Getting an entry-level paralegal job

I just came from the annual fall Los Angeles Paralegal Association (LAPA) Conference. This year there were quite a few students at the conference and also some individuals who were looking to change careers and get into the paralegal field. The question I always get asked at these conferences is: “How do I get an entry-level or junior paralegal position?” As promised, I am going to address that question here.

Situation #1-If you are a recent college graduate who graduated with a Bachelors Degree from a top school AND your GPA is 3.5 or higher, you are probably in one of the best positions to get a junior paralegal position. Having your Bachelors Degree and an ABA approved paralegal certificate is probably the best position to be in.  
A lot of the larger law firms look for recent college graduates from top schools to train as paralegals. This does not apply for those people who only have an ABA paralegal certificate. If you are one of these people with a recent Bachelors Degree and ABA certificate, I highly encourage you to apply directly to some of the top firms such as Latham & Watkins, O’Melveny & Meyers etc… These types of paralegal candidates are the type that recruiters can probably be the best resource for.
Situation #2-If you are a recent graduate of an ABA approved paralegal program, but DO NOT have prior legal experience, a recruiter is probably not the best resource for you until you get a minimum of one to two years of experience. What you can do to find a job after graduating from paralegal school is to get to as many networking events as possible and try to get any law firm experience even if it is working for a small firm or doing pro-bono work. You may even want to go through and find attorneys and small law firms through Linkedin.com or Martindale Hubbell. You can then call these attorneys directly and offer your services to these attorneys or firms at a reduced rate in order to get on the job experience.
Situation #3-If you are a recent graduate of an ABA approved paralegal program AND you do have recent law firm experience, you can often leverage that experience to find a “hybrid” paralegal position where you can do paralegal AND secretarial work or paralegal AND records etc… Sometimes you might even be able to land a paralegal position directly out of paralegal school depending on how substantive your prior legal experience was. Having recent law firm experience can make it a lot easier for you to find a paralegal position once you graduate.
Situation #4-If you are a recent graduate of an ABA approved paralegal program and you are changing careers, you can sometimes parlay your prior experience into a new position. For example, if you are coming from a real estate company and looking to become a paralegal, that can often be one of the easiest transitions for a career change. A lot of law firms will look at recent paralegal program graduates if they have prior commercial real estate experience and/or title and survey review experience. This can also be true of other areas of law such as corporate law and intellectual property law. If you do have experience in another field, outside of legal, you may want to add a “Summary of Qualifications” to the top of your resume and bullet point your relevant paralegal related experience at the top such as research, writing etc… Also, you want to make sure and leverage your other corporate connections and use the people in your network to help you get a position.
I hope this information is helpful for you and wish you the best of luck in your job hunt!

How do I handle it if I was terminated from my last job?

Getting fired is never easy. Many people will be terminated for one reason or another at some point in their career, however, I have noticed in speaking with a lot of the unemployed that they are confused about what constitutes a “lay off” versus a “termination.”  Many job seekers are going into an interview saying they were terminated, when that is not actually the case. 

In recent years, many people have been laid off due the the economy. Typically a lay off is something that happens when a company has to make cut backs for whatever reason. 
The term termination is most often used to describe when someone has been terminated for cause. Being terminated for cause means that you did something that caused the company to have to terminate you.
Examples of reasons someone would be terminated for cause are as follows:
-Sharing trade secrets or confidential information
-Violating a company policy
-Stealing
-Constantly being late or missing too much work
-Making too many mistakes
etc…
A lay off often happens because:
-A company is cutting staff
-A company is relocating
-A company is restructuring
It is important to be clear whether you were laid off or terminated. Even if you were terminated, I would not recommend using the word “termination” to describe your reason for leaving, such as saying “I was terminated.” The word termination has a very negative connotation in our culture.
An employer will never say you were terminated either. They can only confirm your dates of hire, salary and in some cases, whether or not you are eligible for rehire.
If you were terminated and have to explain why you left your last position, you might want to try saying that “You came to a mutual decision that it was not the right fit,” or something similar that conveys that you and the company came to a decision for you to part ways.
Being asked directly if you were terminated, is very different then being asked why you left your last position. If you are asked directly on an application or by an employer whether or not you ever have been terminated, you have to be 100% honest at all times and state yes, if you have been terminated.
Whether you were “laid off” or “terminated,” you always want to be sure to use the GOOD-BAD-GOOD method in explaining why you left your last position.
Always start with the GOOD, why you originally accepted the position and why you stayed there as long as you did, then lightly touch on the BAD, why the lay off or termination happened, and finally follow up with the GOOD, what you intend to create out of leaving your most recent position, ie. what is next for you.
Stay away from saying things like “it was not my choice,” “it was unfair” etc… Instead, look at how you can find the positive in all of this and convey your positive attitude in the interview regardless of your circumstances.