw or LexisNexis. A potential employer might also inquire about your familiarity with legal billing and case management programs.
Becoming familiar with technology distinguishes a candidate for a litigation paralegal position.
5) Entry-Level Paralegal Jobs
Once you’re “out on the street” looking for a paralegal job, you’re going to be competing with other recently certified paralegals along with others who are ready to move on to advanced positions. The perfect position with a lucrative salary isn’t going to just pop up on your email during morning coffee though.
That’s just not the way that the world works. Your first job will be the first rung on your career ladder. It might even be your job for the next 30 years. Make yourself indispensable, maintain a positive attitude and grow along with your law firm, company or agency.
Every paralegal is going to get that first job. Whether you were a waitress at a restaurant, a receptionist at a dental clinic or sold cars, you possess transferable skills, especially people skills. Use them to the best of your ability. Always remember that an employer’s job ad is focused on the perfect candidate.
That doesn’t mean that you won’t be considered for a particular position if you don’t fully satisfy every item on the employer’s wish list. You can grow on that first job and develop into exactly who your employer wants to work closely with.
6) Develop Sound Judgment
We have all learned from bad decisions. Good decisions and sound judgment are essential to becoming a quality paralegal. After all, attorneys are often out of the office. You’re going to need to make some decisions on your own. Unfortunately, they don’t offer classes in sound judgment in either paralegal school or law school.
A quality paralegal will develop the ability to anticipate or comprehend a developing situation and work through it independently. That requires carefully considering the situation that he or she is confronted with. It might also take time and research. Thoughtlessly completing a task in order to beat the clock can operate to adversely impact both the attorney and the client.
7) Develop Quiet Assertiveness
President Theodore Roosevelt said “speak softly and carry a big stick.” If you are continually on the defense, you won’t have an opportunity to develop an offense. Develop the ability to confront issues without being asked to do so by a lawyer. That’s also part of making yourself indispensable.
If you can’t seem to work through a pending issue, use the totality of your skills to come up with a solution that you can present to the lawyer that you are going to be working with.
8) Patience is a Virtue
You will be seeing days when your own boss is demanding and difficult. Both of you will be under pressure. Then there will be difficult clients, opposing attorneys, photocopiers breaking down, computers crashing and the inability to find a case that “stands on all fours” that will support an important legal argument.
Again, rely on your skills, creativity and innovation. Simply waiting breeds impatience. It’s what you do while waiting that increases the ability to be patient. Part of your job will require the patience of Job.
9) Preparation and Organization
Good lawyers are fully prepared. Paralegals help prepare those lawyers.
On that basis, you will want to have quality reading and communication skills. Analytical skills will be needed for legal research. Quality research results in quality preparation. Regardless of how busy you might be, your office or work area must be highly organized. Law books, research materials, pleadings, copies of supporting cases and case files must be readily at hand.
Both a primary and a backup calendar should be habitually maintained. Enter those dates on both calendars as soon as you see a deadline. Timely court filings and required court appearances must be made. Preparation and organization are high on the list of qualities for becoming an effective paralegal. Consciously develop them.