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Writing Paralegal Resumes
Tips for experienced and new paralegals.
Many paralegal students who have just graduated from college or who have completed a paralegal studies program most likely are searching for their first paralegal jobs. Experienced paralegals also might be looking to change jobs. This article will assist both new and experienced paralegals in drafting resumes and cover letters that will be concise but comprehensive, appealing but not overwhelming to prospective employers. Sample paralegal resumes and cover letters also are included.
Resumes for New Paralegals
Let’s begin with some general pointers. Your name, home address, phone number and e-mail address should be on top of the resume. Use more common computer fonts, such as 12-point Times New Roman. Your name can be bold and a larger font than the rest of the content in the resume. Try to keep the resume to one page, if possible. Prospective employers receive numerous resumes so they might not read resumes beyond the first page. Many resumes usually contain four to five sections. Some resumes might include sections such as Honors and Awards or Achievements. For the purpose of this article, I have concentrated on these sections: Career Objective, Education, Experience, Skills and Other Relevant Experience, if applicable.
Career objective. This is important for several reasons. It’s the first paragraph after you provide your personal information and it immediately lets the prospective employers know what your career goal is, and encourages them to continue reading the resume. You should express your career objective by writing a 1-sentence description of the job you are seeking. If you are unsure of the area of legal practice in which you want to specialize, focus your objective to a general practice of law. Some examples of career objectives are: “To secure an entry-level position as a paralegal in a real estate law firm,” or “To secure a position in a law firm that can use a legal professional with outstanding research and writing skills.”
Education. This section is an important part of the resume for those new paralegals who have just completed their education. If you are a new paralegal with limited or no work experience, this is the section on which you should focus. Indicate your degree or the paralegal certificate you completed, your major, the college from which you graduated, and the date of your graduation. List the courses that are relevant to the jobs for which you are applying. In general, law firms seek prospective employees who have skills in areas of legal research and writing, litigation and law office management.
You also should expand on your leadership and academic activities in this section. List your membership in all student and academic organizations. Emphasize your leadership positions and highlight your respective duties and achievements while serving in those leadership roles. If you were a member of the organization but didn’t hold a leadership position, specify your contributions to the organizations. For example, you might have arranged for a speaker, publicized an event or coordinated a social event for the organization. Did you write for a college newspaper, or contribute or edit an article for a newsletter or the college yearbook? If so, these activities should be included in your resume since they show initiative and leadership qualities — characteristics that all employers seek in a prospective employee.
Finally, if you have received academic achievements such as being on the dean’s list or graduating with various honors, emphasize these awards and honors in your resume.
Experience. This section is the meat of a resume. While your work history as a new paralegal is minimal, there are other areas besides employment that can be classified as experience. Serving in an internship program is an excellent way to highlight your duties and responsibilities as well as the skills you obtained. Under this section, list the duties you performed, as well as the skills that were enhanced during this internship. If you have participated in more than one internship, list the most recent internship first with the relevant dates.
Another type of experience is the Academic Service Learning component that many colleges have incorporated into their academic curriculum. St. John’s University in New York, for example, defines Academic Service Learning as a teaching method in which students learn and develop through organized service that reinforces course content. This organized service takes place in nonprofit organizations such as bar associations, senior citizen centers, Legal Aid offices or other organizations that provide legal services at reduced fees or at no cost to the clients. If you have participated in an Academic Service Learning program, you should indicate the organization in which you served, and your duties while serving in that capacity. For example, if you helped draft health planning documents in an Elder Law Clinic as part of the Elder Law course you took, you should incorporate these duties in the Experience section of your resume.
Skills. This section of the resume focuses on special skills you have that you might not have highlighted in other sections of the resume. Are you familiar with Microsoft Word? Do you have skills in other software applications such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Excel? Are you an expert in using Westlaw and/or Lexis as a research tool? Are you proficient in a foreign language? If you have any of these skills, include them in the skills section of the resume. However, be honest in assessing your proficiency. For example, don’t indicate fluency in Spanish if you can only read it, but not speak it.
Other relevant experience. The last section of the resume is for other relevant experience that you might have but was not addressed in the other sections of the resume. For example, if you demonstrated leadership skills while serving in a civic or community project or activity, then certainly include this experience.
