Saturday, November 30, 2013

Unlocking the key to success in the paralegal field

Paralegals work with attorneys to prepare legal documents in law offices, government agencies, public interest organizations, or corporations. So a fundamental element of becoming a successful paralegal is being able to work well within this team environment and building connections with those in the field to obtain these positions. That is why we help our paralegal students build networking skills they can use to start and fuel their career.

One of the ways that we do that is with our Paralegal Student Association’s annual Paralegal Symposium and Networking Event, which brings students, alumni, faculty, staff, and community members together to speak on the legal profession, the role of the paralegal, and issues that are impacting the field. This year’s event was held on Nov. 12, and keynoted by Robert Hrouda, the President of the National Federation of Paralegal Association (NFPA).

Robert is the first president from Philadelphia of this national organization, so it was a great honor that he came to speak with us about how he got his start. Robert, like many Peirce students, went back to college as a non-traditional student. He was not working in the legal profession, but thought the paralegal profession was a good fit given his interests and skills.

He thoroughly enjoys being a paralegal, and described the enormous rewards that he has received from being a paralegal, both professionally and personally. Robert discussed the importance of making connections with other paralegals, both locally and nationally. He noted that because of his affiliation with NFPA, he was able to contact paralegals in other states to obtain information about vendors for an upcoming trial outside of Philadelphia.

After Robert spoke, we opened the floor up for short presentations from representatives from regional paralegal organizations, including South Jersey Paralegal Association, Chester County Paralegal Association, Montgomery County Paralegal Association, Delaware County Paralegal Association, Philadelphia Association of Paralegals, and the Keystone Alliance. They spoke on how joining these associations can help students network with peers and colleagues, supplement their education, and provide mentoring from more experienced professionals in the field.

Attending events like this one can have a lasting impact on your career because you can network with like-minded individuals who can potentially be future employers or connect you to one. If you would like to attend one of our paralegal events in the future, here are three pieces of advice to keep in mind:
  • Make sure you speak with everyone in the room. You never know who will hear of an open opportunity down the road, or have an “in” at the firm where you would like to complete an internship. So while it may be easier to stick to a small group, circulate and talk to everyone who attends a paralegal event.
  • Have your elevator speech prepared. When you approach someone you have not met before, have your elevator speech prepared. For paralegals, that should include your name, degree you are expecting, any organizations you are involved in, current course work, volunteer work, and prior experience that shows off your transferrable skills. Of course, it's also great to note the Peirce‘s paralegal program is ABA approved.
  • Don’t be afraid to get involved. I find one of the great things about the paralegal field is that it’s comprised of very collegial, supportive individuals. There is so much outreach and support here, and often alumni in the field will contact me to let students know about job opportunities in their organizations. Moreover, the ideation and information-sharing within the paralegal organizations is fantastic, and members often tap the network to discuss legal issues, offer paralegal-oriented advice, and provide mentoring support. There are many benefits to be reaped from participating in these organizations, so do not be intimidated to come to an event or to join your favorite local branch.
Networking is paramount to success in the paralegal field, and attending events like the symposium are a great way to get started. We’ll be convening in January to schedule new paralegal events for the spring. Is there something you’d like to see us do? Let us know in a comment.