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How to Become a Legal Assistant

If you’re looking for a rewarding position in legal services, then becoming a legal assistant would be the perfect entry-level job to jumpstart your career. Legal assistants support individual lawyers or legal teams with various tasks to help complete their work. It is important for legal assistants to stay motivated and organized as they help sort and review legal documents for their supervisors.

Legal assistants perform clerical tasks for law firms, including making copies, sending emails, scheduling appointments, processing payments, and filing important documents. They are also responsible for contacting witnesses, recording interviews, examining police reports, and compiling legal documents. Some legal assistants will be found in the courtroom helping lawyers organize their documents and statements before a hearing starts.

Legal assistants typically need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies to work in this position. Once hired on as a legal assistant, you will be trained on the job on how to work with clients and handle specific legal documents. This job opportunity is rewarding for anyone looking to get experience in law before they continue on to law school.

Sample job description

Legal assistants support lawyers with legal research, drafting, communicating with clients, and preparing hearings, trials, and meetings. All that’s required for being a paralegal is a high school diploma, however many have an associate’s degree or a certificate in legal studies. Paralegals must have great organization and communication skills. Because paralegals spend a lot of time with clients, they must have great interpersonal skills as well in order to ensure clients feel comfortable with sharing personal details about their cases. 

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Maintain and organize files
  • Conduct legal research
  • Investigate and gather facts for cases
  • Write or summarize reports
  • Help lawyers during trials by taking notes or reviewing transcripts
  • File exhibits, briefs, appeals, and other legal documents
  • Communicate with clients, witnesses and attorneys
  • Schedule interviews, meetings and depositions

Education and experience

Legal assistants usually have at least an associate degree and/or have earned a certification in paralegal studies. A bachelor’s degree is preferred, as is law firm experience or training. Some firms might hire college graduates with a bachelor’s degree but no legal experience and then train them.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Computer skills, including Microsoft Office Suite (Word, PowerPoint and Excel)
  • Ability to multitask and meet deadlines
  • Strong interpersonal skills and the ability to work well with others
  • Solid research and writing skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Discretion and the ability to handle confidential information
  • Expertise in time management and prioritization

Preferred qualifications

  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Secretarial skills
  • In-depth knowledge of local and federal laws

Typical work environment

Most legal assistants spend time in the office answering phone calls, greeting clients, scheduling appointments, and performing other clerical tasks. They may spend the day running errands for lawyers, attending court, and assisting lawyers in conducting witness interviews. 

Typical hours

The typical work hours in an office setting for a legal assistant are usually from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, many legal assistants can work more than 40 hours a week or on weekends, especially when nearing deadlines.

Available certifications

Many law firms will hire a paralegal to assist with legal work, so many institutions offer different certifications to help. Check out the following: 

  • Certificate in Paralegal Studies. Boston College offers a fully online certificate in paralegal studies which will prepare its students to take on all the core aspects of law: legal writing, research, technologies, and real estate, probate, family, and business law. It takes only 14 weeks to certify and offers access to a community of elbow students to help build your professional network. 
  • Paralegal Certificate. In just eight months, candidates can earn their Paralegal Certificate, which plays a critical role in assisting lawyers. You will need an understanding of emergent technologies and to be grounded in being able to assess real-life situations, such as intellectual property. This course is designed to prepare its students to leverage all the core legal knowledge they learn throughout the time enrolled.

Career path

The first step to becoming a legal assistant is to earn a high school diploma or its equivalent. Employers strongly prefer candidates with an associate or bachelor’s degree, ideally with some legal experience or training. Law firms also encourage legal assistants to be certified, either by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).

Legal assistants work closely with attorneys at law firms, government agencies, and in corporate legal departments.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 23-2011

2020 Employment345,600
Projected Employment in 2030487,000
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 12% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift41,400 increase

With clients seeking more affordable legal services, law firms have legal assistants and paralegals take on some of the work previously done by entry-level lawyers. Doing so allows the firm to charge lower billing rates. As a result, the demand for legal assistants has increased, and future job prospects remain strong.

Many large companies are expanding their in-house legal departments to save money, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hiring outside counsel costs more. As a result, there should be more opportunities for legal assistants in fields such as finance, insurance, consulting, and health care.

Many law firms are offering employees flex time and telecommuting to accommodate a better work-life balance.