The Cover Letter From New Paralegals
The cover letter is your initial contact with the prospective employer. The purpose of the cover letter is to convince the employer to read your resume and invite you for an interview. Therefore, like the resume it has to be error-proof and neat. It should be well-written since employers are seeking paralegals with good writing skills.
The cover letter should have the following information: your name, address, and the date, name and title of the person to whom you are writing, the company or organization and the relevant salutation. Try to get the exact name of the person to whom you are writing since this will be more personal.
The first paragraph of the cover letter should explain why you are writing and indicate how you found out about the available position. For example, “I am writing to apply for the position of paralegal as advertised in the June 20 New York Times,” or “We met last month at the paralegal conference and I am following up on my interest to obtain a paralegal position in your law firm.”
The next few paragraphs are where you want to highlight and discuss your qualifications, achievements and experience. Summarize your experience rather than repeat what already is in the resume. Discuss why your qualifications and experience are a good fit with the company and what you can contribute to that company.
The final paragraph closes the letter by thanking the employers for their consideration of your application and notifying them where they can contact you for an interview. Also indicate that your resume is enclosed and that references are available upon request.
Resumes for Experienced Paralegals
Many of my recommendations for resumes for experienced paralegals are similar to resumes for new paralegals. Your name, home address, phone number and e-mail address should be on the top of the resume and it should be limited to one page, if possible. Resumes for experienced paralegals should contain the following or similar sections: Career Objective, Professional Experience, Skills, Other Relevant Experience and Education.
Career objective. This is important for experienced paralegals. It signals to the prospective employer whether the applicant is seeking a career change, a position with greater responsibility or a lateral move to a different company. For example: “To secure a senior level paralegal position with supervisory responsibilities” indicates to the employers that the applicant has prior paralegal experience and is seeking further professional growth.
Education. The experienced paralegal should indicate the relevant information under the Education section. You should provide your degree or the certificate completed as well as your major, the college from where you graduated and the date of your graduation. List any awards and honors you received upon graduation. Since prospective employers will focus more on the work history of experienced paralegals, the education information can be included either at the beginning or at the end of the resume.
Experience. For the experienced paralegal, this section of the resume is the most important information provided by the applicant in engaging the interest of the prospective employers. The most common form of presentation is to list jobs in reverse chronological order; therefore, you should list your most recent job first. Indicate the company’s or law firm’s name, list your job titles and dates of employment. Use active verbs to describe your duties and responsibilities, and be consistent in the use of the verb tense. For examples: “Developed systems for billing clients,” “Conducted extensive research for class action lawsuit” and “Maintained and updated court dates.”
Skills. This section is where you can highlight your technological skills. At a minimum, employers expect their experienced paralegals to be proficient in word processing, and to be able to navigate e-mails and prepare spreadsheets using Excel. Do you have computer-assisted research skills using Westlaw or Lexis? Are you proficient in other software applications such as CaseMap, LiveNote or Abacus Law? If so, don’t hesitate to list them. Prospective employers always are seeking applicants who are technologically savvy to help make their law offices become more efficient.
Other relevant experience. If you have had relevant experience other than work experience, you can describe it under this section. Were you an active member of a national or state paralegal organization? Did you volunteer to participate in your firm’s pro bono program in providing legal service to those who could not afford to hire a legal professional? Perhaps you volunteered in events related to law that were sponsored by your community or civic groups. These all are activities to stress in your resume. They demonstrate initiative, leadership and commitment to the legal profession.
The Cover Letter from Experienced Paralegals
The cover letter is your initial introduction to the prospective employer. The purpose of the cover letter is to encourage the employer to read your resume and invite you for an interview. Therefore, like the resume, it has to be error-proof, neat and well-written.
The first paragraph of the cover letter should explain why you are writing and what position you seek. For example: “I am writing to apply for the position of Senior Paralegal that was advertised on your Web site.” Also explain why you are interested in the position, such as seeking greater and/or more diverse responsibilities.
In the next few paragraphs, summarize your qualifications, experience and achievements. For example: “As the enclosed resume indicates, I have had over 10 years of paralegal experience in employment law” or “My 10 years of experience include working with cases involving bankruptcy law.” Follow up as to why this experience will benefit the law firm. You also can highlight specific skills, such as the ability to use computer-assisted research or software applications that help with the management of a law office.
