Think you have no paralegal experience? You may be selling yourself short…
Time and time again I hear from paralegal hopefuls who say that they have no paralegal experience, but want to break into the legal field. Since most states have no set requirements to work as a paralegal, employers get to pretty much set their own requirements. These requirements can be any combination of education, work experience or certification, or none of the above. The only thing more varied than the requirements to become a paralegal, are the job duties of a paralegal. Paralegal duties vary wildly from one area of practice to another, and from one firm to another. There is an almost endless list of duties that may be expected from a paralegal depending on the preferences of their employer.
Keeping this in mind, a person may have no “paralegal” experience, but the odds are that they have SOME experience doing SOMETHING that could be useful depending on the practice area or law firm preferences. The tricky part is figuring out how you can turn that experience into an opportunity in the paralegal field. Sure, if your only experience is flipping burgers during high school, it may be hard to convince a corporate law firm that the experience is relevant… but sometimes you simply need to think outside the box.
Here are two examples:
A recent graduate from a paralegal program with no law firm or paralegal experience .. However, she had a combined 25 years working in planning, zoning, etc. Fifteen of those years working for the local governmental agency that handles the issuance of permits and certificates of occupancy etc among other things, and then ten years as the owner of a business that dealt with issuing construction permits and played a major role in the development of procedures in the local construction industry. Her background made me think of my prior firm which in part, handled construction related matters and frequently dealt with the local government on these kind of issues, and represented construction companies in getting licenses etc. Also, my current firm, which handles permitting/occupational licenses an other things for corporate clients. I can see how that hands on, insider knowledge, could be a real asset. So while she may not have “paralegal” experience, she certainly has experience that could be very valuable to a firm that handles construction or certain real estate matters, or even in the inhouse legal department of a corporation working with their permitting etc…
A college student who was also about to graduate from that same program, with about 15 years experience working with the Department of Children and Families, she had been a case worker and had been promoted to a supervisory level, so she had real hands on experience… she had no “paralegal” experience, and was interested in getting into family law… I thought it was a no brainer but she hadn’t really even thought about it… she could focus on her experience handling family issues, custody issues, abuse allegations etc… which is all very relevant in a family law practice which might be dealing with similar issues in custody battles etc… she went from no “paralegal” experience, to having a unique skill set with insider knowledge of the very system that many families have to fight…
These are just two specific examples, but there are so many different areas of experience that might be helpful in the paralegal field… sure, you need to learn the other things, but if you have a skill that could be useful, you need to figure out how to market it… and it may not guarantee you a job, but its sure better than saying “I have no experience”…
If you have medical experience, even if it is minor, you might be able to use that to your advantage in a firm that handles personal injury or medical malpractice cases… If you have banking or finance experience you may be able to use that in a firm that handles corporate work… If you worked in the real estate industry you may be able to use that in a firm that does real estate transactional work…
If you aren’t sure how you can match your existing skills up to a potential law firm position, you might benefit from a paralegal mentor. You can network online via LinkedIn (Paralegal Network) or in person through a local paralegal or bar association group.
Whats the next step? Now that you know how to combat the “no experience” problem, please make sure you share this information with friends who may be in the same boat.
Great article. Thank you for posting, Linda.
Great post, Linda! You raise some excellent points with regard to a candidate’s background, past experience and unperceived “qualifications.” Getting your foot in the door isn’t easy. But if you put in the work, attend webinars on pertinent topics, network like crazy, and leverage your background — it may open the door just wide enough for you to slide a toe in.
What a wonderful article! I am currently studying to become a paralegal and my lack of experience has been my biggest concern. This article gives me hope. Thank you!
Thank you for sharing. This was a a very informative article. I do not have a paralegal certificate, but I believe I do paralegal work. How would I get a mentor without going to school?
This is so true, focus on those soft skills and communications skills; they will go a long way with a great attitude!
I like the hands on truth with the “insider knowledge” approach. I’m loaded!
This is an awesome article, filled with essential information for recent paralegal graduates.
Linda I totally understand what you are saying with the experience and your previous job. But what if you don’t work in a job that has anything to do with any type of office setting. For example: retail, a major grocery chain.
Obviously with some jobs it’s going to be more difficult than others. I would make sure that the job description was really on point, maybe emphasizing responsibility for inventory, or being responsible for money if you’re working the cash register, your strengths in dealing with people, The ability to multitask for example if you are stocking a shelf and you need to stop and help a customer locate something. These are just some things I’m thinking of off the top of my head, feel free to send me a message on Facebook or send me an email at LMCfrp@gmail.com and we can brainstorm