Hot Careers as a Paralegal and How to Prepare for Them
It’s never too early to start preparing for your best career fit – a top legal recruiter shares the latest opportunities ranging inside and outside law firms.
Studying to be a paralegal is an attractive and popular career path, one filled with opportunities for anyone willing to take the leap and acquire the proper educational background. But students and recent grads often don’t consider all the options that are available – and that can be a missed opportunity.
There’s more to success than just getting a certificate. Several often-overlooked strategies can give aspiring paralegals an advantage in the marketplace, and it’s never too early to start preparing and looking at all the possibilities, inside and outside law firms, said Jennifer Evans, executive legal recruiter and co-founder of Access Talent Solutions.
“I’ve found that so many new graduates and students think of only searching paralegal and assistant paralegals jobs, but that’s a mistake,” she said. “It’s really important to be aware of all the opportunities that are often overlooked in law firms or in-house legal departments, like docketing case clerk, compliance support, contract specialist and legal operations coordinator, to name a few.”
A rather new and promising position for paralegals, legal operations, didn’t exist five years ago, she added. It’s a fastgrowing career option that involves managing the day-to-day functions of a law office or corporate legal department – connecting all the dots, scheduling, dealing with outside vendors, and more.
“New paralegals should also consider looking into intellectual property law, which is a hot market right now,” Evans said. “But to find the best fit, you need to discover which area you’re best suited for. Corporate law and litigation roles require totally different skill sets and personalities.”
Interested in breaking into this wide-ranging field? Demand in California has increased across the board and is projected to grow even further. Evans lists litigation, intellectual property law, and estate planning as among the hottest practices today, and increased hiring in corporate and real estate law may well be on the horizon as the COVID-19 situation becomes clearer.
Proper preparation is key to landing a dream job in any of these areas. Before starting out on a paralegal journey, consider the following expert advice from Evans, a frequent guest speaker for the DCE Paralegal certificate program.
Start your LinkedIn network as early as possible
It’s never too early to start networking, Evans said. In fact, when you’re studying to be a paralegal, consider every conversation, every classmate and instructor as a networking opportunity. Each one could eventually open doors for you down the line.
“Always be networking, starting as early in your education as possible,” Evans said. “Consider every relationship you have in class as potentially part of your network and start building out a professional-looking LinkedIn profile. Most people don’t even think about networking until they absolutely need to.”
One of the best ways to expand your network is by joining a group like the Orange County Paralegal Association. Students can apply for membership online and join any number of specialized groups. It’s easy to apply for a student membership on the OCPA website.
“Demand [for Paralegals] in California has increased across the board and is projected to grow even further.”
Jennifer Evans, Executive Legal Recruiter and Co-founder of Access Talent Solutions
Volunteering can be a strong career move
Consider volunteering with a local organization like Community Legal Aid SoCal – it can be a great way to gain experience and tons of connections. It might even lead to a full-time position down the line.
“Volunteering is absolutely a great opportunity for aspiring paralegals,” Evans said. “There is a wide variety of organizations in the local area where you can get your feet wet. And right now is a great time to start.”
Because of economic hardships caused by COVID-19, a number of attorneys are volunteering to help with foreclosures, evictions, issues involving job losses and other legal matters. It’s a good opportunity for students and new paralegals to connect with them, find out about the legal profession and get experience.
Aside from Legal Aid, Evans recommends Public Law Center and American Bar Association as outstanding volunteer organizations for anyone pursuing a career in law.
Conduct informational interviews
Request an informational interview with attorneys and legal professionals in fields you’re interested in. It’s an effective but often overlooked way for students to be proactive in their career journey.
“Consider sending an email saying something like, ‘My name is <Your Name>, and I’m a college student at UCI who is interested in <area of law that interests you>. Your career path is very inspirational to me, and I wondered if you would be open to speaking with me. As an aspiring paralegal, I’d love to learn more about which skills you’ve used the most and tips you may have for someone looking to work in your similar field of work.’ Evans said. “Make it clear you aren’t asking for a job, you’re just a student who’d like to know some background, explore traits needed to be successful in that field, and get an idea what a typical day is like.”
You might discover the field isn’t a good fit, and you can move on to a more suitable option. Either way, be sure to follow up afterward by requesting a LinkedIn connection to expand your network. Like Evans said, “ABN” – Always Be Networking.
Leverage your non-legal experience
Many people have a hard time seeing how their current experience might transfer to the legal world, but focusing on specific transferable skills and key accomplishments from other fields can pay off with a job that opens the door to a paralegal career, Evans said.
Her mother is a great example, a successful architect who leveraged an entry-level temporary clerk job, bate stamping documents, into a paralegal career. “She was able to network and use the firm on her resume to land her first paralegal position.” More recently, Evans helped a new graduate who had no legal background whatsoever prepare to apply for a law position. They focused on reworking her resume to reflect all her relevant skills from her current job.
“She had not worked in a legal position before, but that didn’t matter. She was super bright and had done well in her current office job. We used that experience! We also worked on leveraging her network. I gave her a lot of tips, but she did the work. She called me a couple weeks ago to let me know she was offered a role in legal operations at a top Fortune 500 company. Super excited for her.”
Learn more about the Paralegal Certificate Program.