BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

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Anonymous User
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BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Apr 21, 2012 1:00 am

I'm graduating with a B.A. from a top20 non-Ivy and I'll be a corporate paralegal for a V10 in New York starting this summer. I'll be there for two years before hopefully heading law school.

I'm starting at a base salary between 40K and 45K (for 40 hours), and I know overtime is significant. I'm hoping to get at least 60 hours per week (average, over the course of the year), as I'll be living in New York, hoping to pay down some student debt (less than 20K, all federal) and also hoping to save some. I have no idea what sort of bonus to expect -- I just I know I do receive one annually.

For those who have been or currently are paralegals (especially if you've done it at a V5 or V10, or if you have paralegal experience in New York):
What are/were your average hours per week?
What are some missteps you wish you hadn't made on the job, and some things you wish you had done to prepare before starting?
Best part of the job? Worst?
How much did you make, how much was from overtime, and what was your bonus (if any)?
If you were a paralegal in NYC, what sort of neighborhood did you live in? I'm almost definitely living in Manhattan since rents don't really go down VERY fast until you get into neighborhoods that are dangerous, seedy, or too long of a commute. I'm not unfamiliar with Manhattan, but never lived there so I figure people there would know better than I would.

For current or former associates who may see this thread (especially if you're in BigLaw):
What qualities, skills or behaviors do the best paralegals have? And the worst?
Any recommendations you can give me before I begin?
Last edited by Anonymous User on Tue Apr 24, 2012 2:04 am, edited 1 time in total.

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The Pen Is Mightier
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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby The Pen Is Mightier » Sat Apr 21, 2012 1:30 am

Worry less, drink in the office, take as much ot as humanly possible but also don't try to think or act like you know anything. Lawyers are insecure and they see themselves as above you but some of them are still cool. Find those ones and drink in the office with them while you are racking ot and billing.

Learn how to follow directions very closely. Learn how to follow directions that you aren't given, but not to the extent that you are thinking for yourself.

The job isn't that hard. Worry less. Don't work at Dewey.

Anonymous User
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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Apr 21, 2012 1:36 am

Somewhat of an aside, does anyone know if firms would look at a high LSAT favorably for paralegal hiring

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MrPapagiorgio
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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby MrPapagiorgio » Sat Apr 21, 2012 1:47 am

Anonymous User wrote:Somewhat of an aside, does anyone know if firms would look at a high LSAT favorably for paralegal hiring

They'd probably ask why you aren't attending law school if you have a high LSAT.

Anonymous User
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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Apr 24, 2012 2:05 am

MrPapagiorgio wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Somewhat of an aside, does anyone know if firms would look at a high LSAT favorably for paralegal hiring

They'd probably ask why you aren't attending law school if you have a high LSAT.


Definitely that -- JDs often have trouble trying to get paralegal position, since recruiters sensibly assume the JD-holder will pounce on the next job opportunity.

Still, any responses to the OP? I'm coming out of a good school and heading into a great firm. I want to impress and do a genuinely good job, so any advice is appreciated.

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sunynp
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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby sunynp » Tue Apr 24, 2012 7:37 am

Be super organized and don't need too much supervision.

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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Apr 24, 2012 12:12 pm

sunynp wrote:Be super organized and don't need too much supervision.


This. Seriously. Be organized, detail-oriented, proactive.

I was a paralegal at a V10 in NY, although I was in litigation so can't speak to corporate. Generally applicable tips though -

If you want to be memorable in a good way:
-Learn quickly
-When you start, ask other paras a lot of questions so you can learn quickly. Once you've been at the firm longer and you've learned the basics, you'll know what questions are appropriate to ask associates.
-Work quickly
-Have a good sense of humor
-Don't complain (too much)

You don't want to be the paralegal that no one wants to work with because they're disorganized, don't get things done on time, are never around when things need to get done. This happens. Don't be that person. Everyone else has to pick up your slack.

Your hours will be wildly unpredictable. Read the thread about Biglaw junior assocs to get a sense of what that's like. That was the worst part about the job - cancelling dinner plans constantly, rarely buying groceries because you never know if you'll be home in the evening to eat them, etc. Don't plan some weeknight class/activity the first year you're there. The good thing in comparison with attorneys though is that you are somewhat protected from the unpredictability. For the most part, paralegals are interchangeable, so if you've had a vacation on the calendar for months, you don't have to cancel it if something comes up at work.

