Ways to Gain Work Experience in the Legal Field
You have the education, the ability, and the ambition. Now all you need is work experience. As law firms and corporate legal departments cut costs and operate with the leaner staff, more legal employers seek candidates who can hit the ground running. So, how can you gain work experience if no one will give you a chance?
Contract jobs are a great way to gain work experience in the legal field. As law firms and corporate legal departments seek ways to reduce litigation costs, contract employees have become a hot commodity in today’s legal market. Contract workers are not employees of a company but are independent contractors hired to work on a specific project on a short-term, contract basis.
With the advent of e-discovery, law firms and corporations are hiring contract attorneys, paralegals and litigation support staff for the time-consuming, labor-intensive task of document review. Contract employees review thousands of documents produced in litigation and mark them for relevance, confidentiality, materiality, and privilege, as well as responsiveness to discovery requests, subpoenas and regulatory requests.
The sheer volume of documents produced in e-discovery has prompted firms and companies to seek more cost-effective solutions to document review. Because contract personnel usually bill at rates far lower than employees, firms can net significant cost savings by utilizing contract personnel.
Contract employees are usually hired through legal staffing firms. Although contract projects range from several days to several years, the contract employee is usually discharged at the end of the project. However, contract employees who perform well and impress the employer may use contract work as a stepping stone to full-time, permanent employment with the company.
Temporary employment is another method of gaining valuable work experience. The temporary employee (“temp”) is usually placed in short-term assignments through a legal staffing agency. Temporary employees generally earn less than their permanent counterparts because the legal staffing agency takes a substantial cut of their hourly pay. Because they are not employees of the company or firm for whom they are working, temps do not receive benefits or other perks of employment. However, benefits may be offered through the legal staffing agency.
Temporary work is a great way to explore opportunities with a particular company and vice versa. Some companies hire temporary employees as a way to recruit permanent staff by first testing them out on a trial basis. These “temp-to-perm” jobs may result in a job offer at the end of the temporary project.
Part-time Legal Jobs
Even if the firm of your dreams won’t hire you as an attorney (or paralegal, or another legal job you seek), many law firms have a host of other high-turnover positions which they must continually fill. These positions include file clerks, messengers, court filers, data entry clerks, copy room personnel and clerical staff.
File clerks organize, catalog and manage hundreds of case files. Court filers file motions, pleadings, briefs and discovery documents with the court. Messengers deliver documents to outside parties including court personnel, co-counsel, opposing counsel, vendors, and experts. While these jobs are typically not high-paying positions, they provide an opportunity to get your foot in the door.
Internships, Externships, and Clinics
Internship and externship positions can be found in law firms, corporations, banks, insurance companies, non-profit organizations, the government and other businesses. These positions are usually unpaid, although sometimes you can earn school credit. Internships are frequently not advertised, and you may have to do a little digging to locate one. Your local law school, paralegal school or legal secretarial program’s career service office is one of the best sources for locating an internship.
Many non-profits, public interest organizations, legal clinics and legal aid offices are desperate for volunteers. Although unpaid, volunteering is a great way to obtain quality legal work experience. Public interest organizations will not assign meaningless busywork but will instead give you substantive, meaningful tasks that make a difference in the lives of people and the community. Contact your local bar association, legal aid office or legal association to locate volunteer opportunities in your area.
If you are still in school, extracurricular activities can provide a useful experience that may help get your foot in the door of legal employers. Law students can participate in moot court competitions, sharpening their oral advocacy skills through mock oral arguments before a judge. Since strong writing skills are necessary for many legal professions, students can gain writing experience through writing competitions, writing clinics and school-related journals and newsletters.