Finding the first Paralegal Job

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Rob in Elgin, Illinois

81 months ago

I am going to be graduating from an ABA approved paralegal program in may, already have my bachelors. I currently have a job that I really don't care for and is a horrible fit for my personality. I have been looking for a paralegal job, recently had some interviews. It seems like most people want to pay less than 11 bucks an hour for people with no previous law office experience. I currently make over 12 an hour with benefits. My problem is I want to move into the legal field, but I don't want to take a pay cut, especially since 12 dollars an hour isn't cutting it as is.

My questions

For those of you looking for, or have found, your first paralegal job; is it normal to take a lower salary?

With the current economy are we just seeing salaries drop in general, or is it just in my area (northwest chicago suburbs) ?

Is the legal job market really overflooded? (massive law firm lay offs, students graduating with the same education as much self)?

Does volunteering at a law firm or legal aide society impress employers in an interview? and can be this used as a substitute for job experience (I know a lot of people use to think education was a substitute and lately I really doubt the validity of that) ?

If you live in a different area (not chicago) is there a demand for legal assistants?

Is being a legal secretary a good alternative to paralegal as a first job?

I am male, so a lot of interviews I get asked if I am planning on going to law school, and if I am ok with doing discovery work, answering phones, making coffee instead of legal research or writing compliants.

Am I better off going to law school ????

(even though I am not 100 percent sure that is a path I want to go, though it has interested me in the past and I believe I could do it, I don't really want 90k-200k worth of loans when projected associate salary isn't much higher than projected paralegal salary, and I don't really want to go partner route or open my own firm)

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mary in Tampa, Florida

81 months ago

Considering the way the economy is right now, I would stay at the job you have. I would definitely not leave a job - and make less money - than I am now. I would definitely not work for free "to gain experience" either. Those attorneys don't work for free, and nor should you.

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Paralegal in Dallas, Texas

81 months ago

It would be better if you could get any job at a mid or large firm rather than taking one of these $10/hr/no benefits "paralegal" jobs on Craigslist working for a solo or two person attorney office. (And I say this since you have a Bachelor degree.)

Law firms promote from within, and you'll get the great benefits no matter what position you have. Look for anything - legal secretary, case manager, file clerk, receptionist, jr. paralegal, scanner, copy room, runner - seriously, you'll be better off in the long run doing this than working for some nutty solo attorney.

Yes, there have been law firm layoffs, so this will be hard. But working in your favor is salaries have gone down and the paralegals that were laid off made a ton of money that they will never make again. The clients have gotten too smart. You're cheap. (But not $10/hr cheap!)

At my last job when they were hiring a paralegal, every single experienced paralegal they interviewed was taking a paycut - one a 50% cut. Those people will never see those crazy high salaries again.

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Donald_ in Cliffside Park, New Jersey

81 months ago

"Am I better off going to law school ????"

It depends if you go to a Tier 1 law school. A second tier might be ok. But a 3rd tier won't get you anywhere. Unfortunately, those precious US News & World Report law school rankings are all that matter to most firms.

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dh in Northern CA, California

81 months ago

Rob in Elgin, Illinois said: I am going to be graduating from an ABA approved paralegal program in may, already have my bachelors. I currently have a job that I really don't care for and is a horrible fit for my personality. I have been looking for a paralegal job, recently had some interviews. It seems like most people want to pay less than 11 bucks an hour for people with no previous law office experience. I currently make over 12 an hour with benefits. My problem is I want to move into the legal field, but I don't want to take a pay cut, especially since 12 dollars an hour isn't cutting it as is.

My questions

For those of you looking for, or have found, your first paralegal job; is it normal to take a lower salary?

With the current economy are we just seeing salaries drop in general, or is it just in my area (northwest chicago suburbs) ?

Is the legal job market really overflooded? (massive law firm lay offs, students graduating with the same education as much self)?

Does volunteering at a law firm or legal aide society impress employers in an interview? and can be this used as a substitute for job experience (I know a lot of people use to think education was a substitute and lately I really doubt the validity of that) ?

