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Why Law Graduates Can be Choosers

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GDL graduate Cathryn Kozlowski on why she turned down a paralegal job

With more and more law graduates working as paralegals before commencing the Legal Practice Course (LPC), the demand for such positions is almost as fierce as for training contracts themselves.

The majority of paralegal recruitment companies specify that candidates must have either completed the LPC, or have at least a year’s experience working as a paralegal. This places potential candidates who have only completed their LLB or GDL, and decided to defer the LPC until securing a training contract, at a disadvantage.

With paralegal vacancies like gold dust, the received wisdom is that it would be ludicrous to turn a position down. Beggars can’t be choosers, right? I disagree. It’s my strong belief that while gaining experience can enhance aspiring lawyers’ CVs, accepting any position offered can be a dangerous move. Candidates must also be careful not to tarnish their CV, and, provided they are still at a relatively early stage (i.e. haven’t completed the LPC), can still afford to be selective.

I’ve been on the hunt for a position within the legal industry for a few months. Initially I had very few responses. Then I had my CV reviewed by a recruitment consultant, who suggested numerous changes. After making the amendments, I then continued to apply for vacancies and began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was invited to three separate interviews. Interview one turned out to be unsuitable for my qualifications, and I wasn’t offered the position. Much to my amazement, interview number two resulted in an offer of a position as a paralegal. After searching for months, my decision to turn the position down came as a shock to many of my friends and family. So why did I turn it down?

There were a number of contributing factors, and it certainly wasn’t a decision I made quickly, or easily – and, before continuing, I’d like to make clear that there were not many details provided on the job description, so I was unaware of the finer details of the position at the time of applying.

Firstly, the job was part-time, so I would have needed to have found another part time position to start at exactly the same time in order to continue to pay rent and bills. Not a huge problem, after all we should be willing to bend over backwards for a coveted legal position. Another issue was the salary, which was very low. Even with another job, I needed to be realistic about how I would afford to live. Also, I’d have been working for a sole practitioner, in family law, and I would have been based in an office on my own. The position itself would have involved purely administrative tasks; writing letters, faxing, emailing etc. For these reasons, I turned the position down, and I don’t regret my decision.

I have now started to realise that firms are not just looking for specific legal work experience, but are keen to find rounded candidates, with a broad range of experience. For this reason, I started applying for a wider range of positions that will enable me to develop my commercial awareness and learn business skills, as opposed to purely paralegal positions. This is proving to be far more successful, and I remain confident that it will be the right decision in the long run.

Cathryn Kozlowski is a law graduate who is interested in media and criminal law. She is currently working in wine investment, and blogs at Legally-London.

Listen to Cathryn on the RoundMyKitchenTable podcast: [buzzsprout episode=”37256″ player=”true”]

13 Comments

Dusty_Cobweb

Interesting points, and although I hadn’t thought of it like that before, I’m inclined to agree. Perhaps if more students took this long time view, then those offering paralegal positions would revert to recruiting undergrad students who were more suited to this kind of role? It seems to be a terrible waste of a resource to employ those who have completed their professional qualifications in what amounts to, as you stated, an administrative position.

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Jade Ferguson

Go on you for following your dreams and your instincts, but can you ‘devalue’ a CV? hmmmm.

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D_T_T

There’s nothing wrong with deciding a job isn’t right for you but I do think most firms are interested in seeing commitment to a legal career and legal experience and a developing of commercial awareness on the side. Is wine investment giving you a better insight to the realistic role of a trainee than would the paralegal role? Given that you did the GDL and now have a non-law job, some recruiters will be given pause for thought.

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Cathryn Kozlowski

Thanks for your comments, much appreciated.

I think the point I am trying to make is that whilst working in wine investment (a job I already had whilst I was completing the GDL) may not be ideal, one also needs to realistic. I would love to secure a paralegal job, but don’t have the funds to be able to support myself, with a barely-there salary. I agree that law graduates should be able to demonstrate devotion to law, but personally think that running yourself into financial ruin in order to do so shows a lack of perspective? Working as a paralegal is not the only way to demonstrate commitment to law and gain commercial awareness.

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D_T_T

I understand your perspective, I was a state school pupil with no funds in Bank of Mum and Dad (though they’ve given me far more important things in life than £££) and I’m not sure if I hadn’t secured sponsorship whether I would have done the LPC. If I were recruiting, the wine investment role wouldn’t faze me; I’d be much more interested in whether you have any sense, which you clearly do! The problem is that graduate recruitment at some firms want potential trainees to tick certain boxes these days and I wonder if in their view you will be someone who has commercial awareness and a brain but appears to be leaning more towards business / investment with your job history. I know some firms would undoubtedly rather see paralegal in a law firm (even if mostly admin) on the CV over other roles that might have more commercial aspects to them and more responsibility.

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Subashini

Thanks Cathryn, a fresh perspective and food for thought.
The legal field is one of the few areas which running into financial ruin seems acceptable. But it’s not – I don’t see why law graduates have to bend-over-backwards, max out their credit cards and completely obsessed over any ‘law’ job. Patronage of “Old-Ruin” in some law firm doesn’t instantly make a person a good advocate or lawyer. What one does with their time and what one gains from the experience is more important. In going around law schools, reading through recruitments books I’ve found its more about skill rather than being completely absorbed in by any law.

