This articles focuses on the legal assistant job description, talking about the skills you need to become a legal assistant, the duties you will have working as one, the qualifications and training expected of you, as well as the salary, working hours, and advancement opportunities.
A legal assistant works in nearly every business, industry or government institution where a lawyer is on staff. They are educated and trained individuals who work with a lawyer and who perform essential legal work that a lawyer doesn’t always have time to do. They assist clients, witnesses, vendors, and outside attorneys with their questions, as well as scheduling meetings. A legal assistant however, does not give legal advice, nor can they sign any legal documents.
Job Overview: What Does a Legal Assistant Do?
A legal assistant is busy from the time they enter the office until the end of the work day. Whatever their previous day’s project was, they will continue it, but not before having a morning meeting with the attorney to coordinate their day.
Often, a legal assistant works with one or more attorneys and with other support staff in scheduling. Legal assistants must be able to work with the office staff, because to wholly support an attorney’s work requires cooperation from everyone in a legal department.
If there is an active case or a cause of action, a legal assistant must gather all the necessary information required by the attorney. They must research and synthesize that information, which is an important task associated with individuals doing this type of work.
Legal assistants are continually learning about the legal changes in the area of law that their attorneys specialize in.
Legal Assistant Job Duties
A legal assistant’s specific duties may vary depending on the size of the legal department and the area of law in which the lawyer works. Legal assistants perform a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing filing systems, conducting legal research, and drafting high-priority legal documents. Other tasks can include the following:
- Conduct research on specific laws, regulations, and legal articles.
- Draft correspondence and legal documents, such as contracts, white papers and MOUs.
- File a variety of legal documents, briefs, exhibits, and appeals with the court.
- Compile and coordinate evidence and other legal documents to be reviewed by lead attorneys in preparation for a case.
- Gather formal documents needed as evidence in a case.
- Assist attorneys during trials by organizing exhibits, taking notes, and being the point of contact with other support staff.
- Write reports to help lawyers prepare for trials or executive meetings.
Legal Assistant Job Essential Skills
Detailed oriented. As a legal assistant, you have to make sure you don’t miss anything that would help the lawyer you work for win a case.
Excellent written and verbal communication skills. You need to communicate efficiently with the lawyer, as well as the rest of the staff.
Practical knowledge of the law and the court system. You wouldn’t be able to assist a lawyer if you didn’t have this type of knowledge.
Able to write succinctly and have very good computer skills. In most situations, time is of the essence. That is why writing fast and keeping things short and succinct is a requirement included in the legal assistant job description.
Able to do legal research. This is an important aspect of the job of a legal assistant. You’ll be spending a lot of time doing research.
Have law and ethical responsibility. Sometimes, you’ll have to deal with sensitive cases and issues, so a sense of responsibility is important.
Law office management skills. Skills such as timekeeping, billing, word processing, file organization, accounting systems, and case management are relevant.
Litigation techniques. You must know how to take legal action when necessary.
Public speaking skills. People who are afraid of speaking in public aren’t suitable for a career as a legal assistant.
Becoming a Legal Assistant
You can become a legal assistant in a variety of ways. A person can begin as a legal secretary who has gained enough experience that the company they work for will train them on the job. You can also take college courses and earn an associate’s degree or obtain a legal assistant certificate.
People can work as interns where they would gain practical experience working for a law firm, a legal aid community center, or a government-sponsored program for the summer.
Qualifications and Training
If your future in the field of law is to be bright, you will want to take the NALA Exam Preparation Course (NALA). The NALA course enables students to earn a professional certification from the National Association of Legal Assistants, in preparation to becoming a paralegal and to taking the NALA Certified Paralegal Examination.
Even though you have the education you need to become a legal assistant, most employers want experience so that they can hit the ground running. But how do you get work experience? Here are a couple of options:
- Network with as many professionals as you can, including national legal assistant organizations.
- Use social media websites like LinkedIn to connect with people.
- Become familiar with local firms and businesses that have a legal department. Edit your resume to fit their brand and send them an email.
- Be willing to intern at nearby firms, government agencies, non-profit groups, etc.
- Visit online career boards and temporary agency listings.
A legal assistant generally works normal business hours of 40-hours a week, but it is common to work ten or more hours a day, including a few weekends and holidays. A legal assistant reports to an attorney, therefore they don’t set their own hours. When a case is opened, working hours can extend to as much as 60 to 80 hours a week, sometimes for weeks at a time.
Job Outlook & Advancement Opportunities
An entry level legal assistant with less than 5 years of experience can get paid an average annual salary of $35,704. If they have 5 to 10 years of experience, they can earn around $40,000 annually. A legal assistant with more than 10 years experience can win $51,000 a year.
In the legal field, legal support can also expect bonuses, special remuneration, and often profit sharing proceeds that can reach up to $4,000 or $5,000. Interestingly, the West Coast pays legal assistant more than the East Coast.
The employment outlook for the position of legal assistant is excellent. This career choice is continuing to grow faster than many other career options. In a law firm, corporate, or government environment, legal assistants are invaluable.
Corporations and the government are increasing their legal support staff positions, which is more economical. This leads to an increase in the demand for legal support staff in a variety of industries.
At the same time, legal assistants and paralegals may clash where their legal tasks are concerned. Both careers are considered a niche career path. The advancement opportunity for a legal assistant is to become a paralegal, and a paralegal’s career goal could be to become a lawyer. Both career paths require more training and an investment in higher education.
A legal assistant career is a great stepping stone toward a rewarding future, but it can also be a great job in itself. There is no question that the term legal assistant gets you noticed. This is a prestigious career that is monetarily rewarding and a long-term option for many people. We hope this legal assistant job description has helped you figure out if this is a job you might want to try.