Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Finding an Entry-Level Job in Law Firm

After extensive soul searching and reviewing my skills, I am pursuing my BS degree in Paralegal Studies. I am trying to think ahead and start my legal career before I graduate in 2008. Most of the positions I have held have been in customer service.

Most of the job advertisements require five years experience in the legal field that I do not have. I wanted to know how I can find an entry-level position that can use my talents and skills from my previous jobs and the knowledge I have obtained from college. I have tried temporary agencies that have jobs in the legal area but have not been successful.

I am getting discouraged. I do not want to graduate and still be in the customer service field.
-- Sharda

by Ronnie Ann, Work Coach

Hi Sharda!
I can imagine how frustrating that must be for you. I respect that you’re trying to get a jump-start on your legal career.

While you’re right to think that finding an entry-level job in the legal field might be a great way to begin your new career, it’s important not to let your ambitious plan frustrate you. I’d like to tell you that the doors will just open – and sometimes things like that happen – but this usually takes time. Determination and patience will be your greatest allies in this or any career change.

In my own life, I’ve made a few career changes and each time it took a while. And although I got many rejections…I eventually got there. It only takes one “yes.” I once decided to become a theatrical agent and sent a letter to every agency in New York City. They all turned me down. But about 6 months later I got a phone call from a fairly well-known agency asking if I would do one day of reception work for them because they were in a bind. Even though I had an MBA and quite a few years of corporate experience, I said “sure!” That one day turned into a job as Executive Assistant to the president, a high-powered super agent.

From what I understand, you are right that most places require 2-5 years legal experience when looking for a paralegal. And you haven’t even graduated your program yet, so you’re competing with all the graduate paralegals (many without adequate experience) who are also looking. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find a legal job of some sort. It just means you’ll have to be creative.

First I hope you are working with your school’s placement office and telling them that you will take any job in a law firm or legal area, even if it’s a legal receptionist or secretary. Since you don’t have your degree yet, this will at least allow you to gain some related experience and make contacts in the company. Also remember to ask your professors for help. They probably have contacts. Stress to them that you’ll give it your best and are open to any legitimate opportunity to get your foot in the legal door.

But before presenting yourself to any company, it is essential that you come to them with top-level legal research skills (Westlaw/Lexis-Nexis) as well as excellent office software skills such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. So if any of these are weak, your first goal should be to get yourself to a point of being a true star. You will then be able to highlight this (along with those good customer service/people skills) in your cover letters and interviews, and thus differentiate yourself from the teeming masses.

You mentioned that you’ve worked with legal temp agencies and had no luck. Don’t forget to try a regular temp agency and tell them you’re looking for any job in a legal area – even if it’s a bank compliance department or government agency. In fact, government agencies will sometimes be a bit more flexible than corporations when it comes to requiring experience. Also, once your skills are where they need to be, try the legal temp agencies again, making sure they know about your new top-notch skills and that you are very flexible about the level of job.

You should also be ready to approach various size law firms on your own and, again, let them know you will accept even a receptionist job if that’s your way in. They need to see that you are determined and reliable. The rest you can make happen once inside if you play it smart by doing an outstanding job – no matter what it is - and making connections. But as I said, first get those skills to shine!

In addition, schools often provide essential career assistance by offering internships that give you exactly what you’re looking for – a way to get to your first legal job. And that might not be available to you until your last semester.

According to Michael Horowitz in his post called Paralegal Experience; Keeping Your Day Job??? the internship might be your real answer:
I received my paralegal degree almost 20 years ago (AAS - Legal
Assistant) and, even though I already held a undergrad degree (BS -
Criminal Justice), I had to perform an internship and put in about 120
hours during the last term of my program. Certificate programs at my,
and other local accredited schools, had (and still have) similar
requirements. I actually got a job out of my internship, as did most
of my classmates, at least those who intended to work in the field.

That might be just what you need, Sharda. And, by the time you get to that point, you’ll actually have some of the new skills that will help you get ahead. Your idea to start now might be worth pursuing as a possibility, but if it doesn’t work out, congratulate yourself on the effort and focus on your classes. There are still ways to get to your goal – when the time is right.

So think about your options and see what makes sense for you. But most importantly – don’t let a tough process undermine your belief in the results or in yourself. You’ll get there. Just make sure you’re ready to offer them the best you can when you do!

Good luck in your new career, Sharda! I’m rooting for you.

Susan Ireland’s Two Cents
Job Lounger, do you have a question? Email ( it to me and I’ll post your question and an expert’s answer here in The Job Lounge.

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