Legal assistants work behind the scenes in law firms, assisting attorneys with various aspects of their work. They commonly handle administrative duties such as scheduling appointments, drafting correspondence, and preparing documents for filing. They may also draft contracts, prepare presentations, investigate legal issues, and maintain databases containing case information.
Legal assistants play an important role in the practice of law. Their duties are often directly related to the most important cases in which their firms are involved. Legal assistants may be called upon to perform tasks that directly affect the outcome of a case.
Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be a legal assistant and what it takes to become one yourself.
Legal Assistant Job Duties
A legal assistant can be involved in a wide range of tasks, including:
- Managing office operations by answering phones, greeting clients, and scheduling appointments
- Managing lawyer schedules, including setting up meetings with clients and other stakeholders, arranging travel arrangements (such as booking flights or hotels), and drafting correspondence
- Preparing legal documents such as summonses, motions, wills, contracts, subpoenas, pleadings, discovery requests/responses/motions/orders, and deposition notices
- Performing research on laws and regulations for cases
- Drafting documents such as corporate minutes or fundraising appeals for non-profit organizations
- Assisting in case management by filing court documents with the appropriate agencies
- Assisting with lawsuits by gathering information from witnesses or researching issues related to the lawsuit for discovery purposes or developing arguments during trials
Legal Assistant Salary & Outlook
The median annual wage for legal assistants is $54,552. Those earning higher wages tend to work in large law firms, and the highest earners are making over $91,000 per year.
The employment of legal assistants is expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade. This is due to the rising number of lawsuits and clients seeking compensation from such cases.
Legal Assistant Job Requirements
The requirements for legal assistants are as follows:
Education: Most employers prefer that their legal assistants have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, business administration, or a related field. Many colleges and universities offer degrees in paralegal studies, which may be beneficial to those seeking jobs as legal assistants.
Certification: The National Association of Legal Assistants offers the Certified Paralegal (CP) credential. This certification is recognized by many states and can help job seekers find employment. Candidates must complete certain courses and pass an exam to earn this certification.
Training: The best way to learn how to be successful in this position is through on-the-job training under the supervision of an experienced paralegal. During this time, paralegals will learn how to interact with clients, conduct research and write legal documents like court motions and briefs. Paralegals may also take continuing education courses through their employer or an industry organization.
Legal Assistant Skills
A legal assistant must have the following skills:
Organizational skills: A legal assistant must be able to organize and maintain case files, and often this requires excellent organizational skills.
Writing skills: Legal assistants must write correspondence and other documents for attorneys.
Computer skills: Many legal assistants use computers to draft documents, track court dates, and create spreadsheets of clients’ information.
Knowledge of the law: This is an important skill because a legal assistant may need to explain complex laws or procedures to clients or other staff members.
Communication skills: A legal assistant must possess strong communication skills in order to work well with others in the office. He or she will likely spend much of his or her day on the phone and in meetings with clients, so excellent communication skills are essential.
Decision-making skills: A legal assistant must be able to make decisions when the attorney is not available. For example, he or she might need to decide whether certain paperwork can be filed without an attorney’s signature.
Legal Assistant Work Environment
Legal assistants usually work in comfortable offices, which are located in the law firm’s buildings. They spend most of their day sitting at a desk and working on word processing programs or other office technology. The job can be both challenging and rewarding, but there are also elements of stress to the work environment. Some of this is connected with the nature of the work itself, which involves dealing with people who may be angry, anxious, or unhappy. In addition, legal assistants often have tight deadlines, as they must meet the needs of busy attorneys.
Legal assistants usually work regular business hours, but they may sometimes have to attend meetings or hearings late into the evening. On occasion, legal assistants are required to travel to courts or other offsite locations.
Legal Assistant Career Path
Legal assistants, in the beginning, must be detail-oriented and work under close supervision. They will learn a great deal about local and state laws and how to apply them in their jobs. They should be prepared to work long hours and weekends.
