Many schools in Alberta offer paralegal or legal assistant programs. Students are led on to believe that by completion of the program, they will be easily hired out of school and will be paid well in the profession. One school, in particular, bragged to potential candidates that 80% of their students were employed after graduation. Unknowing to the potential students, the employed graduates were not necessarily employed in legal assistant or paralegal positions. The statistics included any form of employment to misrepresent the success of the program.
The reality is, it is very hard to find a job fresh out of school and even harder to find an employer that will pay well or treat you well.
If you do choose to attend a paralegal or legal assistant program, this is our advice to you:
Research the school before enrolling
It is in your best interest to research the school you are considering attending. Some paralegal or legal assistant diplomas are not respected in the legal field. Many law firms will not accept practicum students from certain schools because of bad experiences with former students that were not knowledgeable at the end of their program.
Be prepared for rejection
It may take a long time to find a job after graduation. Do not get discouraged. You will need to be resilient and keep applying to many law firms even if you have been unsuccessful in all of your previous interviews.
Follow-up after your interviews
It is a good practice to send an email after your interview thanking them for their time and offering to provide and further information or whatever. I am confident that I only landed my second legal assistant position because I followed up multiple times after the interview. The firm did not respond to me within the timeframe I was told they would make their decision. I sent another email a week or so after that letting them know that I was disappointed that they decided to go in another direction and I asked for their feedback to assist me with my future interviews. I received a response to this email offering me the position. This job offer was made over a month after the interview.
Be prepared for a mediocre wage without benefits
It is unlikely that you will be paid the salary advertised by your school. In reality, most junior positions are paid hourly rates that are not much more than minimal wage. You may not receive benefits or parking either.
Be prepared to be treated like shit
It is not uncommon to be treated poorly early in your career. If you were hired with limited experience, you may be treated like you are stupid and belittled for something as small as a typological error in a draft letter. I quit my first law firm job after the first week because the lawyer was very abusive and I wanted to be treated with dignity and respect. I was not aware at the time that it would be so hard to land another position fresh out of school. I was treated poorly at my next job too, but I stayed long enough to get the experience needed to be an asset to a different law firm. My experience is not unique. Many lawyers are awful employers!
Be prepared for abuse from clients
It is not uncommon to be treated poorly by clients. If the lawyers are unable to take their call or ask you to relay a message, the client may take their frustration out on you. You may hear something along the lines of “I’m paying for a lawyer not to talk to their assistant.” Learning how to deal with abusive clients gets easier with experience. Hang in there!
If you have any questions regarding the process of becoming a legal assistant or paralegal, email to chat with our team today. We can connect you with a mentor that will give you the run down.