Learn About Being a Legal Assistant

By Indeed Editorial Team

December 10, 2019

What does a legal assistant do?

Legal assistants help lawyers by organizing legal documents, gathering information about cases and assisting during trials and hearings. Their research and organization of the facts and paperwork involved in cases help lawyers prepare for trial. Legal assistants can work in various areas, including corporate law, litigation, criminal law, immigration and more. While their duties vary depending on the size and type of the firm, legal assistant responsibilities might include:

  • Performing basic administrative and customer service tasks, such as answering phone calls, responding to emails and greeting clients

  • Keeping all legal documents or correspondence organized and up to date

  • Gathering all documents, statements and evidence a lawyer will need for trail

  • Providing help during a trial

  • Creating drafts of contracts, letters and other legal documents

  • Scheduling meetings, appointments and interviews with clients, lawyers, witnesses and more.

  • Performing accounting and billing duties

Average salary

A legal assistant’s average salary varies depending on the size and type of the law firm, the individual’s experience and the location of the firm. Because legal assistants are typically entry-level, employers often pay by the hour. Most legal assistants are full-time employees, though some may find part-time or contract positions. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $16.35 per hour

  • Some salaries range from $7.25 to $32.50 per hour.

Legal assistant requirements

While legal assistants may find employment without a college degree or previous experience, education and training in this area can make a candidate more attractive to employers.

Education

Most legal assistants have at least a two-year associate’s degree, preferably in paralegal studies. Many employers, however, seek candidates who have a bachelor’s degree in legal or paralegal studies. These programs give candidates a thorough background in areas such as legal writing and the different types of law. If your institution does not offer legal degrees, a degree in nearly any subject can still provide you with valuable skills and education.

Training

Some law firms will provide on-the-job training to recent college graduates or individuals who do not have legal experience or formal education. Because strong computer skills are important, legal assistants might also receive training to use the electronic databases and computer software needed to file and organize legal and court documents. 

Certifications

While you do not have to become licensed or certified to get a legal assistant job, some law firms are more likely to hire someone who has a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) certification, which shows an individual can perform paralegal duties. To become a CLA, you must show that you have a degree or have taken certain classes in legal or paralegal studies, then pass an exam through your state’s bar association. This exam will test your knowledge on topics such as legal ethics, communications, legal research and judgment.

Some states require legal assistants to take additional tests before they can work in the legal field. Once certified, you might need to reapply for certification once every two to three years.

Skills

Legal assistants often have many of the same customer service, computer and organizational skills as administrative or executive assistants. These skills, however, will be specific to the legal field. Examples of legal assistant skills include:  

Communication

Legal assistants should possess both verbal and written communication skills to draft legal documents and present information to lawyers. They also often work with external firms, clients and courthouse representatives to schedule court dates and hearings. 

Computer

Legal assistants input and organize important documents and information on electronic databases. They should also have strong computer research skills. Most firms keep online scheduling systems, so legal assistants should be able to keep a detailed electronic calendar.

Emotional intelligence

Legal assistants are typically responsible for answering phones and emails, scheduling meetings and greeting and speaking with clients. They also work closely with lawyers and other professionals. The ability to understand others’ needs quickly allows them to work efficiently. 

Organization

The ability to easily access data is important in a legal setting. Legal assistants should keep both paper and electronic files organized so they can retrieve documents as needed. 

Time management

As legal assistants often work in fast-paced situations and might need to handle multiple cases at once, it is important to schedule and manage time efficiently. Some legal assistants manage multiple schedules and should be able to maintain each one accurately. 

Legal assistant work environment

Legal assistants typically work full-time hours in law offices. However, some work for government agencies or legal departments at corporate offices. Legal assistants might work long hours or overtime during cases or meet deadlines. They might travel outside the office to gather or deliver documents or to assist lawyers during trials.

Legal assistants often work in fast-paced environments. They might work with one lawyer or on a single case, or they might support a team of attorneys and other legal staff. They should be able to sit for extended periods of time, usually in front of a computer.

How to become a legal assistant

To become a legal assistant, you should have some legal education or experience. Some people who are interested in legal careers first get jobs as legal assistants, then later apply to law school. Being a legal assistant can provide you with a foundation for more advanced legal careers or degrees. Depending on your professional goals, here are steps you can take to become a legal assistant:

1. Get a paralegal degree.

Employers typically seek legal assistants with some level of formal education. This can range from a two-year associate’s degree in paralegal studies to a four-year bachelor’s degree. Not all institutions offer degrees in paralegal studies, so you might pursue a related degree, such as public policy or political science. If you eventually plan to go to law school, you must first get a bachelor’s degree.

2. Gain experience.

Apply for an internship in a law firm, government agency, corporate legal department, public defender’s office or other legal setting. This will help give you the experience you need to qualify for a legal assistant job. It might even lead directly to a job offer from that firm. Some certification programs require aspiring legal assistants to complete an internship or similar training before they can become certified.

3. Complete a certificate program.

Certification will help prepare you for a legal assistant career and potentially qualify you for more job opportunities. Contact your state bar association to learn about state-approved paralegal certification programs. You will then need to study for and pass the certification exam.

4. Build your skills.

Take steps or classes to learn legal terminology, legal documents and other related skills. You may want to learn specific types of legal software that could build your hard skills, such as LexisNexis, Clio and MyCase. 

5. Apply for jobs. 

Apply for legal assistant jobs at law firms, insurance companies, banks, real estate companies, corporate legal departments and government agencies. You might look for jobs in areas you have studied or have a special interest in, such as immigration, criminal, bankruptcy, family or corporate law. Some companies will hire a legal assistant with no work experience, while others require some experience in a legal setting. 

Legal assistant job description example

Our law firm is in search of a legal assistant to join and support our team of 15 corporate law attorneys. The legal assistant will perform administrative tasks such as answering the phone, communicating with clients and drafting legal documents. This individual should be discreet, highly organized and able to work effectively under pressure and in a fast-paced environment. The ideal candidate will have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in legal studies or a related field or at least three years of experience working in a law firm.

Related careers

  • Legal secretary

  • Paralegal

  • Administrative assistant

  • Law clerk

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