You don’t have to be an attorney to get a job doing interesting and challenging legal work. As a paralegal, you work with lawyers and law offices and get to do all kinds of legal work.
Prospects for paralegals are very good, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting that the job outlook will increase by 10% to 2029. That’s much faster than average!
So, if you are applying for a paralegal position you’re going to need a compelling resume that shows you have exactly what recruiters are looking for.
Resume objective for paralegals
Paralegals, who are essentially legal assistants, do a lot of groundwork for lawyers. They research laws and regulations, gather facts about cases, organize and maintain documents, write and summarize reports that help their employers prepare for trial.
They also draft correspondence and legal documents, including contracts, organize and get formal statements and affidavits that might be used as evidence in court, and help by taking notes in court, handling court exhibits, and reviewing trial transcripts.
Of course, specific duties will depend on the exact job requirements and type of work the firm does.
Corporate paralegals will do business-related work, like contracts, while litigation paralegals will do work that is related to trials.
Sometimes paralegals, like attorneys, specialize in legal areas like personal injury, criminal law, intellectual property, real estate, immigration, or family law.
When you apply for a paralegal job, you will be more likely to get the position if you have experience that tallies with the requirements of the employer. So study the requirements carefully and, presuming you have what they need, mention it in a short objective at the top of your resume if you include one.
An alternative to an objective is a short summary of your skills and achievements.
Experienced paralegal with an associate degree and paralegal certificate and a penchant for research. Excellent time management skills ensure every deadline is met. Thrives in a fast-paced legal environment. Keen to learn.
Resume skills for paralegals
If you are applying to a large legal firm, there will be a good chance that they will be using some sort of applicant tracking system (ATS) to identify those who best meet their needs.
These systems use keywords to sift through applicants, so even if you are well qualified and experienced, if you don’t use the keywords they are looking for your application may be discarded without a second glance.
Read the job advert carefully and pinpoint keywords that apply to you, like detail-oriented, communication, organized, multi-task, resilient, meticulous, team player, and then weave these words into your resume either as skills or anywhere else where they fit naturally.
Be aware that some adverts list the specific skills required while others simply provide details of duties and responsibilities, though you should be able to identify skills from these.
We scanned more than 40 job posts and the skills shown below include some of the most common skills we identified. They include hard and soft skills both of which are important.
Excellent written and verbal skills | Research and analysis | Legal writing | Investigation | Multi-tasking | Time management | Resilient and positive | Meticulous attention to detail and facts | Accuracy | Litigation | MOS & Excel
Paralegal work experience
According to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, the largest employers (76%) of paralegals are lawyers and companies that offer legal services. The rest are employed by the finance and insurance industries or the federal, local, or state government, excluding hospitals and education.
They often work as part of a team with attorneys, other paralegals, and legal support staff. Most of their time is spent in an office environment though some are expected to accompany attorneys to court for depositions or trials.
Jobs are plentiful but competition is fierce for paralegals and legal assistants, so you are going to have to use your resume to sell your skills, expertise, and experience.
Of course, the ideal is that you will have exactly the right experience required to do the job you are applying for. In any case, structure your resume to highlight the most appropriate experience.
Establish from the advert what kind of assistance you will be required to provide attorneys with. Assess the kinds of documents you will be asked to prepare. They may not require legal interpretation but will likely need a good working knowledge of legal procedures and terminology.
Where your experience dovetails requirements, mention it.
Sample Work Experience
Harris Law Firm, CO
Paralegal, 2019 – 2020
Drafted sworn financial statements and reviewed financial documents. Drafted, proofread, and reviewed pleadings. Scheduled hearings, meditations, and conferences. Prepared and submitted court filings.
- Communicated with company clients on a regular (daily or weekly) basis.
- Calculated deadlines and docketed them using electronic calendaring systems.
- Effectively managed a high-volume workload with critical deadlines. In two years I never missed a deadline.
- Prepared discovery and trial exhibits for more than 60 trials.
Schneider Transportation & Logistics, WI
Paralegal, 2017 – 2019
Undertook varied research and provided information to the attorneys in the company’s legal team to enable them to make strategic legal decisions.
- Prepared initial drafts of correspondence, affidavits, and other official documents for use in official court filings, hearings, and various proceedings.