You will have some weeks where you have nothing to do and are scraping to come up with 40 hours. You will probably have a few weeks where you work 80 hours and then some. Learn to generally anticipate which weeks are which and enjoy those 40 hour weeks.

Find parts of the job that you enjoy and pursue them. Ask to work on more cases/deals like that. Get to know some of the attorneys better.

Preparation beforehand? Nothing. Seriously. I guess if you really wanted, start reading the business/finance section of some newspaper to get familiar with financial jargon.

OT was time and a half. Bonus was something like a week or two weeks pay. Full year salary between 60-80k depending on the year. Starting salary 40k with yearly raise.


MrPapagiorgio wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Somewhat of an aside, does anyone know if firms would look at a high LSAT favorably for paralegal hiring

They'd probably ask why you aren't attending law school if you have a high LSAT.


I'm going to disagree with this. A lot of firms only expect paras to stay 2 years then head on to law school/b-school. They aren't looking for people to commit long-term to the firm. I don't think a high LSAT will have much of an effect on hiring other than perhaps paralleling a good GPA. At my firm, hiring was more about fit and work/leadership experience.

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Sherlock1708
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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby Sherlock1708 » Tue Apr 24, 2012 12:23 pm

I worked at a big firm in NYC in litigation. The junior associates I worked with were awesome and I still am friends with some of them. A few of the partners were pretty cool too. I was able to work on 2 major cases during this time, one that I worked on from the discovery stage to trial, so it was definitely good experience.

My starting salary was $42,000 and each year I received a raise and a $6,000 bonus. In 2008, I made $73,000 due to overtime. I missed an entire spring due to almost never leaving the office before midnight, but the team I worked with was great so that made things better. It was depressing at times when all of your friends are out having a great time and you're stuck waiting at the office for IKON to finish copying massive amounts of documents so the partner can have his binders sitting on his desk by 8 am (only to find out that they were copied single sided instead of double sided and you literally wasted your weekend waiting for the docs) or to have your firm cancel your vacation for you (yes this happened as well but they paid for me to rebook my flight). The worst part of being a paralegal is the mindless, soul-sucking work you will be expected to do... Also you will be given a blackberry and if it buzzes, you will be expected to drop whatever you are doing and go into the office.

The perks are that if you are interested in big law, you will know what type of lifestyle you are signing up for. If you work hard and make things easier for the attorneys, you can start building up your legal network. Now I'm not sure what exactly a paralegal in corporate does, but regardless, you will be providing high levels of assistance to the attorneys. Be organized (this is incredibly important), do not leave the office until your work is finished, do not leave until you have asked the attorneys if you are finished for the day (nothing is worse than getting home only to be called back into the office), and just use common sense. The job itself will not be difficult. The difficulty is in time management and juggling multiple projects... This is where organization will be key. Attorneys tend to be very unorganized. You must be proactive and don't expect constant supervision. The job is not hard, but a lot of people can't handle the stress or time-commitment expected. If you play your cards right, you may have an excellent network of attorneys who can write LORs for you when you apply to law school. These attorneys may be the ones interviewing you one day for a SA position.

Yes the job sucks but there are some perks. At my firm, overtime started after 35 hours and you got double time during a holiday. After 7pm, you could order up to $30 on seamless web or at the cafeteria... Food was so cheap in the cafeteria that I could stock up on goodies for days. After 8pm, you could take a cab or car home for free. The Christmas party was amazing... Rumor had it that the firm spent $500,000 on it, not to mention the after parties they always held. The summer parties were pretty nice as well. The attorneys know your job sucks and that you are smart, so most will be friendly and sympathetic towards you. At my firm, they only hired Ivy/Williams grads so they knew this wasn't your career and that you were there to see if firm life was for you.

I lived in Murray Hill, which is a very yuppy and fun place to live in your early-mid 20s... Most young people choose UES, Murray Hill or East Village - these are the more affordable areas. Once I was over Murray Hill, I moved down near Union Square and I loved this area.

If you have any questions, feel free to message me.