If you live in a different area (not chicago) is there a demand for legal assistants?

Is being a legal secretary a good alternative to paralegal as a first job?

I am male, so a lot of interviews I get asked if I am planning on going to law school, and if I am ok with doing discovery work, answering phones, making coffee instead of legal research or writing compliants.

Am I better off going to law school ????

(even though I am not 100 percent sure that is a path I want to go, though it has interested me in the past and I believe I could do it, I don't really want 90k-200k worth of loans when projected associate salary isn't much higher than projected paralegal salary, and I don't really want to go partner route

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Mary inTampa in Tampa, Florida

81 months ago

We started one of our teacher certification classes today. The instructor said they have had eleven attorneys (in Tampa) go through the program. There are a lot of attorneys with attorney sheit jobs.

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dh in Northern CA, California

81 months ago

Rob in Elgin, Illinois said: I am going to be graduating from an ABA approved paralegal program in may, already have my bachelors. I currently have a job that I really don't care for and is a horrible fit for my personality. I have been looking for a paralegal job, recently had some interviews. It seems like most people want to pay less than 11 bucks an hour for people with no previous law office experience. I currently make over 12 an hour with benefits. My problem is I want to move into the legal field, but I don't want to take a pay cut, especially since 12 dollars an hour isn't cutting it as is...

I graduated from UCLA w/my paralegal cert in 2000. I never worked as a paralegal because I was working a cust svc job at the time at $14/hr. Paralegal jobs were starting at $12/hr, but I got hired as a word processor at a firm in LA for $18/hr. Being a WP eventually evolved into being a legal secretary, which I hated. I would've also hated paralegal work because of the interaction with attys. I returned to school 3 1/2 years ago to finish my degree in order to effect a career change. I HATED working in law. I graduated last month with my BA in Economics. Now I'm applying for govt jobs all over the country. I'll move anywhere in the world - really - but I'll never consider law again.

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dh in Northern CA, California

81 months ago

Rob in Elgin, Illinois said: I am going to be graduating from an ABA approved paralegal program in may, already have my bachelors. I currently have a job that I really don't care for and is a horrible fit for my personality. I have been looking for a paralegal job, recently had some interviews. It seems like most people want to pay less than 11 bucks an hour for people with no previous law office experience. I currently make over 12 an hour with benefits. My problem is I want to move into the legal field, but I don't want to take a pay cut, especially since 12 dollars an hour isn't cutting it as is...

One more thing: I left my last full time job at $55K in June, '06. I turned down an offer for $59K in Sept, '05 because I wanted to focus on my exit from the legal industry. I have depleted my entire life savings, accrued hefty school loan debt, and haven't contributed anything toward retirement in almost 2 years. I also moved to another part of the state where the cost of living is cheaper, uprooting my daughter so that she had to start high school in a strange place. All of this because I was desperate to leave law. I am almost 43 and am starting over with nothing. Regardless of what happens, I'll never consider law.

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kmm in Wilmington, Delaware

81 months ago

Displaced Legal Professional in Denver, Colorado said: Continued from above....

Not around here, anyway. I’ve been following Denver paralegal hiring for more than fifteen years. Paralegal jobs have always been tight, with, IMO, no shortage of candidates to fill them. I don’t think so, if you can help it. People become typecast. I.e. one assumes a role and will always be seen in that role. Further, one might be hired as a legal secretary, do well and seek an upgrade. The firm might not upgrade that person because the person has become almost indispensable as a legal secretary. The firm would just as soon bring in someone from outside. It’s the path of lesser resistance.
Continued....

I agree with DPL that starting as a legal secretary, when want to be a paralegal is not a good thing to do. I have met many a paralegal who never was offered a paralegal job, thus they became legal secretaries...they wanted to be a paralegal.

My first job offer was at $33k at a large firm....the position was Legal Secretary. I did not take it becasue I knew I could not meet the typing speed and it would go donwhill from there...fired. Also, I went to Paralegal school so ans not to be a Secretary.

