Navigating the Legal Workplace to Land Your Dream Job

By Ana Fatima Costa, RPR, CSR

In May, BASF’s Paralegal Section hosted a CLE presentation titled “Navigating the Legal Workplace” covering a wide range of topics: effective resume writing and interviewing techniques; self-promotion; office politics; and working through implicit biases.

Panelists included two members of the Section’s Executive Committee: Dennis Hanshew, Senior Paralegal, Blacker, Sammis & Blacker, Hazel Mottershead, Paralegal Manager, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, as well as two of her co-workers, Michele Lewis, M.S., Director of Human Resources, and Tiseme Zegeye, Associate.

Key points discussed:

1. Know Yourself and Your Prospective Employer

What do you seek in an employer or career? Research online. Ask your peers for information about firms, attorneys and work environments. Look for “red flags” at your desired workplace. If your first choice is not hiring, send a confidential, thoughtful letter with your resumé, asking to be considered for future opportunities.

2. Resumés, Cover Letters and Interviews

Cover letters should be short and on topic – not your life story. However, it’s okay to provide a succinct detail in one area of your life/career. Make sure to name the correct firm. Resumés should show a clear work history, plus promotions and achievements in all positions.

Including work outside the legal industry is a bonus and makes you a well-rounded candidate. Practice interviewing with a friend or in the mirror. Read through common paralegal interview questions (available online). Learn what to ask during the interview and after you receive an offer.

3) Perks, Bonuses and Raises

Salary, perks and bonuses are best discussed at time of hiring. Don’t focus solely on salary; see it as a total package. Negotiating a shorter workweek or more paid vacation in lieu of a raise is easier at a small firm. Perks have real (i.e., dollar) value. Besides traditional benefits (health insurance, PTO, retirement plans, etc.), there may be exotic perks: Sporting or entertainment events, dining allowances, travel expenses, or conferences.

4) Build Relationships with Your Co-Workers

Be careful not to “pick sides” if, by doing so, you create a foe. Avoid being pulled into gossip and certainly do not promote it. Do not send emails when frustrated; go for a walk or sleep on it until you can respond respectfully. Talk it out and keep your temper in check. Continually build and manage office relationships with the purpose of achieving the shared goals of both individuals and the organization.

5) What Are Implicit Biases?

Our attitudes or stereotypes affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. Implicit biases are not accessible through introspection. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, they are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.
Take this test to uncover your unconscious biases: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html.

Parting Words of Wisdom:

  • Seek mentors for support and to help you grow
  • Asking for help is a sign of courage, not weakness
  • Be kind to yourself and everyone else

Purchase Navigating the Legal Workplace webinar at www.sfbar.org/online-cle, search the title.

Ana Fatima Costa, RPR, CSR, the Paralegal Section’s Marketing Coordinator, utilizes her expertise as a former court reporter to educate the legal community about reporters’ crucial role as impartial guardians of the record. Contact her at ana@anafatimacosta.com.