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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby hanman » Thu Apr 26, 2012 9:20 pm

i have done 3 years as a corporate paralegal at a V5, in 3 different offices (one international) of the same firm, over the course of 5 years. [i moved a lot due to family reasons]

when i started right out of college, i was really "scared" of attorneys and tried super hard to do everything perfectly, a lot of anxiety etc. now, i know that i usually know more about the mechanics of a transaction than the first year associates i work with ... so the job is fun because i'm less-stressed, less obsessive about not making mistakes. lesson learned is to not let the anxiety of attorneys (esp first and second years) affect you, feel free to ask questions or clarification when you get nonsensical demands and feel confident.

that being said, the most important thing is to be super super organized and detail-oriented. be very pleasant and act as a calming influence, esp on the crazy days when the attorneys you're working with seem to be freaking out. project a positive/ can-do attitude, no matter what.

OT is unpredictable. on occasion, i have slept for 3+ nights in a row at the office. sometimes i go a couple of months without significant OT. when i was 21, i really cared about accumulating OT. now i really don't care about the extra $$, i'd rather not have my outside-of-work plans disrupted. you just have to learn to be as flexible as possible because attorneys (and your manager) will remember that you stepped up when they really needed someone to stay late or come in on a weekend.

i lived in murray hill for the 1 yr i worked in the nyc office. i disliked murray hill but i liked being a 20 minute walk from the office. i am now far far away from the office and its a pain. i wouldn't live more than a 30 minute commute away, esp if you plan to do a lot of OT.

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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Apr 30, 2012 2:28 pm

Thanks for all the replies, guys. Very helpful. God, I want all the OT possibrruuu. Manhattan is awesome and I'm hoping to make enough that I can enjoy the city a lot in the little time I have off (ha) and save a little something on the side.

Last two questions:
1. Are two good suits enough, or three to be safe and not seem like a chump (although I am on the bottom of the totem pole regardless)? It's a V5 and still looks fairly formal.
2. I doubt I'll need an actual briefcase -- is this right or wrong? What sort of office bag should I purchase to look like somebody who is a. professional, respectful of the work environment, and intent on working, and b. not a 22-year old paralegal douche in over his head with a $2000 luxury document carrier. Help me find a balance, doods. Thanks.

hanman
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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby hanman » Mon Apr 30, 2012 3:58 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Thanks for all the replies, guys. Very helpful. God, I want all the OT possibrruuu. Manhattan is awesome and I'm hoping to make enough that I can enjoy the city a lot in the little time I have off (ha) and save a little something on the side.

Last two questions:
1. Are two good suits enough, or three to be safe and not seem like a chump (although I am on the bottom of the totem pole regardless)? It's a V5 and still looks fairly formal.
2. I doubt I'll need an actual briefcase -- is this right or wrong? What sort of office bag should I purchase to look like somebody who is a. professional, respectful of the work environment, and intent on working, and b. not a 22-year old paralegal douche in over his head with a $2000 luxury document carrier. Help me find a balance, doods. Thanks.


at my V5 firm (NYC office included), paralegals never wore suits (unless litigation paralegals going to court). usually just business smart - i.e. "dress" shirt and pants. i've been to closings at other V5 firms and never seen paralegals wearing suits. 2 suits should be more than enough for the suit-wearing occasions that arise. you might seem like a chump if you wear a suit to work regularly!

the guys sometimes wear polos and pants as well (depends on how casual the vibe is, esp in summer). its best to take your cue from junior associates. lawyers dress similarly unless meeting clients. on weekends, i've seen lawyers come to work in gym clothes, so its more like anything goes outside of office hours.

i have never seen a paralegal or any non-Partner carry a briefcase. ppl bring backpacks, messenger bags, whatever you feel comfortable with. nobody will care.

Favoritism
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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby Favoritism » Tue May 01, 2012 4:47 am

Sort of a hijack, but hopefully someone can answer this for me as it's related.

I'm also graduating from undergrad this year but I am not quite sure how I can become a paralegal. How did you get your job? What sort of training have you done, if any? Do firms usually hire people without "paralegal training"? Is there some sort of program or test I have to pass?

(It should be fairly obvious that I have not done all that much research on the topic yet.)

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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby CanadianWolf » Tue May 01, 2012 7:39 am

The largest law firms usually hire recent college graduates from elite colleges & universities. The law firms often have their own training program for paralegals. Most ask for a two year committment.

