Working as a paralegal can be a good start for your career and future practice in the legal field. What’s more, the American Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 10% increase in the employment of paralegals by 2029, which is higher than most other professions.
The paralegal sphere has a pretty easy entry process, even for people seeking their first paralegal job after college with no real-world working experience. However, high motivation, necessary skills, and deep knowledge are still needed to get hired.
Paralegals can work with attorneys, law firms, government agencies, and corporations, investigating facts, collecting evidence, preparing legal documents, interviewing witnesses and clients, helping lawyers during legal proceedings, etc.
Competition among candidates for the paralegal position is fierce. When entry-level applicants compete with experienced professionals, they may think their chances of success are close to zero. However, it is not always like that. There are still options to impress recruiters and make it into your preferred law firm or company.
In this article, you’ll find some of the most effective strategies for getting a paralegal job, even for inexperienced job-hunters.
6-Step Guide to Become a Paralegal With No Experience
Landing a job with no work experience can be challenging but still possible as long as you have a plan. We’ve prepared one for you. This six-step guide will help you get hired as a paralegal without a previous professional background.
- Pick a Paralegal Career
Paralegals can work in various fields, and it’s crucial to choose one that interests you. If the selected topic inspires you and you are motivated to continue self-development in this sphere, you can compensate for your lack of experience.
Perhaps you are interested in family law and plan to become a divorce attorney, or you want to work in the medical field. Or maybe the last season of How To Get Away With Murder impressed you so much that criminal law has become your new passion. Take the time to sort out your interests and preferences.
Here are some examples of possible paralegal careers:
- Legal File Clerk
- Court Clerk
- Paralegal Assistant
- Judicial Assistant
- Law Office Runner
- Legal Secretary
- Bankruptcy Paralegal
- Immigration Paralegal
- Litigation Assistant
- Criminal Defence Paralegal
Research the careers and read job listings to learn more about the duties and understand which path suits you best.
- Complete Formal Education
Typically, paralegals need to have a formal education. There are two-year and four-year programs for these professionals. Although it’s still possible to get a job after completing a two-year program, the chances of being hired increase if the candidate has studied for four years and received a bachelor’s degree.
That’s what the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) recommends.
The NFPA and other professional institutions also advise choosing an American Bar Association-approved program.
- Get Professional Certifications
A paralegal certificate issued by a reputable organization may give you an edge over the other candidates, especially if you don’t have practical experience. It also shows your motivation and commitment to professional development, which can help attract potential employers’ attention.
Here are some examples of possible certifications for first-time paralegals to check out:
- The National Association of Legal Assistants offers a Certified Paralegal credential.
- The Association for Legal Professionals offers the Professional Paralegal credential.
- The American Alliance of Paralegals offers the American Alliance Certified Paralegal credential.
- The National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers a CORE Registered Paralegal credential and a PACE Registered Paralegal credential.
Some of these certifications require candidates to pass exams and to continue education to renew them.
- Take an Internship
Typically, recruiters are looking for candidates with experience. However, there are other ways to obtain experience besides through a “real” job. For instance, you can search for open internships with firms or companies. It is a chance to learn more about the profession and a potential employer and develop the skills necessary for future work. Moreover, it is an opportunity to earn extra money because some internships can be paid.
Sometimes, after completing an internship, the best interns are offered jobs. But even if that doesn’t happen, you can still expand your professional network and gain that sought-after experience recruiters want to see on a candidate’s resume.
- Work on Your Skills
In addition to hard skills, including investigation, case management, legal research, trial preparation, computer literacy, paralegal, even entry-level candidates should have a specific set of soft skills. For example:
- Persistence and consistency to overcome all obstacles and achieve goals;
- Resourcefulness to solve complex problems and find the right ways out of situations;
- Patience and attention to details to do legal paperwork and avoid mistakes;
- Communication skills to ensure high-quality and effective communication with clients and colleagues;
- Stress-resilience to adapt to rapidly-changing situations and stay calm and focused.
You can gain and develop these skills during your studies, volunteering, internships, or transfer them from any other previous experience, even if it’s not related to the legal field.
- Present Yourself
Everything mentioned above won’t help you get your first paralegal job unless presented professionally to a recruiter. Such a presentation often goes through three stages: a cover letter, a resume, and an interview.
Each of these stages has its purpose:
- A cover letter helps draw the recruiter’s attention to your resume and shows your motivation and interest in the position and company.
- A resume describes you as a professional, revealing your education, experience, and skills.
- An interview allows you to present yourself directly to an employer, share your background, give real-world examples of using your skills and knowledge, etc.
The main thing uniting these three types of self-presentations is that they should be linked to the position you want to get and the company you want to work for. Moreover, it is crucial to talk about yourself, showing how you can help benefit the company.
