What Does a Legal Assistant Do? (Duties and Requirements)
Legal assistants help lawyers organize legal documents, gather case information and assist 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, etc.
In this article, we discuss what a legal assistant does and review other key aspects of the career path, like their average salary and legal requirements.
What does a legal assistant do?
A legal assistant performs a wide array of administrative tasks to help lawyers and other legal experts. This can involve working with legal documents and assisting lawyers during trials. 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
Researching and analyzing legal information and documents to assist lawyers with their cases, including analyzing case law and statutes
Gathering all documents, statements and evidence a lawyer will need for trial
Providing help during a trial
Assisting with the preparation for mediation, arbitration, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution
Assisting with the drafting of contracts, legal briefs, pleadings, letters and other legal documents
Scheduling meetings, appointments and interviews with clients, lawyers, witnesses and more
Performing accounting and billing duties
Preparing and filing legal documents, such as motions, pleadings and briefs, with the court
Maintaining and updating client files and case management systems and organizing and maintaining the office's legal library and databases
Average salary for a legal assistant
A legal assistant's average salary varies depending on the size and type of the law firm, the individual's experience and the firm's location. Since 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 links provided.
Average hourly salary: $19.40 per hour
Average annual salary: $49,500 per year
Legal assistant requirements
Here are a few requirements that legal assistants can fulfill before starting their careers:
Most legal assistants have at least a two-year associate degree, preferably in paralegal studies. Many employers, however, seek candidates with bachelor's degrees 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 doesn't offer legal studies degrees, a degree in nearly any subject can still provide you with valuable skills and education.
Some law firms provide on-the-job training to recent college graduates or individuals who don't have legal experience or formal education. Using computer software, legal assistants might be trained to file and organize legal and court documents. Some software that may be used includes document management systems, legal research databases, and court filing systems.
Legal assistants also might train in other aspects of the legal system, such as legal research, document drafting and court filing. They can complete this training through online courses, workshops or attending seminars. This can help legal assistants better understand the legal system and perform their duties well.
While certification isn't mandatory, some law firms may prefer a candidate to have Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) certification, which focuses on paralegal duties. Becoming a CLA involves showing that you have a degree or have taken specific classes in legal or paralegal studies, then passing an exam through your state's bar association.
This exam tests 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.
Legal assistants typically have a strong understanding of legal procedures and terminology that helps them conduct legal research and draft documents. They usually work well under pressure and have excellent attention to detail as they handle important and confidential legal documents.
Legal software and technology such as document management systems, legal research databases, and court filing systems are also crucial for legal assistants. Knowledge of relevant laws and regulations, as well as the ability to stay up-to-date with legal developments, can also be beneficial.
Here are a few more skills for legal assistants:
Legal assistants use communication skills to draft legal documents and present information to lawyers. This can include both verbal and written communication, such as phone calls, emails and memos. They also often communicate with external firms, clients and courthouse representatives to schedule court dates and hearings.
Legal assistants input and organize important documents and information on electronic databases. They also use computer skills for research. Most firms keep online scheduling systems, so legal assistants with solid technology skills can keep a detailed electronic calendar.
Related: Computer Skills: Definitions and Examples
Legal assistants are typically responsible for answering phones and emails, scheduling meetings and communicating with clients. They also work closely with lawyers and other professionals. The ability to understand others' needs quickly allows them to work efficiently.
Related: How To Use Emotional Intelligence Skills in the Workplace
The ability to access data easily is essential in a legal setting. Legal assistants often keep both paper and electronic files organized so they can retrieve documents as needed. This can involve creating filing systems for physical and digital files.
Related: Organizational Skills: 10 Types and How To Improve Them
Legal assistants often work in fast-paced situations and might work on multiple cases simultaneously. This means it's crucial to schedule and manage time efficiently. Some legal assistants manage multiple schedules, which also requires time management skills.
Legal assistant work environment
Legal assistants typically work full-time hours in law offices. Some work for government agencies or legal departments at corporate offices. Legal assistants might work long hours or overtime during cases. They might travel outside the office to gather or deliver documents or to assist lawyers during trials.
Legal assistants often work in a fast-paced work environment. They may work with a solo attorney on a specific case or assist a group of attorneys and other legal personnel. As they spend most of their time working on a computer, they can be in stationary positions for extended peperiodsHow to become a legal assistant
Here are a few steps you can take to become a legal assistant:
1. Get a paralegal degree
Employers typically seek legal assistants with a degree. This can range from a two-year associate 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.
Related: FAQ: What is a Paralegal Studies Degree? (Plus 5 Jobs You Can Pursue)
2. Gain experience
Apply for an internship in a law firm, legal department or another legal setting. This can help give you the experience to qualify for a legal assistant job. It might also lead to a job offer from that firm.
3. Complete a certificate program
Certification helps prepare you for a legal assistant career and may potentially qualify you for more job opportunities. Contact your state bar association to learn about state-approved paralegal certification programs. These can help you study for and pass the certification exam. Take note of any renewal requirements to ensure you complete any mandatory continuing education hours after getting certified.
4. Build your skills
Take steps or classes to learn legal terminology, legal documents and other related skills. You may want to know specific types of legal software that could build your hard skills, such as LexisNexis, Clio and MyCase. When searching for jobs, look for skills employers mention directly to guide your development.
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've studied or have a particular interest in, such as immigration, criminal, bankruptcy, family or corporate law. Some companies may hire legal assistants with no work experience, while others require some experience in a legal setting.
Related: How To Become a Legal Assistant
Legal assistant job description example
Here's an example of what a job description for a legal assistant may look like:
Our law firm is in search of a legal assistant to join and support our team of 15 corporate law attorneys. The legal assistant performs 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 has 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.
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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