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From legal student to paralegal professional

For many students, graduating from college with a degree in paralegal studies is a moment filled with starry eyes and great hopes for a new and improved career choice. Then they begin to look for a job.

"I'm sorry, but we really need someone who has had some experience in this area." Rejection, for many students, has become a common and incredibly discouraging occurrence.

In this day and age the need for higher education in the work force is a must. So for many students the decision to go back to school was not tough, but the time and sacrifice it takes is, and all of it only to find that employment seems to be just out of reach in their new career field.

However, there is valid reasoning behind that. It makes sense that potential employers would want to have someone who knows the ropes and needs little-to-no guidance once hired on. What could a new graduate with no prior law office experience possibly have to offer a potential employer? Here are a few potential offerings a new graduate could provide you with.

Offering number one: Enthusiasm. A new graduate can offer a great deal of fresh enthusiasm for the job at hand. Sometimes we don't realize how something as simple as an enthusiastic fresh face is just the thing we need to pick up office morale or to bring a little life back to the job.

Remember, to a student fresh out of school, everything being learned on the job is a new and exciting adventure. Putting all that you've learned in class to use and the experience gained from actually working in the field and from your fellow colleagues just can't be taught in lecture or books.

This experience is invaluable and any new graduate that is worth their salt is thankful for it. New graduates are motivated and eager to prove their abilities in the work force. By hiring that graduate you may find a diamond in the rough and be a part of honing that talent.

Offering number two: A clean slate. This is something many don't often think about as a plus. How often have you told that experienced person you just hired, or more likely tried to convince them, that their method of doing things just doesn't work well in your office? A new graduate is going to come into your environment with no preconceived ideas or bad habits to break; this is someone that is going to learn to do things as you would like them done. That lack of experience may just turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Offering number three: A new graduate is up to date with the latest in paralegal education and it is fresh in their mind. Most new graduates have had the benefit of learning the latest in computer software and technology.

Many schools offer, or require as a prerequisite of graduation, training in the latest legal research and Microsoft Office programs. When interviewing a new graduate, find out if they received their education from an ABA-approved program. This can give you some idea as to the scope of their education.

ABA-approved programs require that a graduate demonstrate competency in critical thinking skills by being able to adequately analyze a problem, construct logical arguments in support of specific positions and formulate logical solutions. Organizational skills are taught and their importance is emphasized. Graduates must demonstrate excellent communication skills by exhibiting tact and diplomacy.

Paralegal graduates have been taught the importance of adapting to new situations as they arise, having the ability to multi-task and understanding that they need to ask questions and seek guidance when it is appropriate. Paralegal graduates are also expected to be competent in legal research skills, computer skills, interviewing and investigation techniques and office management skills, and to be well aware of their professional and ethical obligations.

Offering number four: Life experience. Not all paralegal graduates, but a large majority of them, are older students and have life experience that they can bring to the table. Many students (myself included) have been employed outside of the legal field and have never worked in a law office. Many cannot land internships (myself included) and are unable to gain experience in an office environment that way. Nevertheless, what we can offer is fresh perspective and a new angle when handling cases.

Clients and the cases that they bring can be diverse and complex. Having a legal team with backgrounds that mirror that diversity and complexity can be an asset. Having someone who's "been there, done that" can give you an edge or the "inside scoop" that can make or break your case.

For instance, in a construction defect case, if you have a former contractor or building inspector turned paralegal on your team, their perspective and former expertise at your disposal could only help your cause. When interviewing a new graduate you may want to find out if there is more to their background than just lack of office experience. There could be more to them than meets the eye and they may have just what you didn't know you were looking for.

It is true that these are simple offerings and taking a chance on inexperience may seem like more trouble than it's worth. If so, then try to think of it from this perspective: Who gave you your first chance? Where was it you gained your experience and where would you be today if you hadn't been given that opportunity to prove yourself?

The long-run benefits of hiring that newbie paralegal are there and yours for the hiring. So give a new graduate a chance -- you may be pleasantly surprised.

Katrina Allen graduated with honors from Cuyamaca College’s ABA approved paralegal program in

December 2004. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa and the winner of West Legal Studies Award for Outstanding Scholastic Achievement.

Allen is the current president of the Cuyamaca Association of Paralegal Students and recently established Cuyamaca College as a chapter of Lambda Epsilon Chi, a nationally recognized paralegal/legal assistant honor society. Her current projects include an induction ceremony for the newly established honor society and instituting Cuyamaca College as an Affiliated Association of NALA.

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