Paralegal Career Field Roundtable

 

Whether you are looking for your first paralegal job or taking the next step in your professional development, the application process can be an intimidating experience. To put yourself at ease, working Paralegals and current CLS course instructors have volunteered their time to answer your most asked questions.

Roundtable Panelists

Paralegals from Across the Country

Alyssa McElwain

CLS Paralegal I Instructor

Dawn Parker

Paralegal

Kimberly Spakes

Risk Manager

Advice for Paralegal Job Applications & Interviews

“Make sure your resume is limited to one (1) to two (2) pages. Make sure you include all the main points of your experience specific to the position with which you are applying. Make sure you are utilizing proper grammar and using spell check. You will want to make sure there is a fluidity that runs throughout the resume. Include your education and any other certificates, or notable experience courses and groups. Do not have misspellings throughout, include experience or extraneous descriptions, have more than two (2) pages or obnoxiously brag. Dawn: Always make sure that you include good references with up to date contact information.

Alyssa McElwain, CLS Paralegal I Instructor

“Always make sure that you include good references with up to date contact information.”

Dawn Parker, Paralegal

“Highlight your most relevant skills and experience. To write a good resume, you should tailor it to every role you apply for. Your resume needs to demonstrate that you have the relevant set of skills, experience, and accomplishments necessary to do the job. So, by highlighting your key skills, you make it easier for the hiring manager to see why you are the right fit. Use facts and figures. Including a few figures in your resume can help a prospective employer to understand the scope of your current and previous jobs. Quantify achievements with numbers or percentages where appropriate. Which sounds more impressive: “experience working in fast-paced environments” or “conducted 360+ real estate closings in previous 12-month period”? Spellcheck your resume. Proofreading a résumé is essential in any occupation and especially so in a detail-oriented profession such as law.”

“Do not make your resume longer than two pages. Stick to no more than two pages unless you are a senior-level candidate. Although page length conventions have eased in recent years, most employers do not expect to see multi-page résumés from entry -level candidates. Never try to glaze over any gaps on your resume, as it could look suspicious. Instead, just be honest when it comes to explaining your career breaks and unemployment periods. Do not copy an employer’s job description into your résumé without support. You must be able to match your own personal qualifications and experiences, point by point, with the requirements in the advertisement.”

Kimberly Spakes, Risk Manager

“The best thing to do is research the job with which you are applying and ensure that you include any job posting specific information/experience on your resume. You want to make sure you are putting the job experience that matches the job posting at the top so that it catches the attention of the individual reviewing the resume.”

Alyssa McElwain, CLS Paralegal I Instructor

“Include all legal experience; customer service experience (any experience that includes working closely with people); any technology and office equipment that you are experienced with and computer experience (including computer programs that you are proficient with).”

Dawn Parker, Paralegal

“Any legal experience along with any work experience that shows your education. Resourcefulness, organization, along with great attention to detail. Accuracy and timeliness. Strong teamwork and interpersonal skills. Computer skills but specifically any proficiency in Excel, Word, and PowerPoint.”

Kimberly Spakes, Risk Manager

“It is very important; you want to make sure that you are notating all your education experience that has led up to the paralegal certificate. There are individuals who will have their associates and continue their education; Law firms like to see that you are constantly gaining knowledge.”

Alyssa McElwain, CLS Paralegal I Instructor

“This depends on the hiring firm. Some firms hire entry level legal assistants whom they can train while other firms want experienced paralegals. In either case scenario I would list all the education that I attained on my resume.”

Dawn Parker, Paralegal

“Always include your education that you attained prior to your paralegal certificate as it is very important. Enduring to the end and graduating with a college degree takes determination and work ethic that employers admire, and they know it will benefit their organization because college is, in itself, years of dedicated work experience.”

Kimberly Spakes, Risk Manager

“This is up to preference. If the job posting calls for the cover letter, make sure you include it.”

Alyssa McElwain, CLS Paralegal I Instructor

“Yes – always include a cover letter because firms want to see your writing skills and to make sure that you are proficient with grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Regarding other documents, I would decide that on an individual job basis. For example, if you have experience in writing demand letters and the firm lists demand writing as a job task then I would include a demand letter with my resume as well.”

Dawn Parker, Paralegal

“You should always include a cover letter with your resume for the following reasons:

  • To clearly express your interests to an employer.
  • To state how your skills specifically meet the employer’s needs.
  • To get the employer to want to read further, read your resume, and ask you for an interview. “

Kimberly Spakes, Risk Manager

“You will want to make sure you include all the experience that you do have and then show (during the interview) that you although you don’t have specific experience in their area of law, that you are working on/researching the statutes, or law specific materials. They love when people take initiative and are driven and excited to learn. Just be sure you are not lying about experience to get your foot in the door. It will be displayed rather quickly, and you will get let go.”

Alyssa McElwain, CLS Paralegal I Instructor

“Be honest about not having the experience but also indicate that you are eager and willing to learn.”

Dawn Parker, Paralegal

“I believe that the key is to know your strengths and understand how they, along with your prior non-legal experience are parallel to the duties of a paralegal and be able to describe to a potential employer how you can utilize those skills to benefit their organization.”