Jobs for Paralegals With No Experience: How and Where to Search
The first thing to understand when looking for a job if you have no work experience is that words like “entry-level,” “beginner,” “junior,” etc., are your new best friends until you get at least some experience. Pay attention to vacancies containing such words because, most likely, employers will not expect such a candidate to have advanced abilities or skills.
Also, don’t underestimate the position description. Read about the responsibilities, requirements, and skills to see if you can give potential employers what they seek.
Another tip for entry-level paralegals is to find and apply for jobs related to their education. Even if you don’t have the necessary experience, you can confidently say that you have the required knowledge.
And, of course, try contract or temporary positions for paralegals. Sometimes, firms hire less experienced professionals on a short-term basis. It will allow you to gain experience while keeping up your search for a more permanent job.
When searching for paralegal positions, junior specialists can use the same resources as their more experienced colleagues.
When candidates start looking for vacancies, job boards become the first resource they use. It’s one of the easiest ways to find open positions. There are general websites like Glassdoor, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, etc. Using them, the candidate can set up filters to search for vacancies. For example, you can choose the field you want to work in, the expected salary level, location, etc.
However, there are also specialized websites where only legal vacancies are posted. Some platforms will require registration and creation of a candidate’s online profile, which will be used as an applicant’s resume and sent to potential employers. Others allow job-seekers to use their already-created resume and apply for positions without registration. You can also narrow your search for vacancies by using the offered filters.
Usually, such websites have blogs where their experts share insights. As an entry-level paralegal candidate, if you want to find information on how to get a paralegal job, improving your resume, getting prepared for an interview, etc., we highly recommend checking them.
Some of the most popular legal job websites include:
- Legal Staff
Not all vacancies for entry-level positions are publicly advertised. Many firms entrust recruitment agencies to make the talent acquisition. It reduces the candidate’s chances to find a vacancy on available resources. However, applicants can also cooperate with such recruiters.
The process is pretty simple: you find an agency, send your resume, and when a suitable vacancy opens, you are notified and invited to participate in the next stage.
Quite a lot of vacancies in the market are closed through word of mouth. Thus, it’s necessary to make sure that people talk about you as a professional and can recommend you as a candidate for the position. That is why you should think about creating and expanding your professional network. It may help you find a job.
You can attend professional events and join professional organizations. Even thematic groups on social networks can help you find like-minded people and establish contacts with representatives of different companies. What’s more, recruiters are now actively using social networks to search for candidates. If you have common connections or your profile is linked to some professional organizations, you will have better chances of attracting their attention.
Expert Advice To Help You Get Hired
People tend to try on other people’s experiences and sometimes even copy them. However, if you want to go your way successfully, you shouldn’t do it blindly without understanding how their experience can help you. It’s better to research it, listen to expert advice, and draw conclusions that can work for your specific situation.
We’ve put together some advice from paralegals and other experts to inspire you on your way to a paralegal career.
“I’d advise someone entering the paralegal profession to remain CALM always,” says Ann Pettigrew, Advisory Corporate Paralegal at N-able. “Conversant – be knowledgeable of the area of law that you will practice… Analytical – Practice analyzing everything that you come across while you’re learning… Legality – Remember that everything that you do must be legal… Management – Learn to manage your learning/caseload.”
Bob Butterworth, CompleteCase Chief Executive Officer, says: “As one of the largest American online divorce companies, we know how complicated family law can be, given that every state and even every county has its local regulations. However, I’m sure that it’s one of the most interesting fields for a novice paralegal. It prepares, if not do-all specialists, then at least those versed in several areas. By choosing this path, you won’t deal just with child custody issues. You’ll also need to understand real estate, insurance, pension, etc., because one case may involve different aspects of the law.”
Jessica Kubiak, PACE Certified Paralegal at Daray Law and President of the Cleveland Association of Paralegals, notes: “My best advice for being hired as a paralegal is to be willing to take a chance. When looking for a position, we often don’t apply for a position for fear of lack of experience or lack of knowledge of the area of law. Be brave. Send in that resume. You never know, that employer may be willing to take a chance on you and teach you the area of law.”
Treva Hansen, Certified Paralegal at Hinkle Law Firm LLC, states: “If you have no legal experience, I would suggest getting your foot in the door at a law firm in any available position. We have had many runners, file clerks, and secretaries work their way up to paralegal, and some have even gone on to become attorneys.”
Remember that even though the first steps in a new paralegal career can be challenging, you may be surprised by the results. As Julia Gordon from Rasmussen College School of Justice Studies says: “You will work hard and long hours, but it’s worth it.”
Given that jurisprudence is closely related to many areas, ranging from law enforcement, medicine, etc., ending with entertainment, almost everyone who wants to connect their lives with the law will be able to find their place. You just need to make a start. A paralegal job can be the first step towards a career as a full-fledged lawyer. It can also help recent graduates or candidates with no working background set their foot into the legal field.
Now that you know how to get a paralegal job with no experience, you can use our advice and see how it works in practice. We hope these tips will help you find the position of your dreams without wasting a lot of time.