So you want to be a paralegal…
Ideally you don’t want to settle for just any old position. You want to work as a paralegal in a field and career that you are truly passionate about (whether it’s working for a law firm, in-house or as a freelancer, and whether it’s in workers compensation, litigation, criminal law, business or another specialization).
You could also aspire to continuously rise up the ranks throughout your career—what LawCrossing’s Judith Earley refers to as the “promotable” paralegal. “Today, paralegals can be promoted to positions such as case manager, manager of paralegals, trial specialist, and assistant corporate secretary,” states Earley.
So how do you become one of those paralegals that pack a punch, that stand out from the crowd and that view their work as a career rather than a mere job that pays the bill?
It Starts with Quality Education…
And it’s more than just passing all the courses that are part of a paralegal degree program. Strive to complete assignments as if you were already a practicing paralegal in the real world, learn all you can beyond the required reading list, complete internships (even if you don’t have to), and talk to professors and experts already in the field…
Once you’re done your studies—although it may not be required by employers— it pays to become certified. “So how do you make yourself stand out as an exceptional paralegal?” asks the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). “One way is by earning a credential which is widely recognized in the field.” Associations like the NFPA, NALA (The Association for Legal Assistants/Paralegals) and the NALS (The Association for Legal Professionals) offer such certification exams.
A Professional Portfolio
When on the career hunt, prospective employers will be much more impressed if you present them with a portfolio, rather than just a resume. Roger LeRoy Miller and Mary Meinzinger Urisko, in their book “Paralegals Today: The Essentials,” say that you should present your at each job interview. “The professional portfolio should contain another copy of your resume, a list of references, letters of recommendations written by previous employers or instructors, samples of legal documents that you have composed, college or university transcripts, and any other professional information, such as proof of professional certification or achievement,” state Miller and Urisko.
Regarding samples of legal documents that you have written, you can use work from your educational program and/or internships, from briefs and discovery logs to petitions and appeal documents.
Continuing Education & Extra Competencies
“…[Paralegals] need to continually hone and develop skills, which make them stand out as better candidates than others,” states a LawCrossing article (“Using Knowledge of Expected Paralegal Job Competencies to Succeed.”) “…While one might say that sticking to a paralegal’s present competencies is sufficient for future security, it is not so.” The article goes on to explain that the most successful paralegals surpass those competencies that are outlined in their job description; they also take the initiative to learn other relevant competencies that may not be expected of them through continuing education or independent learning (such as payroll procedures, using voice recognition software or becoming bilingual).
To learn more about this fulfilling profession, visit our “Paralegal Career” page.