Hi Rob! When you first connected with Yegal where were you up to with your studies?
I completed my Juris Doctor degree in late 2021, and in early March 2022 during my final month of Practical Legal Training I contacted Yegal seeking temporary paralegal employment; things moved quickly and I began the paralegal role at CBP within days of that initial enquiry.
At the time my only legal experience was a one-semester placement that was part of my law degree, so as my studies drew to a close I was confronted with having to plan my career which was a daunting proposition at that time. When I spoke to Yegal it gave me a a great deal of comfort that there was a service out there trying to help people in my situation.
Why did a short term paralegal project like CBP’s work for you at that time?
I knew that working within in a field of law could differ significantly from what I was learning at Uni. I knew I needed to find the right company fit as well, so joining up with Yegal Paralegal was appealing as I could gain insight into various areas of law while being exposed to several workplaces.
The CBP role was an excellent way to become an appealing candidate by beginning to remedy my lack of legal experience; I understood that in this competitive market for recent law graduates reassuring employers that I was a competent, hard-working, personable employee that possessed some practical experience was a top priority.
Working for a large and reputable firm like Colin Biggers & Paisley seemed like an incredible opportunity to address these issues while simultaneously avoiding the imminent starvation that would likely have accompanied the untenable alternative of unpaid work experience!
What has been the best part about working with CBP?
What a privilege it has been to work for this exceptional practice; Colin Biggers & Paisley’s workplace culture is of the highest calibre, and the incredible support and warmth I was shown quickly instilled in me a deep loyalty to the firm.
I remember one particularly stormy day my diminutive umbrella had not been up to the task, and I mentioned the fact in passing to a partner, Melissa Fenton, who had noticed I was slightly damper than usual; her reaction was illustrative of the ethos and spirit of the firm — without hesitation she handed me her own umbrella, refusing to take no for an answer, telling me to hold on to it until she spoke to office services and they got me a new one. (Unable to abide, I went to office services myself so she wouldn’t have to, and promptly returned the loan umbrella, nonetheless cherishing my shiny replacement.)
Acts of support and generosity of this nature have been common place during my first two months at CBP; it is a firm where no one is ever too busy to assist a co-worker with a problem or offer some guidance.
When a permanent position was first offered to you how did that make you feel?
When the permanent position was offered, I finally felt I could breathe again — the years long road of uncertainty that had begun with returning to university to study my JD had ended in triumph!
The Graduate position was secured as a result of tremendous support from my peers, from HR, and from co-workers in other departments, so much so that I cannot in good conscience take ownership of my receiving the offer — it was a group effort and a shared achievement.
In the end, I simply felt grateful; overwhelmingly grateful for their support, and grateful that I didn’t let those who believed in me down, all the while being filled with disbelief at my undeserved good fortune.
Having concluded my temporary contract, as I begin to undertake my Graduate position responsibilities I feel highly motivated each day to continue to demonstrate my appreciation by working hard, rising to the challenge of the position, and doing whatever I can to enhance the reputation of the practice.
Not all short term Yegal roles turn into permanent jobs. Reflecting on your CBP experience to date, what advice would you give to other paralegals who might be looking to turn a temporary position into something permanent?
I will reiterate the advice Michael from Yegal gave me when my contract was first extended and I asked what I could do to maximise my chances of being offered a permanent role, and use this as a framework for my own advice:
- Your document review numbers are the metric for how well you are doing — keep them high!
- Demonstrate professionalism, that means in your appearance, your attitude, and your work ethic.
Remember that anything worth doing is worth doing well. Initially contracted for only eight days, I was desperate to immediately prove myself an asset and an integral part of the team. If document review numbers were going to be the metric, then I would find a way to excel.
I would find ways to make the work challenging and interesting by gamifying the task: I set daily personal goals for targets and consistently tried to top my record; I kept meticulous track of my progress and used a timer to maximise my productivity; I strove for a streamlined workflow that maximised my effort.
Adopting a novel approach, I made eDiscovery into an opportunity for personal growth by viewing it as an exercise in concentration, a way to increase sitting power and mental endurance. It was a point of pride that I consistently did twice of what was expected of me while maintaining a high standard of accuracy.
Professionalism is fundamentally an attitude which naturally extends to multiple areas of work life. Try to maintain an attitude of positivity and confidence, and back it up with conscientiousness and care — this is your opportunity to show what you are made of.
There’s a joke: two men on safari come across a tiger. The first man bends down and begins to tie his laces. The other man says, “You’ll never outrun a tiger in those.” The first man replies, “I don’t have to outrun the tiger. I just have to outrun you.”
You don’t have to be the best paralegal of all time, but keep in mind that somewhere out there is someone just like you trying to turn a temporary position into something permanent – do better than them. Additionally, consider your clothing and grooming choices and present yourself to the firm in a way that communicates your eagerness to work and your commitment to the role and the legal lifestyle. Be courteous, be generous, and maintain your integrity – this firm is trusting you so never betray that.
Networking is a nasty way of saying you should use your interpersonal skills effectively to interact with members within and around your profession in meaningful ways. Connecting with your co-workers, taking an interest in their lives, their work, their wellbeing, is a lovely way of enriching your work environment while cultivating positive and productive relationships.
If you care about people, find ways to demonstrate that in your little interactions with them at work, and you will be surprised at the ways this care is reciprocated. It was my interactions with people at work that propelled me realise my goal; never underestimate the information you can glean from others — it was through a dozen scattered conversations that I was able to understand the firm infrastructure and the opportunities worth pursuing.
The email to HR that substantiated in my graduate interview was a polite way of letting the firm know what I was looking for; that I was put forward for a graduate position that very day was simply a case of right place right time, or to put it another way, luck being what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
Open about how things were progressing, I received everything from emotional support, to general advice, to one co-worker even conducting a mock interview for my benefit!
It was in the line of the food court area on the day of my interview that a chance meeting sealed my fate. Jane O’Neill, another partner at the firm, was noticeably perturbed at the prospect of having to wait in the comically long line for a hot cross bun. Noticing her dilemma, I called out and offered for her to push in front of me (justified by the legal technicality that I had, we agreed, unknowingly been holding her place in the line the whole time).
The topic of my graduate interview came up and after we buttered our brunch she took off, assuring me she would find someone for me to talk to about it. True to her word, she found me at my desk a couple of hours later and talked to me at length about how she would approach the situation, placing my everything into a context only someone familiar with the firm could know, and recommended I arrange a meeting with Brianna — the solicitor whose role I would be replacing — before the interview.
Needless to say her advice made all the difference, and through my interview with Brianna I was able to gain a detailed perspective on the role in ways that proved invaluable in the interview.
It is important to be honest about what it is you are working toward, and let the relevant players know; communication is essential — point to that distant mountain and let it be known you aim to climb it.