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You recently graduated, and it’s time to start your paralegal career. You received your bachelor’s degree, your associate degree or your certificate, and you can’t believe how much you have learned. Now it’s time for your job search, which presents a new challenge: proving to a prospective employer that you can translate all of that theory into action. Maybe you have sent out resumes and had some interviews. Those interviews have gone well, but, ultimately, you haven’t received an offer. The paralegal manager you interviewed with was impressed by you, and she recommended that you stay in touch. If she had a job geared more toward entry level, she would hire you, or maybe if you had some experience. That’s the Catch-22. How do you get the experience? Taking on a few temporary assignments may be the solution. Law firms request temporary help to fill short-term needs, and they are more likely to take a chance on an entry-level candidate with strong potential when the commitment is limited and the stakes are not as high. That is especially true if the assignment involves a team of temporary employees, for document review or trial prep, for instance, and the team is made up of both entry-level and experienced paralegals. Suppose a legal temporary staffing agency sends you and three other temporary paralegals to help with a large document review for two weeks at a well-known firm. You will be working closely with two of the paralegals on the firm’s permanent staff and getting a chance to interact with several associates. This is an important opportunity, and you have to make it count. A temporary assignment such as the one described will give you a chance to learn more than how to review and code documents. It will give you an opportunity to observe how a firm works and how paralegals can be effective members of a team. It will also enable you to observe what distinguishes a star from his or her co-workers. Identify the paralegal who is the most valued and trusted — the one to whom everyone goes when it’s crunch time — and follow that paralegal’s lead. Learn by emulating the best. Take initiative whenever appropriate, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If there is something about your assignment that you do not understand, ask for clarification. Assess the expectations the firm has of its paralegal staff and live up to those expectations as if you were a permanent member of the team. Remember that managers have the same high expectations of temporary employees as they do of their permanent staff. Make the effort to be an exemplary employee in punctuality, attendance, effort and attention to detail, because those are the characteristics that firms look for in permanent employees. A temporary assignment is an opportunity to demonstrate your skills and your work ethic. Think of it as an extended interview. Even if a permanent position is not available immediately, a good legal administrator or paralegal manager will remember the paralegal who did well on temporary assignments. Even if your temporary assignment is in the litigation department and you want to work in corporate, you could get a glowing recommendation for the chairman of that department when the time comes — if you demonstrate the best qualities now. Remember that a recommendation from inside the firm can open seemingly locked doors. Law firms are interested in finding job candidates who are dependable, enthusiastic, conscientious and honest, no matter what the practice area. Experienced managers know that an entry-level paralegal can be trained in the skills necessary to succeed in a particular department, but a good attitude and a strong work ethic are not as easy to teach. Prospective legal employers expect you to show initiative. Earning experience through temporary assignments is one way to demonstrate that you have it. Taking on assignments will show that you are versatile, flexible and willing to work hard. This is your chance to show what you can do, help the firm meet its goals, and develop mutually beneficial relationships. Good luck!

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