What is a Legal Assistant?
Legal Assistants are trained legal professionals who work with lawyers to provide a variety of different services for clients who need legal advice or assistance. They usually work under the guidance or supervision of a lawyer to provide support and assistance with their legal duties.
Legal Assistants can be found in a variety of working environments, including the public and private sector. They work with big law firms, private practices and sometimes in large corporations who have the need for ongoing legal assistance. They may specialize in one specific area of law, but their skills are usually more general and suited to any field of law.
What Does a Legal Assistant Do?
Legal Assistants have a range of job duties that are all related to providing support and assistance to clients and attorneys throughout every aspect of legal proceedings. Their job duties include:
People in this profession complete, file and maintain paperwork and other legal documentation in paper or electronic form.
Legal Assistants have a variety of research duties. This may include but is not limited to researching clients and competitors in online databases, exploring laws and regulations that may be relevant to their cases, and investigating case information.
These legal professionals also take care of the scheduling for the cases they have been assigned. This means monitoring and meeting documentation deadlines, scheduling meetings and appointments for legal proceedings, and keeping track of the progress of their cases. To this end, they will usually handle all the preparations for meetings with clients and other lawyers and set up times for meetings, depositions and interviews.
Drafting Legal Correspondence
Legal Assistants draft legal documents such as contracts and mortgages ready to be submitted to lawyers for approval or amendment before they are presented to clients.
Preparing Lawyers For Trial
People in this profession do not conduct trials themselves. However, they do they perform a range of duties that help prepare lawyers for trial. This includes writing and summarizing reports and research information that might be relevant in the trial and preparing all the required legal documentation such as affidavits and formal statements.
Filing Legal Documents
Legal Assistants may have to file all the documentation with the court and with the opposing counsel so the legal proceedings can go forward. This usually includes preparing and filing documents such as exhibits, appeals and briefs.
Providing Assistance During Trials
Legal Assistants can help lawyers during trials as well. They are often present in the courtroom, taking notes on the proceedings and handling exhibits so the lawyer can focus on what they are doing and still review the minutia of the trial later to check for problems or concerns. They may also review court transcripts if they cannot be physically present with the same aims.
Keeping Clients Updated
One of the most important tasks these professionals need to undertake is to ensure that their clients are fully updated on the case and understand what is happening and what is going to happen. This means they have to communicate regularly with their clients, especially when anything new develops.
Why are Legal Assistants Important?
Legal Assistants are important because they perform some of the duties that were once taken care of by attorneys and free them up to deal with clients or to appear in court. Without their assistance, lawyers would spend all of their time doing paperwork and would have little time to actually practice law.
Legal Assistants are also important because of the complexity of the paperwork and procedures involved in the legal profession. Because they are primarily focused on this area, they are experts at ensuring that all the legalities are met properly and can help lawyers from making potentially costly mistakes with documentation and other paperwork.
They also assist with client understanding and take a more personal role in the relationship, helping clients fully understand the legal process, which can be essential in making them feel comfortable and safe.
What are the Working Conditions for a Legal Assistant?
Most legal assistants work in law offices, though some of them may work in big corporations that need a lot of legal assistance. Most of their work is performed within the office setting, though they may have to travel when they need to gather information or be present during a trial.
Legal assistants usually work normal office hours, from 9 to 5, but may have to work longer sometimes to meet deadlines or when a particular case proves to be time sensitive or problematic.
The environment at law offices can be extremely high stress, with a lot of deadlines and very high expectations, so people in this profession need to be prepared for this kind of setting.
Can a Legal Assistant Work from Home?
Most Legal Assistants still work in offices, but it is now possible for them to their work from home. Hiring full time Legal Assistants can be expensive, and for smaller or mid-sized firms it can be easier and more cost effective to hire someone online. This allows the law firm to get help when they need it at a much reduced cost.
For people in this profession, there can be a number of benefits to this kind of position as well. It allows them to work from the comfort of their own home, mostly within the confines of their own schedule, and it means they can avoid working with bad employers.
Any work an online Legal Assistant does must be checked by a lawyer before it can be sent to a client, and they are not permitted to provide legal advice to clients on their own. But apart from that, their job duties would be the same as if they were working in a law office.
What are the Requirements to Become a Legal Assistant?