- Processed and reviewed responses to subpoenas and requests for records.
- Organized varied types of legal files including final demands and collections, as well as bankruptcy documents.
- Safeguarded confidential information and privileged legal communications.
Marshall, Denny & Smith, FL
Paralegal, 2015 – 2016
Worked in the field of insurance defense litigation obtaining, reviewing, and analyzing documents including financial, medical, tax, and employment records. Provided a medical record chronology.
- Prepared for 42 trials by getting trial notebooks, exhibits, and witness files ready.
- Researched and analyzed case issues including medical research of facts from medical and other expert articles.
- Communicated issues with experts.
- Investigated and analyzed prior transcripts and testimony.
Most legal professions require at least a bachelor’s degree in law, paralegals and legal assistants can find employment with an associate’s degree or even paralegal certificates that take less than a year to achieve.
According to the National Paralegal College in Phoenix, Arizona, certificates are suitable for students who want to enter the job market as quickly as possible as well as graduates who already have associate’s or bachelor’s degrees.
The two types of diplomas are not the same, but many students do a post-high school diploma and then transfer the certificate into an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) Degree Paralegal Program.
According to the Paralegal.Edu Center for Advanced Legal Studies in Houston, Texas, after getting a Paralegal Certificate, students can complete an AAS in less than two years (about 21 months).
Of the many paralegal jobs we sampled, a large percentage preferred applicants with a bachelor’s degree in paralegal science or at least with a minor in paralegal studies.
Additionally, we noticed that a large number of employers wanted applicants who had studied further and obtained a paralegal certificate from a program that is approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) after they had graduated with an associate or bachelor’s degree – not just any degree!
This indicates how important educational qualifications are.
Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies, 2017 – 2020
Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies, 2017 – 2019
University of North Florida
Paralegal Certificate, 2017 (12 months online)
- Qualified to sit for the Certified Paralegal exam
Once paralegals have completed their basic education and training and received a degree and/or certificate they often continue studying via continuing legal education (CLE) programs.
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), both of which offer paralegal certification (see next section below), offer courses as part of their CLE programs as well as other educational programs.
These programs cover topics in substantive and non-substantive areas of law. They include technology programs like legal research, as well as court rules and updates, recent legal decisions, and writing skills and ethics.
NALA organizes conferences, seminars, and webinars in addition to courses that are considered credits for recertification. Popular webinars include Ethics and the Law, and Confidentiality and Ethics: Staying on the Right Side of the Line.
Non-substantive credits include mediation, law office management, communications, office technology, computer programs or applications, self-help, mental health, and prevention of substance abuse courses.
Substantive credits offered by reputable companies and attorney/paralegal teams include mock trials, the basics of trust, and contract law.
According to NFPA, just about every CEP designed for attorneys can be taken by paralegals.
- Ethics and the Law
- Mock Trials
- How to Cross Examine a Hostile Witness
There is no single US authority that controls the paralegal profession. There is also no licensure for paralegals and certification is voluntary.
Once paralegals have a certificate or degree they can opt for certification through a state agency or a paralegal association.
The two national US professional associations mentioned above offer paralegal, or legal assistant certification credentials.
The Paralegal Association NALA established the Certified Paralegal (CP) credential in 1976 to identify paralegals who have passed a rigorous exam. While it is a voluntary qualification, it is seen as an important form of self-regulation that earns respect in the legal profession.
The CP credential is only valid for five years because of continued changes in laws and legal procedures. To maintain certification, paralegals must complete a total of 50 hours of CLE programs.
There is also an advanced certification program available from NALA and NALA-recognized state credentialing programs in California, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas.
The NFPA has two paralegal certification exams, the Paralegal CORE Competency (PCCE), and the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) exams.
The NFPA also requires ongoing CLE to maintain certification.
- CP (NALA)
- PACE (NFPA)
- PCCE (NFPA)
Complete paralegal resume sample
When we sampled paralegal job posts and resumes we selected the one below as an example around which to write a well-structured resume. Even if the job you choose to apply to is completely different, the concept we have followed is the same.
The company advertising the post is a top intellectual property specialty law firm. They are looking for a paralegal who is willing to spend at least two years with the company.