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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby agcl0913 » Tue May 01, 2012 1:38 pm

Favoritism wrote:I'm also graduating from undergrad this year but I am not quite sure how I can become a paralegal. How did you get your job? What sort of training have you done, if any? Do firms usually hire people without "paralegal training"? Is there some sort of program or test I have to pass?


Second what CanadianWolf said. I got my biglaw paralegal gig through a job consortium that my UG participated in. That seems to be how people frequently get their jobs at big firms. You could try just going down the vault rankings, check websites for openings and apply, or just send a cover letter/resume to anyone and everyone.

I know there's always a lot of confusion about whether you need to have a paralegal certificate or training beforehand. For big firms, the answer is usually no. If you want to work in small law or some government positions (PD's, DA's), that's probably individual for each office. Those offices are probably looking for career paras whereas biglaw wants a two year commitment and then doesn't expect you to stay.

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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby Turtle Bay » Tue May 01, 2012 10:28 pm

agcl0913 wrote:
Favoritism wrote:I'm also graduating from undergrad this year but I am not quite sure how I can become a paralegal. How did you get your job? What sort of training have you done, if any? Do firms usually hire people without "paralegal training"? Is there some sort of program or test I have to pass?


Second what CanadianWolf said. I got my biglaw paralegal gig through a job consortium that my UG participated in. That seems to be how people frequently get their jobs at big firms. You could try just going down the vault rankings, check websites for openings and apply, or just send a cover letter/resume to anyone and everyone.

I know there's always a lot of confusion about whether you need to have a paralegal certificate or training beforehand. For big firms, the answer is usually no. If you want to work in small law or some government positions (PD's, DA's), that's probably individual for each office. Those offices are probably looking for career paras whereas biglaw wants a two year commitment and then doesn't expect you to stay.


Same here (UG consortium). I'd second going down the Vault rankings, except don't bother mass-mailing the V10/20 -- almost all of these firms got whoever they needed through UG consortiums (usually in Jan/Feb) since they pretty much all have their paras come in at the same time (June) -- they are done with their two-year hires until they get people starting in 2013. I'd look for specific openings on firm websites, look below the V10/20, and see if you have any personal connections.

No certificate/training needed for most NY offices (I think it's a CA/west coast thing), unless it's for something very specific (e.g. intellectual property). Don't get a paralegal degree/certificate unless you're setting up for a paralegal career instead of a two- or three-year job -- and even then, not all career paras need certificates.

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Sherlock1708
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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby Sherlock1708 » Wed May 02, 2012 12:17 am

Anonymous User wrote:Thanks for all the replies, guys. Very helpful. God, I want all the OT possibrruuu. Manhattan is awesome and I'm hoping to make enough that I can enjoy the city a lot in the little time I have off (ha) and save a little something on the side.

Last two questions:
1. Are two good suits enough, or three to be safe and not seem like a chump (although I am on the bottom of the totem pole regardless)? It's a V5 and still looks fairly formal.
2. I doubt I'll need an actual briefcase -- is this right or wrong? What sort of office bag should I purchase to look like somebody who is a. professional, respectful of the work environment, and intent on working, and b. not a 22-year old paralegal douche in over his head with a $2000 luxury document carrier. Help me find a balance, doods. Thanks.


I was in litigation, but the only time I wore a suit was during depositions or during a trial (in case they needed me to bring something into court). I always kept a spare change of clothing at the office, since you never know if you might need to stay overnight. I also kept a suit in my office in case I needed it. You should probably be fine with 2 suits... avoid pinstripes because it won't be as obvious if you have to wear the same suit twice in a row. As for a briefcase, you don't need one. A messenger bag is fine if you want a bag. The firm will probably provide a bag for you if you need to carry along a lot of papers or whatnot.

OT is great, but at some point you just want your life. I can't remember any of the paralegals I worked with that were gunning for OT. Most were giddy if they could escape by 6. Manhattan is expensive, if you go to clubs and fancy bars, but there are so many cheap bars and free things to do around the city that you really don't need to a lot of OT to enjoy yourself.

