Legal assistants are a critical part of law offices. They assist in preparing for court cases, conduct research, and schedule appointments. Legal assistants also prepare legal documents, perform daily office tasks, and help prepare witnesses for testimony.
Of course, working as a legal assistant requires that you perform many more tasks, too. It’s a fast-paced job with no two days that are exactly alike - which draws many people to this profession.
Additionally, legal assistants play a key part in a successful court case. It’s work you can take pride in. It’s also a job that can generate a lot of satisfaction when you help others in serious situations.
But being a legal assistant has its downsides. You might work long hours, including nights, weekends, and holidays. Likewise, there’s not a lot of room for advancement without additional training.
Let’s have a look at these pros and cons and other features of being a legal assistant.
Pros of Being a Legal Assistant
You Don’t Need a Lot of Education
In many cases, legal assistants only need an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. Some positions might call for two years of college and a certificate in paralegal studies. Either way, you can find legal assistant jobs with just a couple of years of college education.
Even more advanced legal assistant jobs might just require a bachelor’s degree. These programs usually take four years to complete if you study full-time. You might even be able to finish a bachelor’s degree in three years if you take extra classes each semester.
It’s Meaningful Work
As noted earlier, legal assistants are a key component of a law team. The work you do - be that legal research, preparing documents, or even scheduling appointments - helps the legal team run more smoothly and focus on the task of helping their client win their case.
At the end of the workday, you can go home and relish the knowledge that you did something that could help another person resolve a very stressful situation. Not all jobs offer the ability to have a significant, positive impact on other people's lives!
Good Job Growth
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for legal assistants and paralegals will increase by 12 percent over the course of this decade. This represents faster-than-average growth. It’s expected that more than 41,000 additional jobs in this field will be needed in 2030 rather than in 2020.
With this type of job growth, it's reasonable to assume that you can quickly find a legal assistant job after getting the needed education. Additionally, you might be in a situation where recruiters find you and invite you to apply for jobs, as opposed to finding jobs to apply to yourself.
You Can Work in Many Different Fields
There are many different niches of law, and each one needs the services of a legal assistant. As such, you can specialize in an area of law that’s of interest to you. This might be criminal law, real estate law, tort law, or something in between.
Additionally, law firms of all sizes need paralegals, as do government offices like district and prosecuting attorney’s offices.
Your Skills Can Lead to a Job Change
As a legal assistant, you must possess certain skills to be successful - the ability to research, communicate well, and be organized, among many others. These are skills that many different types of employers look for, so if you decide you want to change careers, the skills you learn in school and on the job might help you do that.
There’s Good Income Potential
The income potential is quite good for a career that only requires an associate's degree. The BLS reports that the median yearly salary for legal assistants and paralegals in 2020 was $52,980. This is more than some careers that require much more extensive education.
The potential for earnings doesn’t stop there, though. As you gain more experience as a legal assistant (and get more training and education), you can command a higher salary. In fact, the highest 10 percent of workers in this field earn a median annual wage of more than $85,160.
It’s a Great Way to Network
Being a legal assistant puts you in close contact with many people in the legal field, from attorneys to law enforcement to judges. If you are good at your job, your connections with others could help you find an even better legal assistant position.
Additionally, legal assistants can join various professional organizations that enable networking and professional development, including the National Association of Legal Secretaries, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, or NALA, the Paralegal Organization.
It’s an Exciting Field
As a legal secretary, you can look forward to a workday full of varied activities. No two cases are alike, and your role in each case may differ. This is certainly not a boring job, and looking forward to a different experience each day makes this job one that’s full of excitement.
Cons of Being a Legal Assistant
You Will Work Long, Odd Hours
There will be many normal 9-5 workdays as a legal assistant. However, there will also be many workdays that are very long. You’ll likely work nights and weekends, too, particularly when a court case is coming up.
Additionally, since legal assistants support attorneys, your work can’t be put off. There’s no stopping critical legal research or skipping steps in the process of filing briefs with the court. If the attorney for whom you work needs something done, you have to get it done on their timeline, not yours. This means making sacrifices with your time to get the job done.
There’s Little Room for Advancement
Since there’s a low education requirement for this position, there really isn’t much room for advancement unless you get additional education. Even if you go back to school, advancing further in the legal field requires that you go to law school, which can be lengthy and expensive.
The opportunities to advance are usually more robust in larger law firms. For example, you might begin as a junior legal assistant and work your way up to senior paralegal. However, these opportunities usually don’t exist in small law firms because there are often only one or two legal assistants in smaller firms.
There are Many Menial Tasks
Though your work as a legal assistant is very important, there are also many menial tasks that make up a typical workday. You will likely have to answer phones, schedule appointments, and make photocopies. You might also have to greet clients, prepare conference rooms, and oversee the office budget. There will be plenty of paperwork and filing, too.
It’s a High-Stress Job
This is a demanding job with a lot of hard deadlines. You will be responsible for many different tasks at the same time. It can take a lot out of you.
As with any stressful job, it's important to take care of yourself to perform at your best. Take frequent short breaks, get some fresh air, eat right, and get good sleep (at least when you can). Doing so will help you manage the stress of the job and perform at your best.