The final paragraph closes the letter by thanking the employers for their consideration of your application and notifying the employers where they can contact you for an interview. Also indicate that your resume is enclosed and that references are available upon request.
SAMPLE COVER LETTER FOR NEW PARALEGALS
JANE P. NEWMAN
345 Highway Street
Lakeview, NJ 10671
Ms. Jane Jones
Tobin and Dempf, LLP
Dear Ms. Jones:
I am writing to apply for the position of
Paralegal in your litigation department as advertised in the
New Jersey Times, dated June 25, 2008.
I have just completed the
As you can see from my resume, in addition to coursework in the areas of civil litigation and trial practice, I have enhanced my skills in the practice of litigation through my internship experiences. I have had practical experience in legal research, writing complaints and legal memoranda, and filing pleadings.
I am highly proficient and comfortable in the use of technology. I am proficient in using Westlaw to perform research. I am also skilled in using Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook.
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to speaking with you further regarding my qualifications for this position. Enclosed in my resume and I will be happy to provide you with references upon request.
SAMPLE RESUME FOR NEW PARALEGALS
JANE P. NEWMAN
345 Highway Street
Lakeview, NJ 10671
To secure a position as a paralegal in a law firm that specializes in litigation
Coursework: Introduction to Law, Civil Litigation, Legal
Research and Writing, Tort Law, Family Law, Elder Law,
Leadership and Academic Acitivities: President of Legal
Society (2007-2008) – Organized activities for
Feb. 2008-May 2008: Paralegal Intern, Smith &
Sept. 2007-Jan. 2008: Academic Service
Learning in conjunction with Elder Law course, Senior Legal Clinic,
Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, Westlaw
Coordinated Annual Fund-Raising Event for the Homeless since 2000
SAMPLE COVER LETTER FOR EXPERIENCED PARALEGALS
JAMES P. VETERAN
345 Highway Street
Lakeview, NJ 10671
Ms. Mary Thomas
Tobin and Dempf, LLP
Dear Ms. Thomas:
I am writing to apply for the position of supervising paralegal in your litigation department as advertised in the New Jersey Times, dated June 25, 2008. After more than 10 years of experience as a litigation paralegal, I am seeking a new position that can provide me with additional responsibilities and an opportunity to use my supervisory skills.
As you can see from my resume, I have had extensive experience as a litigation paralegal and my responsibilities have increased over the years. Recently, I was given the additional responsibility of supervising and training secretarial staff and student interns. In that capacity, I have developed my mentoring and supervisory skills.
I am highly proficient and comfortable in the use of technology. I am proficient in using Westlaw and Lexis to perform research. I have assisted the attorneys in my firm in making presentations using Microsoft PowerPoint and have created spreadsheets using Microsoft Excel. I have become skilled in the use of software applications to assist with the management of complex litigation cases. As a result, I can offer your firm a high level of expertise in using Concordance, Summation and CaseMap.
I believe I can contribute much to your firm. Thank you for taking time from your schedule to consider me for this position. I look forward to speaking with you further regarding my qualifications. Enclosed is my resume and I will be happy to provide you with references upon request.
SAMPLE RESUME FOR EXPERIENCED PARALEGALS
JAMES P. VETERAN
345 Highway Street
Lakeview, NJ 10671
To secure a position as a senior-level paralegal with supervisory responsibilities
July 2000-Present: Paralegal, Kleinsmith &
July 1998-June 2000: Paralegal, Smith & Smith,
Feb. 1998-June 1998: Paralegal Intern, Legal Aid of
Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, Westlaw, Lexis, Concordance, Summation and CaseMap
Member of the American Alliance of Paralegals and the Legal Assistants Association of New Jersey; organized workshops on technology for paralegals
Participated in the pro bono program initiated by Kleinsmith & Associates
Bachelor of Arts, Legal Studies, ABA-Approved Paralegal Program
Linda T. Chin is an assistant professor at St. John’s University in New York City. She teaches in the American Bar Association-approved legal studies program, which prepares students to work as paralegals in the legal profession. Professor Chin’s field of expertise is employment and elder law.
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