Aspiring trainees: paralegal work dos and don'ts
Training contracts are becoming harder and harder to obtain, and it may take you several attempts before you are offered one. Combine this harsh reality with the fact that training contracts are recruited two years in advance and the result is that you are likely to spend a few years after graduation working in a paralegal position. Following are some dos and don’ts that will help you turn an unwanted delay into a priceless career step.
Do get to know members of the graduate recruitment department. Don’t be pushy, but do maintain a constant lookout for opportunities to become familiar with these people—after all, they are the ones who will be deciding whether to offer you a training contract someday.
Do identify and become familiar with various practice areas. Once you have identified a practice area of particular interest, do your best to focus on this area, to the extent that your firm will allow this.
When it comes time to interview for a training contract, nothing is more impressive than knowing exactly where you want to go and being able to explain why you want to do so, based on hands-on experience and a successful track record.
Do keep a career-development diary. You are going to make mistakes—there is simply no way around it. The difference in success and failure in paralegal work—as in just about any other endeavour—is to learn from them. Keeping a career-development diary is something few people do, and doing it effectively can put you a step ahead of your peers.
An effective career-development diary will list every single important mistake you have made, exactly what general deficiency it reveals about your work performance (insufficient attention-to-detail, for example), a note on how to avoid repeating this mistake and a reminder to ask your supervisor for feedback in a few weeks. Review your diary periodically so that you won’t forget anything.
Don’t treat your paralegal position like a pit stop on the way to a training contract. It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to turn your paralegal position into a pit stop on the way to a training contract is not to treat it that way. Since paralegals often carry out identical or similar tasks as trainees, your paralegal position could turn out to be priceless. Take it as seriously as you would a long-term career position.
Don’t be shy about asking for help .The old saying: “It’s better to ask a stupid question than to make a stupid mistake” is time-tested wisdom. Be sure to formulate your question carefully and describe your problem clearly. If you can do that much, however, most people will be happy to help.
Don’t ignore your peers. It’s possible that you may work at a super-competitive firm where your fellow paralegals treat you as an enemy rather than as a colleague. The vast majority of firms are not that way, however. Build connections with your fellow paralegals, because sharing information about your struggles could benefit all of you without the risk of being judged by a superior.
A complete list of dos and don’ts would fill an entire volume with text. To handle life as a paralegal successfully, keep in constant touch with your peers, don’t ignore advice from those with more experience than you, and use your common sense. The rest of what you need to know, you will learn as you go along.
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