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Jade Ferguson

I think you will do fine either way Cathryn, you clearly have strength of character and I think that in itself is one of the most important charateristics of a solicitor.

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abigail errington

Interesting post Legal Cheek, on getting that all important first paralegal job. It is so important to get the right job, especially your first, otherwise it is unlikely you are going to enjoy it, give it your all and therefore be satisfied and achieve your goals.

This also shows the importance of getting your CV right and also exploring other routes to your eventual goal, in order to get the interviews, and understanding what an employer is looking for. All of which will help make your first job all the more successful and enjoyable.
See http://www.taylor-green.co.uk – who provide excellent advice regarding legal careers

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AV

Obtaining business experience and commercial awareness is far more valuable then photocopying and dumbing yourself down with administrative chores whilst hoping to gleam something intellectual.. it won’t happen.
I say this because I did exactly that: I started paralegal work after the LPC and did so for a year (too long IMO) when I then quit and started applying (successfully, might I add) to other business areas such as consultancy (firms included Accenture, E&Y, Deloitte, the FSA).
I was then able to use this business experience (18 months) to obtain a position within the legal side of the same industry (advising on global risk management and regulations in the financial industry).
Bottom line is: as a law graduate you are very attractive to other professions – this was evident given the amount of interviews obtained. As someone with business experience you are very attractive to the legal profession/ firms/ institutions particularly if it is experience gained in the same area – this is based on the number of interviews and the questions I was asked – along with genuine interest in my proactivity to engage with the business world.
I am now quite very happy with my recently acquired six figure salary, position, title and fact that I did not continue paralegal work in vain, opting instead for some valuable experience.

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Laura Henderson

An interesting blog post with some equally intriguing responses.

Personally I disagree with the assertion that paralegal or other legal support roles can “devalue” a law graduates CV. Similarly, I object to the general view that paralegal roles and other legal support roles have the effect of “dumbing” you down and fail to challenge you intellectually.

Obviously there are some roles out there that really are purely administrative and these are usually advertised as such, often using the job title of “office junior” or “administrative assistant”, but the majority of paralegal and other support roles advertised out there are the moment are in fact much more than photocopying and tea making.

During my degree I was required to undertake a year placement in a law firm or other legal environment as part of the course. I spent a year working as a paralegal in a landlord & tenant team. Admittedly, much of my work in the beginning was relying on a case management system to produce automated letters and documents as well as some pretty mundane administrative tasks. However, as I progressed and demonstrated a desire to take on more responsibility I was given much more technical, challenging work. Within a few months I was running my own caseload of 50+ files and was answering a legal helpline.

Having completed my degree I decided to defer my LPC place in an attempt to secure a training contract, hopefully with a firm that would sponsor my course. I took one of the first jobs I was offered which was advertised as a legal secretarial role. Since then, my role has developed into a quasi legal PA/marketing assistant role which is incredibly varied and can also be intellectually challenging. I may not be drafting witness statements or negotiating share purchase agreements but I have written articles for the firm website, I have attended seminars and networking events and I have assisted with disclosure, all the time developing my transferable skills, building relationships with people in the profession and demonstrating my commitment to a career in law.

A year after starting my job and a few months before starting my LPC I secured a training contract with a top 30 commercial law firm and I firmly believe that during the vacation placement I undertook with the firm, I felt much more comfortable in an office environment and had much more knowledge of the workings if a law firm than those candidates who had not worked in a law firm before.

I do agree that graduates shouldn’t just take the first job that comes and along and should ensure it pays enough and is suited to their skills, but it would be a mistake to turn their noses up at paralegal and legal support roles that could help further their career and could end up being a really worthwhile stepping stone…after all it is enhancing their CV more than sitting at home waiting for the perfect job to come along.

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Laura Henderson

Also…have you seen what they are currently paying legal PA and secretarial roles in the City…the average salary must be around 35k pa.

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Elle

I completely disagree. I feel that my employment in the legal sector had a significant part to play in my obtaining a Training Contract. I think it would be silly for law graduates to disregard the importance of relevant experience.

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Cathryn Kozlowski

Hi Elle,

Thanks for your response – I wholeheartedly agree that experience within the legal industry really does help when it comes to TC applications, and I agree that the importance of work experience should not be disregarded.

However, I think graduates need to be realistic when it comes to which jobs they take. When I sat down and worked my finances out, I simply couldn’t have taken this particular job as, on the salary that was being offered, I literally wouldn’t have been able to afford my current outgoings (rent, tube pass, groceries). I think that law graduates in particular are often so keen to get their foot in the door that they will take any position on offer, which can lead to financial difficulties, in turn delaying the process of securing a TC.

I remain mindful of the value of legal work experience, but feel it is equally silly for graduates to disregard such necessities as being able to afford to live.

I hope that clears up the view point I continue to hold.

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