This article explains how to become a paralegal with no experience even though it can be frustrating to secure one. Mind you, ‘frustrating’ does not mean you cannot get the job if you know the right information.
To become a paralegal with no experience, get a paralegal certification, associate with legal practitioners, upload your current CVs on recruiting websites and apply for entry-level or contract paralegal jobs. Build a legal network of professionals to receive offers or recommendations.
Advisably, you want to improve your legal skills. Join a law firm even as a legal secretary, and learn the basics of law and practices during the time.
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What is the job of an entry-level paralegal?
Your job as an entry-level paralegal is to research and provide legal support to attorneys at your firm. The attorneys will share a variety of legal research and administrative tasks with you, which gets you to eventually learn the basics. You will research data, file motions, and conduct pre-trial client interviews.
A paralegal also prepares and files legal paperwork, communicates with clients, and studies statutes and precedents in the law.
If the attorneys you work for at the law firm specialize in a specific area, you have to become familiar with the specifics of that subspecialty. This subspecialty may include, family law, personal injury, estate and probate law, criminal defense, and corporate law.
So, how do you become a paralegal with no experience?
Arm yourself with the knowledge
First, get to learn about the things to do as a paralegal. Visit the judicial website of your state and download the court procedures manual. Study the online tutorials available in your state and learn e-filing attorney bills and how to find court forms.
You also have to learn about conservatorships, court procedures, and home repossessions. Install a legal dictionary and document scanning app on your phone (not necessary but helpful). Good working knowledge with computer document preparation and filing will go a long way.
You also want to see movies in the legal categories such as Suits, pay attention to the character Rachel. Although a paralegal, Rachel’s ambition is to become a lawyer.
Get professional certifications
According to ABA, presently, “there is no mandatory certification examination for paralegals … in the United States”. Nonetheless, the certification issue is a subject of considerable interest, and the debate has been on for the past several years among paralegal associations, bar associations, and some legislatures.
You could sign up for a paralegal certificate program that has a mandatory internship. This will allow you to have some experience for your resume, even if it is just a 3-month internship.
Paralegal certification from a reputable organization gives you the edge over other candidates, especially if you have no practical experience. It tells the recruiter your commitment and motivation towards professional development.
Some of the certifications you could sign up for as a first-time paralegal include the following:
- Association for Legal Professionals
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- American Alliance of Paralegals
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
There is a lot more certifications offered in your state, discover them with a simple internet search and compare the costs. Some certifications require you to pass examinations and continuing education for renewal.
Apply for entry-level paralegal jobs
Some firms do not advertise entry-level paralegal job roles. Recruitment agencies are also being increasingly leveraged by many law firms, so ensure to sign up with multiple legal recruiters.
Apply for entry-level positions with no requirement for previous law firm experience. This does not mean you should not apply for opportunities with work experience requirement. The requirements are sometimes “mere formalities”, especially if you have intern exposure.
Apart from relying on online opportunities, connections with your local community can boost your chances of finding an entry-level paralegal job.
Apply in fields relevant to your studies
The paralegal jobs you apply for should be relevant to your studies. It shows your applicable knowledge and verifiable interest to the recruiters and hiring managers in the sector, even without experience. Of course, it is tougher to get a call if you apply in roles you have no educational experience.
You do not want to apply for a role you cannot convincingly talk about why it interests you. For instance, you could apply in roles such as technology, media, and telecoms disputes paralegal if your educational experience is advanced litigation and media law.
If you apply for a commercial paralegal role, and you have good grades in commercial law, mention this list first. You have to tailor your CV to the role you apply for to land the interview. The hiring team will quickly identify your skills, and weigh if it is suitable for the job.
Moreover, recruiters spend a few seconds reading CVs, so put your relevant information on the top page. The Mercy College research shows that on average, recruiters spend 7 seconds reviewing a resume.
Accept temporary or contract roles
Regarding temporary roles, you could have a literature and publishing major in an art college, which gets you a creative writing degree. Next, you get a job at a reception desk and eventually work your way into a paralegal position. You do not even need any paralegal course or certificates for this. Bigger firms may require a 3.5+ GP to get hired.
A contract paralegal role is also worth it while you search for permanent employment. Law firms often hire graduates with no experience for short-term document review work. This can be an excellent opportunity to make a name, add to your CV and connect with people who could help you land a permanent paralegal job.
Build your legal network
Start building a professional network even before you graduate. If you have none, it is never too late. You could become a member of your local or national paralegal association. Volunteer to work with the committees to build a reputation.
Your network should be with like-minded law professionals who can refer or recommend you for paralegal positions.
Also use LinkedIn as a tool when building your professional network and reach out to prospective employers.
Upload your paralegal CV on job websites
Create an account with the job websites within the paralegal category in your state, and enable notifications for job alerts.
When there are paralegal job opportunities, you get the alert relevant to entry-level paralegal jobs to your email or registered SMS. This gives you the chance to be the first to apply and be noticed by the hiring managers.
Use a known website that allows you to upload your current CV to the database. Recruiters would not want to directly message applicants for their CVs.
Join the institute of paralegals
Since you do not have the work experience to become a paralegal, becoming a member of the institute of paralegals or any association in your local community will help. You could join as many associations as you can to enhance your chance of landing the paralegal job. It could be through recommendations or direct offers.
If you eventually hold a position in the association, include that in your CV, it shows the recruiter your seriousness and commitment, and makes up for your inexperience.
Joining legal associations can get you the necessary recognition as a professional paralegal practitioner. Some associations have social media pages and websites you want to follow them to receive notifications about new developments.
Spare the minutes with Gordon Chung who also explains the journey to becoming a paralegal with no experience:
Let us close this guide by emphasizing that there is no required certification to become a paralegal, so you do not have to have the experience to become one. However, taking paralegal courses will improve your chance and shows commitment.
You may not make a living wage, especially if you are working for a small law firm, even with a paralegal certificate. But with the right contacts, you can get to work for big attorneys looking for excellent paralegals.
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Do you need qualifications to be a paralegal?
You do not need qualifications to be a paralegal. However, many law firms look for legal or paralegal training to show that you are committed to the profession. You can sign up for specialist paralegal qualifications to build skills, knowledge, and a resume for a paralegal position.
Is it difficult to be a paralegal?
It is not difficult to be a paralegal, get a certification or a degree. If you have no experience, the workload can be intensive. Getting a paralegal certificate is not also difficult. You can become a paralegal by working for a lawyer in a similar field to that of a paralegal like criminal justice.
Can a paralegal appear in court?
A may appear in court but their job really ends at preparing the court paperwork, gathering legal documents, and assisting with other legal duties. Paralegals also handle communications with clients during trials or court cases.
Do paralegals represent clients?
Paralegals do not represent clients, in court, take depositions or sign pleadings. A paralegal must avoid unauthorized practice of law, establish the attorney’s relationship with clients, give legal advice, or set fees to be charged.