An entry-level paralegal employed in a Georgia law firm emailed me recently with this question:
Would being a litigation paralegal at a worker’s comp defense firm give me experience that would be applicable to any litigation paralegal job, or is workers’ comp litigation so specific that it would limit my horizons?
I responded as follows:
Whether being a litigation paralegal for a workers’ comp defense firm would give you solid litigation experience really depends on the firm and the job description. For example, I know some workers’ compensation defense paralegals whose job duties are so limited in scope that they barely qualify as substantive. In some defense firms, it’s because the attorneys do most of the substantive work and bill clients by the hour for it. If a firm does not allow paralegals to draft pleadings and discovery, review and summarize medical records, and assist with hearings and appellate work – you should ask what DO they allow their “paralegals” to do?
If a firm allows its paralegals to perform substantive work on all aspects of their comp claims, then yes, it’s great transferable litigation experience. If the firm only lets its paralegals perform limited, mostly administrative duties, then you won’t get much experience.
The reader then asked how to get more litigation experience at her current job, specializing in probate and family law. I replied:
I think you should apply for any and all litigation jobs, regardless of the experience required. You should tailor your resume to emphasize your communication and drafting skills. When I worked in family law, there was plenty of litigation work, and plenty of drafting complaints, motions, discovery; preparation of trial exhibits and witnesses; and lots of other transferable trial skills. Emphasize what is transferable on your resume.
Also, consider taking some CLEs focused solely on litigation practice skills. You can reference them in your cover letter, and talk about them during interviews. I expect you already have a portfolio with some writing samples, including basic pleadings and discovery? If you still feel a bit light on experience and training, you might also look at one of the national paralegal certifications, like NALA’s, and then do the advanced certification in trial practice and/or discovery.
In the meantime, do as much as you can at your current job to gain litigation experience, of course without interfering with your regular job duties. But it might be worth taking a complaint home to draft, or drafting some discovery responses over the weekend, in order to practice your litigation skills. Ask your supervising attorney if you can assist with any litigation-related projects.
I’ve gotten jobs in both litigation and new specialty areas without prior experience, I think because of my strong communication and analytical skills. If I were you, I’d go into an interview selling my ability to learn new skills very quickly, write well, and handle any problem thrown my way. I’d emphasize that I do know where to find information for any kind of case, i.e. know the Rules of Civil Procedure inside and out, as well as where to find court forms and go-bys. Do your homework in the appropriate specialty area for the particular firm you’re interviewing with.
Don’t give up. Keep applying and keep honing your skills. Keep networking, and someone will think of you when an opening arises.
If any readers have suggestions for new paralegals trying to move from a different specialty area into litigation, your insight and comments are welcome.