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rickgrimes69
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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby rickgrimes69 » Wed May 02, 2012 11:09 am

Anonymous User wrote:For those who have been or currently are paralegals (especially if you've done it at a V5 or V10, or if you have paralegal experience in New York):
What are/were your average hours per week?
What are some missteps you wish you hadn't made on the job, and some things you wish you had done to prepare before starting?
Best part of the job? Worst?
How much did you make, how much was from overtime, and what was your bonus (if any)?
If you were a paralegal in NYC, what sort of neighborhood did you live in? I'm almost definitely living in Manhattan since rents don't really go down VERY fast until you get into neighborhoods that are dangerous, seedy, or too long of a commute. I'm not unfamiliar with Manhattan, but never lived there so I figure people there would know better than I would.

For current or former associates who may see this thread (especially if you're in BigLaw):
What qualities, skills or behaviors do the best paralegals have? And the worst?
Any recommendations you can give me before I begin?


I'm a Biglaw paralegal in NYC right now. I get salaried at just above 40k but with OT I'll make close to double that. My hours vary wildly depending on my work load - I've worked 50 hour weeks (rarely less) and I've worked 80+ hour weeks. IMO, the worst part of the job isn't that the hours are incredibly long so much as they're just really unpredictable. I've had days where I surf reddit until 5:00, when I'm suddenly handed a pile of shit and I'm pulling an all-nighter. Making plans in advance becomes an exercise in futility, and my friends have gotten used to me cancelling at the last minute. It sucks, and puts a definite damper on your social life. It's especially frustrating being in NYC and not being able to experience it because I'm either always working or too exhausted from working to do anything fun.

However, the work I do is actually pretty interesting. A lot of it is tedious and boring, but that's not so bad when you can zone out and put on some music or hulu and relax. Deadlines are often given with very little notice, so I'd take tedious and boring over stressful and hectic (like when a filing deadline is approaching) any day.

Plus, you get some awesome perks from working at a big firm. I get to work with a lot of kids my age, and have met some really cool people. Like another poster pointed out, I get dinner and a car home if I work late. You actually end up saving a LOT of money this way, since I usually end up having the firm pay for dinner at least 2-3 nights per week.

Good paralegals are hard to find and pretty essential to a big law firm, so I receive a fair bit of respect. Don't get me wrong: there's a well defined pecking order in a law firm and paralegals are definitely below any mid-level associate worth his salt. However, unlike our secretaries (which are generally regarded as lazy), our duplicating department (generally regarded as incompetent), the SA's (generally regarded as useless) and the first-years (universally regarded as clueless), associates recognize that our job is hard and often technically challenging and so they treat us more like colleagues than underlings.

The best paralegals all share one quality: attention to detail. That's really the key that will make or break you. Flexibility and a positive attitude also goes a long way.

Anonymous User wrote:Thanks for all the replies, guys. Very helpful. God, I want all the OT possibrruuu. Manhattan is awesome and I'm hoping to make enough that I can enjoy the city a lot in the little time I have off (ha) and save a little something on the side.

Last two questions:
1. Are two good suits enough, or three to be safe and not seem like a chump (although I am on the bottom of the totem pole regardless)? It's a V5 and still looks fairly formal.
2. I doubt I'll need an actual briefcase -- is this right or wrong? What sort of office bag should I purchase to look like somebody who is a. professional, respectful of the work environment, and intent on working, and b. not a 22-year old paralegal douche in over his head with a $2000 luxury document carrier. Help me find a balance, doods. Thanks.


Two suits is fine. You really don't need to wear a suit every day if you don't want to. You can, some paras do, but most stick to business casual (nice slacks / shoes and dress shirt). I'd say the biggest difference in dress between paras and associates is that associates wear ties and paras usually don't. The only reason you'll need a suit is if you spend a lot of time in court. I end up going about once a week so I'm happy I have them, but some of my colleagues have never stepped foot in a courtroom.

You don't need a briefcase, you aren't taking work home. Get a messenger bag to shuttle your personal belongings and to use as a carrying case if you have to deliver any documents, but you definitely don't need a briefcase.

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Ialdabaoth
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Re: BigLaw Paralegal: Experiences and Advice

Postby Ialdabaoth » Thu Jul 26, 2012 11:06 pm

Does most of the discussion here also apply to working as a paralegal at a midsize firm (~150) attorneys in NYC? Should I expect a similar level of overtime and similar perks (e.g. dinner/car for working late, gym reimbursement, etc.)?




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