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Should You Give Up Being a Paralegal, or Approach It Differently?

There’s a great ongoing thread at Paralegal Gateway’s LinkedIn group (which has 5,711 members as of today) called “At what point do you give up being a paralegal and look at doing something else, when you were laid off seven months ago and have not found new employment yet?” Susan started the thread, and has since found a position, but the great advice keeps coming.

The thread stayed in my mind, because it comes up frequently in online social media groups for legal staffers, especially from new graduates of paralegal programs with little to no legal experience, and I’ve gotten plenty of direct email from Practical Paralegalism readers asking the same question.

If you’re not getting interviews, or you are – but you’re not even getting positive feedback such as, “You were in our top three and it was a very difficult decision,” I don’t think it means you’ll never get to use that paralegal degree. But you might need to approach all or part of your career plan differently if it’s not working for you now.

Here are 10 suggestions that may help open some law firm or legal department doors for those of you struggling to land interviews, or whose interviews aren’t leading to job offers:

  1. Get a legal professional’s feedback on your resume: Have someone working and hiring in the legal field review your resume and cover letter. Accept constructive criticism, and revise your current resume if necessary. 
  2. Emphasize your legal skills on your resume: If you don’t have a functional resume, create one that emphasizes your transferable legal, computer and communication skills. If your past work experience is all or mostly non-legal, it’s best to list employers and dates chronologically, and use the majority of your one-page resume for maximum effect to emphasize legal and computer skills.
  3. Master commonly used office software: If your computer skills lag, practice them until they’re second nature, even if it’s with free online tutorials or books. For a very reasonable monthly sum, you can brush up on your skills at Lynda.com.
  4. Evaluate your interview presentation: Have several professional friends working in conservative business environments critique your interview look and style. Do others see you as sharp, capable and energized – or less confident and out-of-date?
  5. Use LinkedIn: Create a well-done professional profile on LinkedIn, http://www.linkedin.com/, with a good profile picture (you don’t have to hire a professional – you can take that dread profile pic yourself). If you already have a LinkedIn profile, make sure it’s a strong virtual resume.
  6. Stay up-to-date with CLE sessions:  Attend as many CLEs as you can so that you can easily talk the legal talk (terms, forms, procedures, rules) that legal professionals want to hear. If you are a student, take advantage of your greatly discounted tuition rates. Add your certificates of attendance to your writing portfolio.
  7. Get your foot in the door, even if it’s not a paralegal job: Apply for entry-level jobs, including file clerk, receptionist or administrative assistant. That may be all the opportunity you need to show an employer what you can do.
  8. Take temporary work if you can’t get an offer of permanent employment: Seek contract work. You can acquire more experience and references while getting to know legal professionals in your community.
  9. Carefully consider the job market where you live: Consider re-locating, especially if you live an area where legal jobs are few and far between.
  10. Get to know other legal professionals:  Be active in your local paralegal or legal association, so that you can get to know area legal professionals – and they can get to know you.

It’s a tough economy right now. If you can’t find legal work, don’t give up. Most of us have to help support families, and it’s understandable if you have to take a non-legal job. Try to find an office or administrative job that uses skills transferable to a legal environment, while you keep looking for that first legal job.

Readers, do you have any other suggestions for paralegal job seekers who may need to consider a different approach?

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