Kimberly Spakes, Risk Manager

“If you have reasoning skills, are logical and analytical, have experience in word processing programs, or Microsoft office, can read, write, and put together thoughts in a clear, fluid, and cohesive way, then you should be able to thrive in the environment. You do not want to undersell yourself, so I would recommend posing to be a receptionist or legal assistant as opposed to the Paralegal, so you are gaining experience in the environment.”

Alyssa McElwain, CLS Paralegal I Instructor

“Absolutely! Not only does this give you additional experience but often an internship or part-time job can lead to a full-time position.”

Dawn Parker, Paralegal

“Yes! In my opinion, this is the best advice I can give any paralegal without experience looking for a job, “Take any position you can with a reputable law firm to get your foot in the door!” The experience gained from an entry-level position is priceless. Once I got my foot in the door, I was able to slowly work my way up in that law firm so that when I was ready to leave, I had the experience I needed to land my dream job.”

Kimberly Spakes, Risk Manager

“This is different for every firm, and the job posting will state what they are looking for. Generally, they will want people who are reliable, honest, hardworking, and ready to take on and learn new things.”

Alyssa McElwain, CLS Paralegal I Instructor

“Organization, detail oriented, reliable, able to prioritize tasks, able to take direction, good people skills, good communication skills, and good computer skills.

Dawn Parker, Paralegal

Some of the most common “traits or characteristics” include:”

  • Highly organized
  • Good communication skills
  • Excellent research and writing skills
  • Ability to multitask
  • Good computer skills
  • Pays close attention to detail
  • Works well independently
  • Works well under pressure
  • Maintains a professional attitude

Kimberly Spakes, Risk Manager

” Do your research! Of the firm, of the job title, and of your expectations.”

Alyssa McElwain, CLS Paralegal I Instructor

“Research the firm that you are interviewing with. Dress appropriately. Make sure to arrive 10 to 15 minutes prior to the interview – if you are not familiar with the location MapQuest it and if possible, drive it prior to the interview. Most law firms are in cities so make sure to check out the parking situation – it is not uncommon to have to park a block or more away from the building. Being prepared for the interview will also give you more confidence and allow you to be more relaxed.

Dawn Parker, Paralegal

“PREPAREDNESS OVERCOMES NERVES. Having all your ducks in a row can help you feel confident rather than nervous. Prepare, prepare, prepare! Knowing your details and your value proposition inside-out will help you stay cool under pressure. Research the types of questions a hiring lawyer might ask. Google is your friend here. Even better: if you have any friends in the law profession, or who work in an office manager role in a legal environment, ask them for tips on this.

Kimberly Spakes, Risk Manager

“As long as you’re confident, ready to learn, and express your gratitude for the opportunity to meet with the managing attorneys or their HR, you should receive an email or a call to advise as to your employment or lack thereof. It is always good to send a follow up email to thank whomever you met with for their time.”

Alyssa McElwain, CLS Paralegal I Instructor

” Do your research! But it is good to ask questions relating to the expectations the recruiter may have of you.”

Alyssa McElwain, CLS Paralegal I Instructor

“Ask specific questions about the job duties you would be performing. Ask about the caseload you are expected to handle. If it is a defense law firm, ask how many billable hours they require you to submit each month.”

Dawn Parker, Paralegal

” Research…. But typically, business casual/business professional. You can always ask too.”

Alyssa McElwain, CLS Paralegal I Instructor

“I am old school and still always wear a suit however the dress code for law firms have become more casual. Always dress in a business manner. Never wear jeans or leggings.”

Dawn Parker, Paralegal

“Consider a classic business suit or conservative work-appropriate outfit, especially if you are not sure about the firm’s dress code. While you may want to show off your personality, most law firms take professional appearance very seriously. This is not the time to show off your personality! If you wear the wrong outfit, you can seriously hurt your hiring chances.”

Kimberly Spakes, Risk Manager

“Send an email, yes.”

Alyssa McElwain, CLS Paralegal I Instructor

“I know that most advise you to send a thank you note however I like to either make a phone call or send an email. Making a call or sending an email is more personal and almost always guarantees that you will be directly contacting the person you interviewed with.”

Dawn Parker, Paralegal

“It important to write a thank-you letter after an interview. When you write a thank-you note after an interview, you gain yet another opportunity to influence your potential employer’s decision. Also, if you write a thank-you note, you can reiterate your interest in and qualifications for the position.”

Kimberly Spakes, Risk Manager

“I think asking if the proposed salary is firm, and if it is not, you should propose your requested salary if your experience is worth more than their proposed salary.”

Alyssa McElwain, CLS Paralegal I Instructor

“Yes”

Dawn Parker, Paralegal

” Have confidence and choose the one that is the right fit for you.”

Alyssa McElwain, CLS Paralegal I Instructor

“Consider the work that you will be performing – will you enjoy the type of work? Consider factors such as will you need to pay for parking? Will you have benefits? How long or close is your commute? Did you like the people that you interviewed with? Did you feel comfortable with the people you interviewed with? Does the work schedule meet your needs and requirements?”

Dawn Parker, Paralegal