There are three ways to become a Legal Assistant. The first and most common is to complete an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. This is a postsecondary qualification that aims to teach students the basic skills and knowledge needed to work as a Legal Assistant.
It usually takes around 2 years to complete and students will enjoy more job prospects and better pay once they have completed this course. Admission into these types of courses is simple as there are no prerequisites for admission. These courses may also include an internship to allow students to get training on the job.
The second way to move into this profession is to first complete a bachelor degree in an unrelated subject before completing a certificate in paralegal studies. This is also a very common way for applicants to move into this field, because not many institutions offer paralegal studies at the degree level. Students who choose this route will have to complete an intensive certification course that usually includes on the job training.
The third route into this profession is to be hired without training and trained on the job for the position. This is still a legal way to move into this profession, but it can result in lower wages and less advantageous working conditions. Most applicants prefer to get the formal education these days so they can ask for better wages and conditions.
Applicants who want to be a Legal Assistant don’t have to be certified to get a job, though many potential employers prefer it. As such, there are a number of schools and institutions that offer certification through their legal courses, but no set criteria for certification.
Professional certification exams are offered through three nationally recognized professional organizations. These are: The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and The Association for Legal Professionals (NALS). These associations offer a standardized assessment of the applicant’s legal skills and knowledge, and attaining this certification can mean better job prospects and higher wages.
Once certified, Legal Assistants are often referred to as paralegals, though this term is often used interchangeably with Legal Assistant.
What Do You Learn in a Legal Assistant Degree Program?
There’s a lot to learn in a Legal Assistant Degree Program. Students have to do a variety of courses that will prepare them to work in the highly competitive field of law. Some of the most important things taught during this course are:
- An Introduction to Law: The most basic course in a Legal Assistant Degree program is an introduction to the American justice system and the role of the Legal Assistant within it.
- Legal Research: Performing legal research is very different to any other type of research, which is why students are taught a variety of tactics that will help them get the information they need. This includes computer and library research as well as law based tools such as court reports and periodicals.
- Ethics: People in this profession must understand and adhere to professional ethics because they usually have access to very sensitive and personal information on their clients. That is why professional ethics is a big part of these degree programs.
- Legal Writing: Working in the legal profession means being able to understand and complete a whole range of legal documents from briefs to affidavits and pleas. Which is why Legal Assistant Degree programs usually teach students how to understand and complete this type of paperwork.
- Civil Litigation: One of the most important duties of people in this profession is to help lawyers prepare for trial, and learning about civil litigation will help with that. The focus of this course is trial preparation, which covers everything from gathering information for a case, dealing with opposing counsel and collecting witness statements.
- Criminal Law: Legal Assistants can specialize if they are particularly interested in one law field, and criminal law is one of the most common specialties, which is why it is taught as part of the degree program. This course will teach students about constitutional law and the trial process from beginning to end.
- Legal Terminology: Like with any other field, law is full of technical jargon and students need a good understanding of it if they’re going to be able to be able to perform their job duties.
- Bankruptcy Procedures: Law isn’t all criminal and divorce, bankruptcy procedures are also an important and convoluted part of the legal field. That is why students need to learn about the laws and regulations surrounding bankruptcy and how to guide their clients through it.
- Tort Law Procedures: Tort law is another important facet of the legal field. Students need to understand the procedures and standards that guide how civil wrongs are addressed in court and how to help their employer and their clients throughout the process.
What Does It Take to Be a Legal Assistant?
Legal Assistants need a combination of hard and soft skills to be able to do their job properly and provide lawyers and clients with the support and assistance they need. Some of the skills they require include:
- Computer Skills: The field of law has been affected by technology the same as any other field, which means that people in this profession need to be able to document cases and complete legal paperwork online. They also need to have a good understanding of legal databases and how to use them.
- Research Skills: Legal Assistants have to perform a variety of internet research tasks in the course of their duties. They have to perform tasks such as researching clients and competitors, locating witnesses, and exploring legal precedents, and their research skills need to be equal to the challenge.
- Communication Skills: Good communication skills are vital in this profession as Legal Assistants need to be able to communicate with a variety of people in sometimes difficult circumstances and ensure that they both understand and are comfortable with the legal decisions and documentation.