My second near offer was a litigation paralegal in Philadelphia. The salary was mid to low twenties..I was shocked. Even the high of $27k with the Philadelphia wage tax..I would be living paycheck to paycheck. Well, live and learn.

When I did finally did get a Paralegal offer, it was 2 years after graduation, and the pay was $11/hr and no benefits. SO...there you go. The positive part was that it was low stress and the best training ground possible.

(con't)

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kmm in Wilmington, Delaware

81 months ago

(con't)

Although the first 14 months went very well, the last 7 months went very bad as a new newbie attorney replaced the other. A personality conflict ensued, and I was fired..

The theme to all my Paralegal jobs was "personality conflict". I could not see the forest for the tree, and I continued to be terminated job after job. I was my worst enemy.

If you get a Paraelgal job, unlike me, you must have the skills to adapt to all personalities in the unit, your boss being number one...plus everyone else. That was my personal downfall...and I know it. Sure I would have fixed it if I was aware of how I was coming-off to others and aware of everthing I was doing wrong in turns of getting along with my boss and all others. I failed miserably in the get along, adjust, adapt skill set.

SO, what I pass onto you, still searching, if you get the Paralegal job, make sure you have the skill set to not only to the job...but the get along with the people skill.

It is stressful..but it is a must for success. Everything in life is about relationships..I bite at it.

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kmm in Wilmington, Delaware

81 months ago

My first paralegal job. It took me 2 years to get hired as a Paralegal. That's right. And when I did get a Paralegal job, it was at $11/hour.

Was it worth it. NO. Because it took me 3 and a half years to get to $35k as a paralegal. So really, since I got from the date I received my certificate, 5 years to get to $35k and with bonus I would make $40k.

And when I finally thought I got my dream paralegal job, the one that paid $35k plus bonus making it $40k, I was terminated in 6 months.

WHY. In the first 6 weeks I was given a lecture that the Company was all about relationships. Clearly I was doing something wrong. I was not building positive relationships with people in the corporation from the get go.

I was uncomfortable with General Council because all he did was put me down. He told me I did not know anything and that the ONLY reason I was hired was that I asked for the lowest pay.

So the relationship with General Council (I was working In-house for a corportion) was strained. Yup...it had to be him that I was not forming, bulding a good relationship with. I steered away from him. I did not even say Good Morning to him, because I was afraid...I already felt like he did not like me...so I avoided him as much as possible. Whenever I did have to interact with him, it was very uncomfortable. Maybe it was a bad fit.

One day I had to go to the CEO's office to get a signature on a corproate resolution. He asked me to tell him what he was signing. I did. He signed and I said thank you. BUT, he gave me this really funny look...like he did not like me.

Through discussios with other people since then, I have learned that you can put people off by the way YOU (me) come-off to them. That is what is known as "perceptions". AND if the bosses have a "bad perception" of you...you are in trouble. Your days are numbered.

I was devastated when I got the termination, becasue I never understood what it was that I was doing wrong.

(cont'd)

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kmm in Wilmington, Delaware

81 months ago

(con't)

They had just pushed me to far. As I mentioned, I had remained "calm as a cucumber" throught out all of these disturbances. BUT that was the staw that broke the camel's back.

On Monday, there was no discussion. (I guess that court comment on proving perseptions did that in..you think).

They kept me till the end of the quarter, the busiest quarter of the year, every year. They restructured the legal department. GC was removed his postion as GC and sent to another department. The quarter ended, work got slow, and I was termainted, after getting my $1,200 xmas-bonus in December, on January 6.

What a nightmare. I sometimes wonder, after all I know now..whether General Council was being told HE does not know anything...and that is why he was beating on my and telling me I DO not know anything. HE was removed from his position as GC and sent out of legal. They did that for a reason...HUM..maybe HE was "incompetent" in his postion as GC? JUST a theory.

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kmm in Wilmington, Delaware

81 months ago

Same subject (cont'd)

A female cannot intimidate a confident man. Question. Was GC a confident man?

