Career and networking tips from Anthony J. Iannini, Delaware Paralegal Association Board Advisor and Former President and UD Professional and Continuing Studies Professional Advisory Board member
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all of you on your achievement. You should be extremely proud of your accomplishment.
While your graduation from UD's Paralegal Certificate marks the conclusion of your education, it also begins the next phase of your journey into your future.
By now, I'm sure all of you are painfully aware of our staggering economy and the effect it has had on the U.S. job market. The legal profession is not exempt from these hardships. However, we cannot blame the economy for everything. There are many good jobs to be found and many success stories to be told. It will be up to each of you to find your opportunity and write your own story.
The paralegal profession is a challenging, rewarding and noble career choice; one for which there is good news on the horizon. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of Paralegals and Legal Assistants is projected to grow 28 percent between now and 2018, a growth that is much faster than the average for all other occupations. This estimate is almost twice the growth rate for attorney jobs as paralegals increasingly perform many legal tasks that were formerly carried out by attorneys.
This statistic is great news for the paralegal profession as more and more firms try to reduce costs while still providing the same quality legal services to their clients. The easiest way for them to achieve that goal is to replace higher salaried attorneys with competent paralegals who can produce the same work product. This is where you will have the opportunity to write another chapter in your story.
The demand for paralegals changes proportionately to other factors, such as the economy, the population, the environment and even world affairs. As the population grows, and economic conditions change, additional legal services will be needed in the areas of real estate, educational law, healthcare, elder law, bankruptcy, medical malpractice and product liability and even criminal law, just to name a few.
While your responsibilities may vary depending on the area of law you are in and the type of organization for which you work, it is imperative that you possess legal knowledge and understanding of legal concepts and the law combined with a practical knowledge of legal forms and procedures.
You may be asked to perform investigations, conduct factual and other legal research, draft legal documents, assist with the drafting of discovery and trial preparation, assist at trials or hearings, review, organize and maintain documents, interview witnesses, or manage databases of important case information. With the education and training you have received here at the University of Delaware, you are more than prepared to meet these challenges head on.
But is that enough? Despite the projected growth for the paralegal profession, you are still entering a highly competitive profession. For every paralegal job opening, I assure you, there will be several candidates vying for the position, some with more experience than you, some with less.
How are YOU going to differentiate yourself from the rest of the crowd? What can YOU bring to the table that none of the other candidates can? What will make YOUR resume stand out in the pile of resumes that are being considered for the position for which you applied?
I would like to offer you to following tips:
Fine tune your resume—Proofreading is critical. Make sure your resume is clear and concise, easy to read, and please spell check and verify that there are no errors before you send it out to a potential employer.
Perform Community Service and other volunteer work—Firms look for involvement in other activities and community service work which enhances their visibility, reputation and outreach into the communities they serve. When you are up against a dozen other candidates with identical qualifications and experience, your involvement in community service and other charitable organizations allows you to bring something unique to a potential employer and forces you to stand out in the crowd of otherwise identical candidates.
Network, Network, Network! The legal profession is all about networking. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to join a local paralegal association and network with your peers. There is no better resource than a group of colleagues to reach out to who work in the same area of law that you do if you need information or have questions. Joining a local paralegal association is a great way to meet some of these colleagues and develop professional relationships that can be a real asset to your career as a paralegal.
Have writing samples prepared to present to potential employers. Take the best writing projects you completed during your paralegal education and make them better! Excellent writing skills are critical to a paralegal. If your best paper earned a "93," do whatever it takes to make it a "100" before you submit it to a potential employer.
Get published. Prepare an article for your school's newsletter or a local paralegal association newsletter or a national paralegal publication. When you are published, it not only increases your visibility among your peers, but it also provides you with another opportunity to provide a quality writing sample to a potential employer.
If you have the ability to do so, work for a small firm when you are starting out, before applying to work for a large firm. Working at a smaller firm forces you to wear more "hats" and learn every aspect of the job. It also affords you the opportunity to see aspects of the job that you may not otherwise see working for a large firm and become self-reliant, which is a very good skill to have when you are a paralegal.
Apply for jobs you would not normally apply for. You just never know where they may take you.
Never stop learning. The law changes every day. Court rules and procedures change every day. Force yourself to learn something new daily and continue your education by taking continuing legal education (CLE) courses or seminars as often as possible.
Be proactive. Be persistent. Be persuasive. Be positive. If you think the job is right for you, convince the job that you're right for it.
Most important, never give up! You may have to apply for several positions before you get hired. Never let that discourage you. Practice makes perfect, and the more interviews you have, the more refined your interview will become.
As you complete your paralegal education program and step out of the role of student, step into the role of "job seeker" and embark on your new career path, let me not only congratulate you on everything that you have accomplished here, but let me also be the first to welcome you all as my new colleagues.
I wish all of you nothing but the best of luck and tremendous success always, and look forward to working with you all someday.
Anthony J. Iannini, AACP, DCP, PaCP
Board Advisor and Former President, Delaware Paralegal Association
Professional Advisory Board Member, University of Delaware, Division of Professional and Continuing Studies