- Organizational Skills: Legal Assistants usually work on several cases at once and they need strong organizational skills to manage and track their work. They also have to assist attorneys by keeping their schedules, paperwork and files organized as well.
- The Ability to Use Legal Jargon: As with any career field, there is a lot of jargon in law and people in this profession need to be able to understand and interpret the jargon well enough to explain it to clients and to complete any paperwork correctly.
- Law and Legal Documentation Skills: A big part of the Legal Assistant profession is filling out legal paperwork and ensuring that it is filed correctly according to the legal guidelines. They also have to help attorneys with a lot of different types of legal documentation, so they need to be able to understand what they are doing with these tasks.
- Writing Skills: People in this profession need to be able to provide support for lawyers in any way necessary and this often includes drafting legal correspondence, proofreading legal documents and communicating with clients in writing.
- Team Player: Legal Assistants rarely if ever work alone. They work under the supervision of a lawyer at all times and also usually work in conjunction with other legal support workers. That is why they need to be able to work efficiently in a team setting and collaborate in order to get their job done.
- Reporting Skills: Because they do so much research, people in this position need to be able to report their findings in written and spoken form so there are no misunderstandings and the pertinent information is understood by all parties.
What are the Benefits of Being a Legal Assistant?
Being a Legal Assistant can offer a number of life and career benefits. These include:
- Stability and financial security: Legal Assistants are paid a good salary and by moving up into more prestigious firms they can even increase their pay rate and live very comfortably.
- A good working environment: Legal Assistants work in an office environment, which is warm and comfortable and almost completely free of dangers or hazards.
- It can be a high profile career: People who work in the legal profession are usually afforded a certain amount of respect and social acceptance.
- Constant challenges: Legal Assistants usually enjoy the intellectual and personal challenges that are a natural part of their work. It can be very exciting and stimulating to constantly learn new ideas related to the law and justice.
- Changing duties: People in this profession have a wide range of job duties, which can help prevent the boredom that often comes with routine tasks.
- Room for advancement: Legal Assistants are free to upgrade their skills and move into other fields. Because there are so many job opportunities for trained and experienced assistants, they can also move into bigger law firms or other fields if they want to improve their working conditions or explore other law fields.
What is the Demand for Legal Assistants?
The job outlook for Legal Assistants has been increasing steadily over the last few years and should continue to grow into the future. According to the BLS, employment in this field should grow 14 percent between 2021 and 2031, which is faster than the average for all occupations.
Legal Assistants with strong computer skills should enjoy even better employment prospects in this time period as an understanding of various technologies and programs becomes even more vital for people in this position. There’s also a good chance that the job duties of Legal Assistants will grow and expand with time as they take over tasks previously completed by other legal support workers.
What are the Advancement Opportunities for a Legal Assistant?
Trained and experienced Legal Assistants can advance their careers in a number of ways. They can continue in their original path, but move upwards into better companies and assist lawyers who attract higher paying clients. Moving into positions like these means they will be offered higher pay as well. They can even move into a supervisory position and work at the head of a team of similarly qualified legal professionals.
A great number of Legal Assistants choose to go back to school and complete their training to become lawyers themselves. This offers them the opportunity to demand better pay and take on greater responsibility.
They can also move into fields such as real estate or business where their legal skills and computer skills are usually in high demand.
What Professions are Similar to Legal Assistant?
There are several professions that are similar to being a Legal Assistant. These include:
Legal Secretaries focus more on the administrative duties in a law firm, though their job duties are closely related to those of Legal Assistants. They typically have less understanding of and training in the legal side of the business and focus on the administrative rather than the legal side of proceedings.
Lawyers oversee Legal Assistants and are usually in charge of legal cases and trials. To be a lawyer, applicants need at least a Bachelor’s Degree and often further education and training.
Court reporters are present in court during trials and they transcribe everything that is said during the trial into written form. They do this using voice recording equipment, machine shorthand or voice writing equipment. They produce and keep written records of everything that occurs for future reference.
Arbitrators and Mediators
People in these two professions have very similar job duties. Their role is to oversee and try to mediate legal disagreements. They do this by encouraging discussion and negotiation between disputing parties so conflicts can be resolved outside of the court system in a way that makes both parties happy.