He did not appear to be. He got flustered when he tried to explain somthing to me. He got lost in what he was saying or trying to explain. He did not know his sh*t. What did I do when this happened? Stayed calm , just sat there and listened. Sure was awkward.

THis is not the sign of a confident man. AND I was not the cause. ONe day I took a call from an attorney, who also interacted with GC. The attorney said, "GC sure does get flustered". I laughed and said, Oh, you noticed that...and then he moved into the purpose of the telephone call.

Makes me wonder if I lost my job BECAUSE my boss, GC was not confident or competent in his position, so he took it out on me..again, he was removed from his postion in legal. Only a theory.

I am not perfect. I sometimes say things the wrong way. I do not mean to ..but it happens every now and then. ..usually I recognize it and start backpeddling quickly.

OR maybe I was only hired to hold down the fort during the busiest quarter and I was suppose to be terminated at the end of quarter, once the restucture was in place. That I was used. THE other theory.

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kmm in Wilmington, Delaware

81 months ago

Donald_ in Cliffside Park, New Jersey said: "Am I better off going to law school ????"

It depends if you go to a Tier 1 law school. A second tier might be ok. But a 3rd tier won't get you anywhere. Unfortunately, those precious US News & World Report law school rankings are all that matter to most firms.

That is absolutely correct...in todays economy. ANd has been true for quite some time, as the attorney job market has been over-saturated since 1994 or so.

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kmm in Wilmington, Delaware

81 months ago

WHAT does that mean DLP?

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kmm in Wilmington, Delaware

81 months ago

Displaced Legal Professional in Denver, Colorado said: Continued from above....

Yeah. I too am male. Based on my experience, only, male paralegals seem to suffer from a wee bit of perception problems.

Ignorant people seem to think all male paralegals want to become lawyers. Or they think paralegal is a training position for males with eventual upgrade to lawyer. Or if males must wear suits in the office they are confused for lawyers and might be treated with less respect when it’s found out they are mere paralegals. We have a user on another forum who is a male legal secretary. He alleges he cannot advance to legal secretary supervisor in his “girls’ club” because he is male.

Answering discovery is paralegal work. I answered plenty of phones and made plenty of coffee. I also received client intakes. I set appointments. I drafted complaints, pleadings, disclosures, expert witness designations, demand letters, etc. as a paralegal. I prepared probate accountings and PI settlement distributions. I worked extensively with medical records and billing statements. I never conducted true legal research in either of my firms.

Well, my friend, what is your goal? As a lawyer, in time, the sky’s the limit for your income. You can be the boss. You’ll pay off your law school debts.

As a paralegal, you’ll always be subservient to lawyers because paralegal is a support job. You’ll be beholden to lawyers for your living. You’ll likely have to put up with their BS and as a direct result may turn frustrated and angry. It’s your decision.

Hope all this was helpful.

DLP....what do all the numbers mean at the end of my comments?

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kmm in Wilmington, Delaware

81 months ago

Displaced Legal Professional in Denver, Colorado said: Now it showed up. I had read your posts earlier. I'll still pass it on to Indeed.

Do you think my boss was not a confident person perhaps? He was removed from legal department? AND therefore ...he laid his personal issues on me, such as HE was being told by CEO that he does not know his job and therefore we are removing you to anther department where you do know your stuff???

I do not belief a confident female can intimidate a confident boss.

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kmm in Wilmington, Delaware

81 months ago

Displaced Legal Professional in Denver, Colorado said: IMO, Cindy, your boss appeared to have had issues. I don't think your boss being transferred was coincidental with your termination. You may have been caught up with your boss' issues, but, still, IMO the outfit only wanted you for the short term.

Very curious. What formed your opinion that the outfit only wanted me for the short term?

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dovelet in Saint Louis, Missouri

81 months ago

Be careful, there are a lot of out of work attorneys and paralegals right now and if the job market opens up again, the people with experience will get the job first. My cousin's daughter is graduating from law school in May...she has no job to go to and $1,500/mo student loan payments to make. Her brother graduated from law school last year and now makes $40K a year...yes $40K a year as an attorney!! So sorry our economy stinks right now and will for longer than I want it to.

