One of the questions we often receive via our social media is: “How do I find a paralegal role without any legal work experience?” The simple answer is: it’s tricky. However, it’s not impossible.
Plenty of people have done it before, and so can you. In this blog post we’ve tried to break down some tried and tested tips you can reasonable take to build your experience and really make your applications stand out.
Why you should consider roles in all areas of law
Let’s get something big out of the way: the very start of your legal career is the hardest stage by far. Once you have experience from one paralegal role under your belt, it’s much easier to progress from there and fine more. So even if you have an interest in media litigation, or shipping law, or contract negotiation, and thats all you can see yourself doing – be open to other entry level roles. They can help you gain that valuable first bit of experience, help you build some fundamental, and give you exposure to the wider industry.
There’s plenty of roles you can pursue in law that you don’t require you to be a fully qualified lawyer. Many roles are accessible with just a law degree or comparable qualification, such as:
- Legal Assistant
- Legal Secretary
- Legal Researcher
- Legal Analyst
If you can secure one of these roles, and stay there long enough to gain good experience, you’re set. From there, you can start directing your career towards the area of law you really want to work in. The honest truth is that all experience is important, and can add value to any application if you convey it directly. So don’t be too picky to begin with – just get your foot in the door.
Why you should approach smaller legal firms
Many law graduates come out of university thinking that they’ll be able to walk into an entry-level role at a City law firm. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case.
Competition is incredibly fierce for City law firms, even for the most entry-level roles. If you don’t have existing experience, you’ll probably have to build some up somewhere else first. Consider reaching out to smaller boutique / high-street firms where you may have a greater chance of securing work.
Start by finding some small firms in your local area, and identifying some decision makers on LinkedIn or their website. Then, contact them via email or message them on LinkedIn, asking if you can virtually assist with any basic tasks for an afternoon/few days. It will give you credible experience to put down on your applications and shows your initiative.
If you don’t have any success, you can always widen the net and try again with different firms.
Why you should try out Pro Bono work
Make no mistake, getting legal experience is hard. However, legal experience doesn’t have to be paid. Pro Bono work is not only a fantastic way to help those who otherwise couldn’t get legal support, it’s also a great option for anyone looking to build up their legal work experience.
In fact, many legal professionals get their start by volunteering for pro bono centres like the Citizens Advice Bureau, or through university Pro Bono Societies. These offer some really high quality direct client-facing experience, and often allow you to manage your own caseloads.
Getting just a few months of pro-bono experience can really make your future applications stand out. Obviously, the work is unpaid so isn’t for everyone. But those with the option to devote time to pro bono work should absolutely consider it.
Furthermore, pro bono work can even be used as SQE Qualifying Work Experience, meaning it can also contribute to your legal qualification under the SQE.
Here’s some other pro bono organisations worth looking at:
- National Pro Bono Centre
- LawWorks Pro Bono
- Free Representation Unit
- Prisoners Advice Service
- Support through Court
- Child Law Advice
Virtual internships are another great way to increase your commercial awareness, and develop an early understanding of the kind of tasks you might be expected to complete on a vacation scheme or as a trainee solicitor.
We highly recommend checking out Forage, which is a completely free and accessible platform showing a range of virtual programmes in partnership with leading firms.
Places can be tricky to secure, but they’re still well worth a look!
Develop a narrative of interest
Let’s say you’re applying to work in a specific role that you have little to no experience in. A key way to stand out from other applicants is to build a consistent narrative in your application that demonstrates your interest.
Remember, just because you don’t have experience in a certain area of law doesn’t mean you can’t show your interest in it. Think about the modules you studied at University. Were there any you particularly enjoyed? Were there any you did particularly well in? What area of law did you your dissertation focus on? Did you do any coursework or exams that scored highly in a specific area? If you can think of anything that might apply to your application, make sure you include it.
But don’t stop there – keep your answers to the above in mind and start to think about ways you can further bolster that interest. Can you volunteer to write for a law blog / magazine in that area? Can you attend a virtual talk or insight day at a firm with a specialism in that area? Could you find someone who works in that area who would be willing to have you shadow them for a day?
Doing all of this shows that you are interested in the area, and will give you an edge in the application process. Ultimately, you’re trying to convince the person reading your application just how much you want the role. Even if you don’t have any explicitly relevant experience, it can indicate that you’ll turn up eager to learn and enthusiastic about the position.
Convey your experiences in a convincing way
I’m sure you’ve heard of the STAR technique, and that’s for good reason: it works.
When answering a question / recounting an experience, it’s easy to get carried away and end up adding unnecessary information. When you’re reading back through the application and editing it, remember to keep it concise by using the STAR technique. Outline the Situation and Task briefly, focusing on the Action you took and the Result you achieved. This is a great way to demonstrate competencies from both legal and non-legal experiences, particularly if you lack the former. Here’s an example:
- S – I worked as a waiter at Restaurant X alongside my university studies.
- T – I was given responsibility to lead a training session for new staff members.
- A – I brainstormed a training plan based on internal processes and my own experiences in the job. I organised and delivered the training session, ensuring each trainee met the required criteria throughout. I then scheduled individual follow-ups with the new staff members to ensure any additional questions were answered.
- R – Restaurant X’s TripAdvisor rating increased by 10%, with several of the staff members I trained being quoted as “outstanding” and “very impressive” in the reviews. I was also asked to deliver further training sessions by my manager due to excellent feedback on my performance.
This is only a rough example, but try to think about how you could appropriate it for your own experience.