The emphasis on experience in the paralegal profession is a significant factor in job placement and career advancement. The good news: it is possible to demonstrate your ability to perform well in a legal role even if you are just out of paralegal school and have no direct law firm experience. Many factors will impact success in getting hired, but paralegals new to the field can make themselves attractive to attorneys and hiring managers in a number of ways:
- Be open to all opportunities and willing to expand your search to other roles. Limiting employment options with preconceived expectations regarding job title, salary, size of firm and location may result in missed opportunities. Paralegals often start their careers as administrative assistants, receptionists or file clerks. These less specialized positions and others in litigation support, document production and client intake can help you broaden your skill set without taking on the massive responsibilities associated with substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible - and for which you may not yet be fully prepared to support.
- Highlight academic performance. Pursuing a paralegal certificate or degree requires strong organization, a planned approach to completing tasks, attention to detail and the ability to work under pressure to meet assignment deadlines - key tangible skills necessary for success in the legal field. When you interview, discuss how you can apply these skills, and your classroom learning, to an entry level position. Don’t forget your GPA and attendance, especially if you are seeking your first professional job out of college. Most employers view a high GPA and high rate of attendance as strong indicators of commitment and ability to excel.
- Accept a law related internship or volunteer position to gain real-word experience. Firms are interested in graduates who can apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-life situations. Internships are a fantastic way to gain hands-on training, develop skills and make mistakes in a learning environment. They can be instrumental to building experience. However, they are not just a resume-enhancing endeavor. Internship programs are also widely used by firms as a recruitment tool to evaluate the drive, ambition and work ethic of a potential hire before offering employment.
- Join a paralegal association to network, make connections and gain exposure to other opportunities. Participate in promotional efforts, networking events and professional development seminars as part of your membership. This will increase your competencies in interpersonal effectiveness, relationship-building, cross-functional teamwork and customer service. Employers value an employee who can relate to coworkers, legal entities and court personnel. Not only will you enhance your competitive edge, the contacts you make can also prove invaluable throughout your career. The more people who can attest to your accomplishments and contributions, the more marketable you will be overall.
- Summarize “hard skills” and core competencies in specialized areas and make them relatable to the legal field. These include: computer, software and technical skills, typing, proofreading, editing, drafting, file management, document control, use of general office equipment and experience in accounting and billing. The scope of your skills in these areas, how you’ve used them, and to what extent could differentiate you from others competing for the same position.
- Showcase “soft skills” that will demonstrate you share common values. Performing paralegal work means interacting with many different types of people – lawyers, other paralegals, witnesses, clients, experts and more. Qualities and personal characteristics that will enable you to thrive and succeed in these interactions include communication, teamwork, problem-solving, personal integrity, dependability and timeliness. Be prepared to illustrate how you have applied these skills in past academic and job settings.
- Honestly assess your personal traits and how these will fit with a firm. In what areas do you need to improve? How do you express yourself? Is punctuality a problem? Are you able to understand and accomplish a range of legal tasks or will you find them overwhelming? Do changes need to be made in the way you dress, or the way you speak, or perhaps, the way you write? It is important to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses because attitudes and behavior impact conduct, performance and the workplace atmosphere. Every firm will have a different organizational structure, will evaluate performance differently and will have different expectations with respect to an employee’s responsibilities - but they are just as interested in your personality, your motivation and the demonstrated ability to show up on time, prioritize work, multi-task and communicate effectively.
It is possible to overcome “no experience” obstacles. As a graduate from Center for Advanced Legal Studies you will have the education, training and practical experience to succeed as a paralegal. Your existing experience is also valuable, and chances are you have transferable skills that, if framed appropriately, can help you stand out. Take advantage of new opportunities to build professional skills and connections. Finally, recognize your behavioral style in the workplace and how your personality traits may impact your performance. In the end, getting any job involves showing a prospective employer that you have what it takes to meet their needs. Instead of dwelling on what you lack, focus on what you have to offer.
Director of Outreach and Career Services
Tami has an extensive and varied professional background that spans criminal justice, paralegal education, and international school marketing and communication. Her career has been guided by a focus on developing strategic partnerships that facilitate school growth and student opportunity. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Degree in Criminal Justice from Texas State University.