Is working as a paralegal your idea of a dream job? Perhaps you were inspired by watching Julia Roberts in the film Erin Brockovich or Meghan Markle’s portrayal of paralegal Rachel Zane on the television show Suits. Many people are motivated to work in the legal field based on their own personal experience with the legal system, such as a difficult divorce or a struggle in obtaining government benefits.
While working as a paralegal today can be demanding at times, the paralegal profession can be a very rewarding and satisfying career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of paralegals and legal assistants is expected to grow 10% through 2029, which is much faster than the average of all occupations.* Here are five tips for pursing your dream job as a paralegal.†
1. Volunteer and Gain Experience
Gaining experience through volunteer work or paid employment is essential in the legal field. Any experience that you can gain in the legal field is valuable. You might start off as an intern or with a part-time position, but those temporary positions can help you gain experience, learn new skills, and connect with others.
Be willing to pay your dues by making copies, answering phones, sorting mail, greeting clients, organizing case files, and making coffee. Experience working in a law office—even doing some of the more mundane tasks—could help you gain skills and experience to work your way up and advance in your career.
One great way to gain experience is to volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to represent abused or neglected children in court proceedings. CASA or guardian ad litem (GAL) volunteers make recommendations to the court for the best interest of the child. Becoming an advocate for children is a great way to gain experience and contacts in the legal system while also helping children in need.
2. Join Your Local Paralegal Association
Networking is fundamental to finding employment in any industry, but this is especially true in the legal field. Most state and local paralegal associations have student membership options at a reduced rate. Some states also have a paralegal section of the state bar.
Membership in state and local paralegal associations allows you to attend conferences, network with members, advocate for the paralegal profession, educate the legal community, learn about job opportunities, access continuing education, and receive emails from a members-only listserv.
3. Create and Share Your Portfolio
Quality legal writing skills are vital for today's paralegals. A resume alone will not demonstrate your legal writing and analytical skills.
Showcase your strong legal writing skills through both a print and electronic portfolio. Have print copies of your portfolio in a nice binder to show employers during interviews. For an electronic portfolio, consider uploading your writing samples through a free site like Box or Google Drive, and link to your writing samples from your LinkedIn profile. A candidate for a paralegal position could include documents such as an internal legal memorandum, a case brief, and pleadings (including a complaint and answer) in the portfolio to show potential employers.
4. Develop Your Computer and Technology Skills
Being tech-savvy is a necessity in today’s legal environment that includes video hearings, remote depositions, electronic discovery, and e-filing of court documents. Paralegals should develop their computer and technology skills to better assist lawyers, so that lawyers may make better use of their time. Embrace new technology.
5. Work Toward Certification
Obtaining certification could help you stand out from other applicants when applying for a job as a paralegal or legal assistant. The two national organizations that provide certification for paralegals and legal assistants are the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. (NFPA) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). Paralegals who pass NFPA's Paralegal CORE Competency Exam (PCCE) can use the CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP) designation.
A graduate who has earned an associate's degree from a paralegal program and has passed the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) exam can use the NALA Certified Paralegal (CP) designation.‡ Contact each organization for full eligibility requirements.
A Certificate or Degree May Help You Reach Your Paralegal Goals
While it may seem challenging at first to secure that dream job as a paralegal, it is important to remember to stay positive, be persistent, and focus on your goals.
An online paralegal certificate program may be a good option for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree and are interested in transitioning into the legal field. Reach out today for more information and learn how you may be able to participate in this exciting and growing field.