The Blog Formerly Known As Practical Paralegalism
I decided to enter the legal profession nearly a year ago. I was in my car listening to the radio, and an advertisement came on for a paralegal program at the University of Miami that offers an intensive certificate course in four short months. After discussing it with my husband, I decided to go for it and began attending classes earlier this year.
At the time I started in the program, I had worked as a shipping coordinator for three years but before that had held administrative assistant and secretarial positions for fifteen years. My prior work experience gave me a solid foundation for dealing with the public, and being able to communicate well, write effectively, and follow through in a timely manner. I believe these qualities transfer to the legal field, as to any field.
By the time I graduated in early June 2009, I felt confident and fully prepared to get out there and impress would-be employers with my newly acquired knowledge and skills. I was determined not to let my lack of law firm experience deter me from getting a paralegal job from the get-go, and I used the following tips that proved effective.
The first thing to do is to ensure you have a great looking–and sounding–resume. I highly recommend The Resume Handbook, 5th Edition by Arthur D. Rosenberg. This book has many examples of the right (and wrong) ways to write a winning resume and cover letter. There is even a section on writing a paralegal resume and cover letter.
Second, dress for the part. Even if the firm appears to be casual, keep in mind the importance of first impressions–take control of how you will be perceived. I wore a beige pantsuit to interviews, and paired it with either a ribbed bright green shirt or a black cami. I definitely stood out as a legal professional during the interview, because I looked like I was dressed for court-related activities. I completed my outfit with a new pair of thick-heeled Mary Jane shoes, a black leather purse, and I carried a black leather pad-folio and silver pen with me, along with my portfolio, which I keep in a legal size file.
Third, don’t be afraid to be assertive during the interview. You don’t want to seem abrasive or sound harsh, but you do want to show a can-do attitude. When I interviewed at the firm that hired me, I noticed they were understaffed at that moment, so I asked if they wanted me to stay and answer the phones for a while. My initiative and gumption impressed the attorneys.
And speaking of impressing attorneys, if you have a portfolio, bring it with you on interviews. If you do not have one and have never worked in the legal profession before, I recommend sharing a few writing samples from your paralegal classes. An excellent paralegal must also be an excellent writer.
Some of the documents that I include in my portfolio are sample Notices of Hearing, Motions, Request for Admissions, Request for Production, Interrogatories, Deposition Summaries, and a trial brief. The brief was the final project for my paralegal course. It showed that I have strong legal-writing skills and understand how to cite and apply the law, although in the working world, a paralegal that drafts all or parts of briefs does so under the supervision of an attorney.
When asked whether you have questions, don’t mumble nervously. Go to your interview with a prepared agenda. Ask questions that you want answered, such as what areas the firm specializes in, how many cases are handled in a given week or month, and how often are the attorneys in court. As a last question, you can simply smile and ask, “When can I start?” Confidence, in any aspect of life, is always key.
I met Ana (@bookfairy8) on Twitter, while she was tweeting about her job-hunt. I knew she had a great resume from the number of interviews she was getting. When I found out that she landed her first paralegal job within a few short weeks of graduation, I asked her to share her successful job search tips with Practical Paralegalism readers.