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How My Work as a Paralegal Prepared Me for Law School


Erick Wong '16
Erick Wong '16

Between orientation training and filling out human resource paperwork, my first few weeks as a corporate paralegal at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP consisted of constant Google searches for words and phrases like “securities,” “leveraged buyouts,” and “mergers and acquisitions.” Armed only with the knowledge I took away from Professor Anechiarico’s constitutional and criminal law classes on the Hill, I faced a steep learning curve when it came to tackling the legal and financial jargon that permeated the various projects I was assigned. Still, what I lacked in technical know-how, I made up for with attention to detail, a strong foundation in writing (thanks Hamilton!), and desire to learn. Less than four months later, I was assisting on half-a-dozen deals, including a merger between two multinational drink and brewing companies that was worth over $100 billion. 

I quickly learned that deals at big law firms could progress from a slow, consistent march to a full-on sprint over the course of a single day. Unlike life as a college student where deadlines are predetermined and printed right on the syllabus, the timeline for corporate deals are far from concrete and often change based on new information, movement in the market, or regulatory obstacles. Late nights and early mornings were often peppered into our traditional forty-hour work weeks. This was an overwhelming, but refreshing change of pace for me. 

Coming straight out of Hamilton, I wanted to work in an environment that constantly challenged me and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Over my two years, I managed to take on a variety of corporate matters that let me develop a strong understanding of the responsibilities of the lawyers in each practice group. Moreover, the firm gave us the freedom to take on pro bono and volunteer opportunities, which allowed me to dedicate some of my time to causes that were close to my heart and benefited the surrounding community. I embraced the opportunity to take on a wide variety of work that expanded my understanding of the types of projects lawyers handle on a day-to-day basis.

Perhaps most importantly, I used my time as a paralegal to network and seek out advice from the associates I worked with closely. Most of them were only a few years older than me and were more than happy to talk to me about their time in school and life as a young lawyer. Listening to their experiences with applying to law school helped me to streamline and simplify my own admissions process. Discussing the details of law school classes and on-campus recruiting for summer positions provided me with a much clearer picture about the expectations that I should be setting for myself in school. I carried all the professional skills and personal advice with me to Duke Law School. Juggling multiple deals and working late nights to meet deadlines prepared me for the grind of law school finals. The professional skills that I developed and refined as a paralegal helped me to succeed as a summer intern with Honeywell International Inc., and as a summer associate at another big law firm in New York. 

With only a few months left in my final year at Duke, I can definitively say that my two years of work experience gave me a lot of the tools I needed to navigate and be successful in law school. Law school is a huge personal and financial investment. While my experience led me back to school, several of my friends and coworkers used their time as paralegals to jump into other rewarding roles in finance, recruiting, teaching, and non-profit work. Taking some time off to fully explore my interests and develop outside the classroom gave me the confidence to take the next step.  My advice to any Hamilton College students considering law school is to find a way to get some experience in the field before you fully commit. Your interests may strengthen, change, or lead you to opportunities you might never have considered. If you are curious or uncertain about anything, don’t be afraid to ask questions and reach out to Hamilton alumni who have already gone down the path! 

 

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