Five Years On The Job
By the fifth year, legal assistants have honed their administrative skills and learned to operate with minimum supervision. They may supervise junior staff members, manage files and databases, or perform more specialized duties such as conducting market research or developing presentations for court cases. Their salaries increase slightly and they usually get more benefits than entry-level employees. Satisfaction is high.
Ten Years On The Job
By ten years, legal assistants who have stayed with their jobs have become integral parts of their law firms’ operations. Some have been promoted to higher-level administrative positions within the company. Their salaries increase, and they can expect to work fewer hours on average than when they started their careers.
Legal Assistant Trends
Here are three trends influencing how legal assistants work. Legal assistants will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.
Increasing Importance of Advanced Computer Skills
Many legal assistants are being tasked with more advanced computer skills, such as managing complex databases and drafting documents using specialized software.
In addition, the use of social media networks like LinkedIn is becoming increasingly important for lawyers to network with peers and clients.
All of these factors can add to the demands on legal assistants in today’s professional environment, which requires more training and experience than ever before.
The Rise of the Virtual Law Office
As technology continues to advance, more and more companies are finding ways to use it in the legal field. For example, instead of using physical offices to conduct business, some law firms have shifted towards a virtual model that uses online services such as cloud computing and teleconferencing tools for meetings and conferences.
This trend has led to an increase in demand for virtual legal assistants, who can provide administrative support for lawyers who work from home or out of small offices without assistants on staff.
Social Media Impacts the Legal Profession
Social media has become an increasingly important part of life for both individuals and businesses, so it is no surprise that social media is also changing the legal profession.
For example, Facebook can be used to make new connections with attorneys who might be able to help with specific legal needs, while LinkedIn allows attorneys to connect with one another for mutual support or networking opportunities.
How to Become a Legal Assistant
1. Planning Your Career
If you’re thinking about a career as a legal assistant, it’s important to know what type of law you want to specialize in. Do you have an interest in criminal law? Are you passionate about civil litigation? Make sure that your education aligns with your desired area of practice.
In addition to working directly with attorneys, legal assistants are responsible for preparing documents and managing files. These tasks require attention to detail and the ability to multitask under pressure; qualities that can be honed through coursework or prior work experience. In order to be competitive for jobs, aspiring legal assistants should also have a strong grasp of legal terminology and relevant laws. Consider talking with an experienced legal assistant to learn what your potential day-to-day duties might look like.
2. Writing a Resume
The best resumes for legal assistants emphasize their strong writing skills, ability to organize, attention to detail, and problem solving abilities.
When describing your previous work experience, it is important that you focus on your ability to carry out all responsibilities of the job effectively and efficiently. You should include details about how you organized files, tracked details of cases, handled client correspondence and phone calls, etc. Emphasize any responsibilities you took on outside of the scope of the job description as this shows initiative and ambition. To highlight your value, if you have developed processes to improve accuracy or workflow, or if you contributed to reducing expenses, be sure to include these.
3. Applying for Jobs
One of the best ways to break into a legal field is by starting as an intern. The more experience you have under your belt, the better your chances of being hired for a full-time position. While internships are an excellent way to get hands-on experience, they can also help you gain connections that will help you get your foot in the door with future employers. If you’re looking for internship opportunities, your best bet is to check out the company’s career page and apply for positions there.
Reach out to people in the industry to see if they know of any companies or groups that are looking for legal assistants. Become active in the legal community by joining professional organizations, attending conferences, and networking with people in the field. This will help you gain insider information about the organizations that interest you. You can also create a website to host your resume and portfolio. This is useful for applying for positions online.
4. Ace the Interview
Law firms are looking for candidates who can be assets both in court and out. When interviewing for a position as a legal assistant, be prepared to show off your legal knowledge, including case law, statues, and precedents. You may be asked about standard law office procedures such as keeping cases and files organized, keeping track of deadlines, and managing calendars.