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Mary inTampa in Tampa, Florida

81 months ago

I am doubtful someone just getting out of school is getting numerous job offers - unless they're for $12.00 an hour.

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kmm in Wilmington, Delaware

81 months ago

Displaced Legal Professional in Denver, Colorado said: From what you've described, Cindy, the outfit was busy during the last part of the year. You were available and had experience. You helped clear the backlog. After the first of the year the outfit no longer needed extra help.

That is how I eventually got that idea..3 years later. A man said, regardless of the lecture on "company relationships" they had the option to fire you (1) before they invested more money in you on helath benefits. They did not terminate you. Then they kept you on for 4 months and gave you a (2) x-mas bonus of $1,200.

He said IF they were so unhappy with you, why did they not fire you at (1) (or (2).

Instead, they waited till the busy quarter was over, and no need for you, and THEN terminated you....with a 4 week severence package. (more money)

THey did me dirty..and fouled up my resume...which I covered with "restructure". BUT it took me 1 year to find another job.

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kmm in Wilmington, Delaware

81 months ago

Displaced Legal Professional in Denver, Colorado said: From what you've described, Cindy, the outfit was busy during the last part of the year. You were available and had experience. You helped clear the backlog. After the first of the year the outfit no longer needed extra help.

Thank you for your reply....it is the only story line that fits.

And to boot, they messed with my head....big time.

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kmm in Wilmington, Delaware

81 months ago

Displaced Legal Professional in Denver, Colorado said: IMO, Cindy, your boss appeared to have had issues. I don't think your boss being transferred was coincidental with your termination. You may have been caught up with your boss' issues, but, still, IMO the outfit only wanted you for the short term.

And that is the last piece of the puzzle. "got caught up in my boss's issues"

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annoyed in Elgin, Illinois

78 months ago

Follow up from original post - I got a job as a paralegals assistant, atleast the person above me has same education as me and more experience so its not totally annoying. It wasn't published anywhere, a friend from a previous job who started there through another friend got me set up. So make sure to network!

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Paralegal in Dallas, Texas

78 months ago

annoyed in Elgin, Illinois said: Follow up from original post - I got a job as a paralegals assistant, atleast the person above me has same education as me and more experience so its not totally annoying. It wasn't published anywhere, a friend from a previous job who started there through another friend got me set up. So make sure to network!

Congratulations! It's a start.

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annoyed in Elgin, Illinois

75 months ago

I'm getting paid 14 an hour

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annoyed in Elgin, Illinois

75 months ago

almost - I would like more but maybe after some experience and job market improvement

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Random Guy in Newtown, Pennsylvania

53 months ago

You know I hear a lot of complaining on here but the fact is you need to stick with it. Get your foot in the door, make 10 dollars an hour for a year or 2 or even 3. Finally get up to that 35k job... Get your bachelors if you don't have it already. 2 or 3 more years apply for Paralegal 3 or Senior level jobs and make the big bucks. It's not easy at first. It might take 10 years to get established but it's all about enjoying the nature of the work you do and striving to get better.

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Michael in Atlanta, Georgia

47 months ago

It is so good of you to offer up your opinion on the legal profession, and your experience in firms, even though you're almost in a new profession. Thanks so much for taking the time to do that! Good luck to you and your daughter.

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ycale in Austin, Texas

43 months ago

dh in Northern CA, California said: I graduated from UCLA w/my paralegal cert in 2000. I never worked as a paralegal because I was working a cust svc job at the time at $14/ hr . Paralegal jobs were starting at $12/hr, but I got hired as a word processor at a firm in LA for $18/hr. Being a WP eventually evolved into being a legal secretary , which I hated. I would've also hated paralegal work because of the interaction with attys. I returned to school 3 1/2 years ago to finish my degree in order to effect a career change. I HATED working in law. I graduated last month with my BA in Economics . Now I'm applying for govt jobs all over the country. I'll move anywhere in the world - really - but I'll never consider law again.

