Thursday, August 20, 2009

Which comes first: Paralegal Job or Paralegal Experience?

Looking for a job following graduation from a paralegal program can be daunting. Firms won't hire you because you have no experience. You can't get any experience unless you get a job. In other words, you can't win for losing!

I received this question from a subscriber this week:

Dear Vicki,

I enjoyed listening to your broadcast on the Legal Talk Network and I found your show/advice very informative and helpful. I have a bachelor's degree and earned a paralegal certificate from an ABA approved paralegal program in 2008. My job search for a paralegal position has not gone well because all the paralegal jobs in my practice area of interest, Intellectual Property (Patent Law), require work experience. My paralegal program did not have an internship program.

How do I get the work experience in my practice area of interest?
This not an unusual situation to be in. Here's my response...the advice would be the same regardless of the practice area.

Thanks for your kind words about The Paralegal Voice...glad you liked it.

Your question about getting work in your practice area without having practical experience is a common one. You have the education, but no way to demonstrate that you can do the work in the very specialized area of Intellectual Property ... made even more specialized if you're looking at patent law.

Patent firms are not inclined to hire people right out paralegal school to work in patent law. Quite frankly, they do not usually hire attorneys to work in this niche unless they have some patent law classes under their belt or an engineering degree. They expect any paralegals they hire to bring strong skills to the table.

The best path is to get some experience...any experience and in any practice area...first. Do not hold out for a patent paralegal position. Target a firm that does IP or patent law work and take any paralegal job they offer. If that doesn't work, you should get a job with any firm you can just to get paralegal experience.

If you do work in a firm that does IP or patent law, you can ask for extra assignments in that area. This may have to be on your own time, but it will be worth it. If you have no access to IP work, do your job well and take every classes you can that will help you learn more about the practice area. Continuing education is key.

Good luck with your paralegal career! As always, I'm...

Dedicated to your success!

Vicki Voisin, ACP
Your Paralegal Mentor
Ethics Expert, Speaker and Author

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