Being a legal assistant or paralegal can be a very rewarding job if you’re interested in going into a legal profession. Before you do that, though, you’re going to need to get an education, so you can do the job properly.
On the surface, as a paralegal, you’ll be expected to assist with organizing documentation, helping with research, as well as ensuring prompt client communication, just to start.
Below, we’re going to talk about what you need to do to get there, and what you can expect your job to entail.
How to Become a Legal Assistant
To get started, you’ll need to either graduate from high school or at least past your GED. This is a requirement for paralegal programs, so you’ll need to verify what kind of documentation you’ll need to have in order to apply.
There are also plenty of programs available for you to choose from, so if the first one you look at doesn’t work for you, keep searching. You’ll have the choices of two-year associate plans, four-year bachelor’s degrees, and other specialized programs that offer certificates.
Whatever you do, you also need to make sure that your choice is accredited. This is important because accreditation proves a level of quality that is kept to high standards for the program. If you go with an unaccredited program, you may have some issues finding a job after you complete it.
When you undergo your program, you’ll learn about how to properly conduct research, learn about legal software and other various aspects of being a paralegal. As a tip, you should see about getting specialized in the paralegal field. Suggestions to search for include specializations that are approved as per the American Bar Association.
Job Description for a Legal Assistant
According to the National Association of Legal Assistants, paralegals and legal assistants are the same thing. That means that a paralegal job description and a legal assistant description are identical.
The short description from the NALA states that those who fall under the legal assistant or paralegal umbrella are those “who assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training, and experience, legal assistants have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney.”
Legal assistants can also sometimes include a side of secretarial tasks depending on the attorney or law firm that is looking for someone to fill the position. As a result, there are varying legal assistant job descriptions that can seem conflicting with one another as to what you should actually expect.
Here are a few duties that most legal assistants will see:
Different Types of Legal Assistants
There are also duties that are specific to types of legal assistants. Depending on the field of law you’re looking at working with, you will see detailed information that will help you decide if that’s the way you want to go.
A corporate legal assistant is going to have duties and tasks that are particular to the corporate world. This includes drafting and preparing corporate documents like charters, partnership agreements, as well as liability documents.
You can also expect to draft meeting minutes, resolutions, stock certificates, ledgers, and anything else that is related to the corporate law firm that you’ll be working with. You may also end up helping the lawyer prep for court hearings as well as pleadings that need to be filed.
Patent and Trademark
This is an excellent branch of legal assistants if you enjoy researching and working with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. That means that you’ll be responsible for preparing and filing applications with the Office.
You’ll also have to keep track of deadlines both for yourself and the attorney you’re working with. Another duty that you may have depending on the attorney is going to be to do the research involved with trademark or patent searches. You may also have to draft the necessary filings to assist with the process.
If you’re a real estate legal assistant, then you’re going to be performing duties that are specific to real estate law. You will spend time researching titles, liens, and assisting in determining ownership of properties. You’ll also be responsible for preparing deeds, closing documents, and mortgage paperwork.
Other duties you can expect as a real estate legal assistant include reviewing title insurance, preparing abstracts, and legal deed descriptions. You may also have to prepare lease or rental agreements in addition to property restriction documents.
Probate legal assistants are going to work with attorneys that are creating and developing wills and trusts. As an assistant, you’re going to meet with clients in order to get information that needs to be inside the legal documentation.
You’ll also be responsible for drafting documents that are meant to protect what is known as the probate estate. That means making sure wills and trusts follow the letter of the law to protect assets or estates that belong to the person the documentation is about.
If you work in the public defender office, then you may also end up getting appointed to a minor’s case along with the attorney. Your job will be to prepare necessary documents that will need to be filed with the Probate Court.
Family law legal assistants work with family law attorneys. In this capacity, you can expect to prepare documents that need to be filed with the courts like pleadings or complaints. Affidavits and exhibits are also going to be in this wheelhouse.
To be a legal assistant in this field of law, you need to be emotionally strong and capable of handling the sometimes intense onslaught of emotions from clients. Things can get ugly in family law, and the legal assistant needs to be able to accept that it is going to happen and still be able to do the job.
Legal assistants involved with litigation are going to be the paralegals that work with the attorneys in trial law cases from the very beginning to the sometimes bitter end. You’ll be responsible for interviewing clients or witnesses to then be able to help the attorney develop a strategy to use in court.
You’ll have to make sure you compile all necessary documentation and organize everything in such a way that it can be easy to use as needed. You will be called on to conduct research on existing laws as well as preparing case summaries. You may also draft pleadings and responses.
It is required that a legal assistant in this field require an eye for detail and true organizational skills. It is not unusual for documents to increase to unwieldy numbers, so having a system and understanding how it works is imperative to do a good job.
Legal assistants working in bankruptcy are responsible for preparing the necessary documents that will be filed with the courts. This may include handling interviews with clients to get information to fill out the documents.
Information that you’ll be handling will be sensitive to the clients because it will encompass debts, total income, existing assets, and other pertinent data relating to a client’s financial situation. You’ll probably also be responsible for letting clients know what they can expect when they attend a hearing for the first time.
Resumes and Salaries – What You Should Look For
As per the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median salary for a paralegal is approximately $50,410 annually. The demand is expected to continue to grow, and eventually a salary of over $80,000 if you’re in a field that pays that type of salary.
You can find jobs with the federal and state governments with a pay range between $46,240 and $5,970 depending on your position. You will also find jobs with finance and insurance companies, and private legal services positions are expected to increase over time.
In order to land one of these positions, you’re going to need a stellar resume. When you go forth to write your resume, you’re going to write it in a way that makes yourself stand out from the rest of the crowd.
There are a few key things to look out for when you’re writing your paralegal resume. For one, you want to ensure your resume is entirely free of any grammatical or spelling errors. If you miss something, that will look like your attention to detail is lacking. You also want it to be easy to read and strong in its content.
Finding That Perfect Legal Assistant Job
There are a few places you can look to get your foot in the door to find the position you want. That includes places like a job bank run by NALA.
You might also consider an internship because if you take that position, it may result in a long-term paying job by the time your placement is over.
Whatever you do, make sure you are diligent with your studies. Research the different types of legal assistants so you can find the one that best fits what you need. Once you successfully complete your program, you’ll be ready to go.