My husband graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.A. in Economics, he couldn't find a decent job until last year (2012). Until 2012, he worked mainly for insurance companies (Statefarm, Allstate, etc) and had to sacrifice a years worth of income to work for a company that would sponsor (not pay) for his series 7 licence. I'd much rather continue on with my certification in the paralegal field than watch him live through that all over again.

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Searching in San Diego, California

43 months ago

ycale in Austin, Texas said: My husband graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.A. in Economics, he couldn't find a decent job until last year (2012). Until 2012, he worked mainly for insurance companies (Statefarm, Allstate, etc) and had to sacrifice a years worth of income to work for a company that would sponsor (not pay) for his series 7 licence. I'd much rather continue on with my certification in the paralegal field than watch him live through that all over again.

No entry level jobs in the legal field right now. Very few mid and high level ones as well. I wish you luck.

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Ycale in Smithville, Texas

43 months ago

Searching in San Diego, California said: No entry level jobs in the legal field right now. Very few mid and high level ones as well. I wish you luck.

Luckily for me, the program I am taking also allowed me to atttend a class which not only counted toward my paralegal certification, but also lead to my texas mediator certification. Additionally, by attending 3 extra classes I am able to earn my Masters in Legal Studies.

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Searching in San Diego, California

43 months ago

Ycale in Smithville, Texas said: Luckily for me, the program I am taking also allowed me to atttend a class which not only counted toward my paralegal certification, but also lead to my texas mediator certification. Additionally, by attending 3 extra classes I am able to earn my Masters in Legal Studies.

Not sure what you would do with all that without field experience. The legal field likes to see experience. People in the field are infamous nowadays for not wanting to mentor. It's unfortunate and part of the problem, I believe, the industry has with lawyers fresh out of law school. The field has become so focused on profits that they forgot about it being a profession with people needing to learn a craft. It wasn't like that as much 20 or so years ago. Paras and lawyers were able to easily learn on the job while still being able to bill clients. Employers were more willing to invest in new workers. This seems to be the trend in most fields. I will be interested to know how this all pans out for you and what types of jobs this will lead you to.

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ycale in Kyle, Texas

43 months ago

I do have 18 months prior experience working in a law firm, I thought it would help me get a good job when I came to the Austin area. However, after realizing many firms wanted the paralegal certification I looked into what different schools had to offer. Texas State had, by far, the best program I've seen. While attending school there I found a job in a firm that paid me $15.00 part time. The drive to Austin turned out to be more than I could handle while going to school and I ended up quitting. On the bright side, Texas State's program requires an internship (which they find for you) which not only gets your foot in the door, but gives you experience. Many firms are okay with the internship continuing after your hours are completed. I also think the location here is a plus. In Austin there are a TON of places for new paralegals, we have the State Attorney's Office (which is ALWAYS hiring) and big companies like Facebook, Ebay, and SharkMedia, which are always on the lookout for new hires. Additionally, my professors are all attorneys and they have excellent social connections to other firms that are hiring. I have received at least 5 e-mails this semester from companies that are looking to hire new graduates.

Alternatively, there are two major mediator offices, one in San Marcos and one in Austin, where I can utilize my Mediators Certification. I'm not saying my job search after college will be easy, but I looked for a year and a half BEFORE I went back to earn my degrees and the things employers were looking for (a master's degree or a certification) seemed to be top on their list.

This summer I will have my paralegal certification and in December I will have my master's. I'll keep you posted as to my struggles/success in finding work. In all honesty I am super nervous about having to pay my student loans back, so I will be on the hunt for a new job after I get my certification in August. Wish me luck!

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Searching in San Diego, California

43 months ago

Yes, good luck. Please report back; I'll be interested to hear. Maybe I should move to Austin :)

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ycale in Kyle, Texas

43 months ago

Will do! and yes Austin is a nice town- not to mention with all the attorneys that work in Texas it makes it hard to be unemployed ;)

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