They don’t want someone with a lot of experience, instead, they want what they call “an early career professional.” Their preference is for someone with a bachelor’s degree and a paralegal certificate.
This indicates that if an applicant has the attributes they are looking for but only an associate’s degree, they might get the job.
Litigation paralegal with seven years of experience. Paralegal certificate and current NFPA certification. Strong drive to succeed and play a significant role in the company for at least two years.
Organized | Time management | Excellent written and verbal communication | Accuracy | MOS | FRCP & FRAP | Meticulous attention to detail and facts | Litigation
Ogletree Deakins, DC
Litigation Paralegal, 2018 – 2020
Researched and analyzed law sources including statutes, recorded judicial decisions, legal articles, constitutions, treaties, and legal codes to help prepare legal documents for attorneys.
- Performed a wide variety of tasks including legal research and compilation of data.
- Prepared hundreds of reports, correspondence, declarations, and complaints.
- Regularly assisted two senior attorneys in preparation for depositions and at trial.
- Entered billing and expense data into the firm’s system.
The Ford Agency
Litigation Paralegal, 2016 – 2017
Worked with a dynamic team of corporate attorneys focusing on research and assisting with the editing of legal documents and correspondence. Took responsibility for case document management.
- Undertook thorough cite-checking, blue booking citations, and general preparation of briefs.
- Managed the full-cycle litigation process.
- Maintained all case production logs, deposition calendars, and exhibits for trials.
- Acted as a mentor to junior staff and provided support in a collaborative and team-oriented way.
Bredhoff & Kaiser, DC
Paralegal, 2014 – 2016
Worked closely with the firm’s attorneys in all phases of litigation practice from initiation of cases to trial. Managed case-related documents and information, conducted factual research, and assisted with discovery-related projects.
- Closely involved in trial court litigation including cite-checking and preparation of briefs to support the firm’s appellate practice.
- Undertook substantial research on economic and policy issues in support of the firm’s counseling and compliance practice.
- Developed my writing skills and was invited to write reports for attorneys’ use and reference.
- Maintained and monitored litigation dockets and due dates for the full team of attorneys.
- PCCE (NFPA)
Tacoma Community College
Paralegal-Pro Certificate, 2014
University of Washington
Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Science, 2010 – 2013
- Litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution
- Court Rules and Updates (July 2019)
- Ethics and the Law
Paralegals work with attorneys but they aren’t attorneys. Nevertheless, much of the work that they do is as critical as the work their seniors do. But the focus of specific paralegal positions does vary and when you write your resume for a new job you must take these needs into account.
- Pay careful attention to the requirements of the job and show how your skills, abilities, and experience will meet these requirements.
- If you include an objective in your resume it should appear at the top of the document under your name and contact details. There is, however, a growing trend to dispense with the objective and replace it with a summary of your skills and achievements as they relate to the job. Keep it very short and concise and be sure to make it a statement rather than a list of skills.
- Many legal firms and recruiters for legal firms use ATSs to identify keywords they are looking for. You will find likely keywords in the job post as well as on the company website. Choose them carefully.
Tips from Experts
“A professional summary replaces the objective statement in a paralegal resume. A traditional objective statement was all about what you were looking for in a company. In the professional summary you will list out everything that you have and you bring that will entice that law firm or company to invite you in for an interview.” – Matt Allen, career services advisor
“Think of your resume as your biggest marketing tool. It’s your opportunity to brag about yourself, to promote yourself, and to tell law firms and attorneys why your skills and experience are great assets.“ – Misty Murray, Arrow Consultants
“A resume serves one functional purpose: showcase your paralegal skills, education, and experience. Studies show that resumes are given all of about five seconds of attention before they either make the keeper stack or hit the wastebasket. It’s your job to make sure your resume gives prospective employers a reason to pause, linger a little longer, and discover why you are the best person for the job.” – ParalegalEDU.org
Job prospects for paralegals in the US are excellent, but there is also a lot of competition. This means that you need to tailor your resume to the post you are applying for and make sure that your talents and abilities are clearly highlighted.
Use the tips and information provided here and adapt it to meet your needs and the requirements of the job you are punting for. Include important keywords, but be sure to do so in a natural way.
Remember, a successful resume will get you an interview which equates with one foot in the door.