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What Does a Legal Assistant Do?

Written by: Wilson College   •  Jan 31, 2024
A Legal Assistant and an Attorney Look Over a Document in an Office.

What Does a Legal Assistant Do?

The American legal system and its mission of promoting justice and equity is quite complex. In fact, even in simple litigation, entire teams of legal professionals work behind the scenes to deliver the best possible outcomes. What does a legal assistant do to help? Legal assistants are often referred to as the unsung heroes of the justice system, because they provide unparalleled support to attorneys and paralegals across the country. 

As consumer and business demand for legal services rises, law firms, governments, and private practices will increasingly seek tech-savvy legal assistants who have exceptional research skills. A Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice degree program can provide aspiring law professionals with the skills and knowledge to fight for ethical and social justice amidst increasingly complex laws and regulations.  

The legal assistant role is one of several entry-level criminal justice degree careers. Often referred to as jacks-of-all-trades, these individuals carry out a wide range of tasks to support law professionals such as attorneys and paralegals. These tasks can vary significantly based on geographic location, firm or practice size, and the employer’s area of specialty. 

What does a legal assistant do to support other professionals? In small private practices, the legal assistant may have more responsibilities related directly to litigation or court proceedings. In larger firms, or in certain government positions, they may perform mostly administrative tasks.  

A legal assistant’s tasks and responsibilities may include the following.

  • Answering phones and setting appointments for consultations or other matters
  • Conducting initial research that pertains to a case, such as obtaining medical or employment records
  • Performing administrative tasks, such as organizing and filing internal records
  • Communicating with clients, court officials, witnesses, and others
  • Managing law office schedules
  • Scheduling essential activities, such as depositions, hearings, discovery meetings, and others as needed
  • Attending court proceedings and taking notes
  • Making arrangements for the office’s travel needs, including purchasing transportation and securing accommodations
  • Processing vendor invoices

The qualifications to work as a legal assistant vary broadly because different law firms, attorneys, and government agencies have different needs. Aspiring assistants should pursue a degree and develop skills that can help them best support other legal professionals. 

Education Requirements

The education required to work as a legal assistant varies from one state and employer to the next. Most assistants have at least an associate degree, but due to the increasing complexity of laws and regulations, employers often seek candidates with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, paralegal studies, or a related field. 

Some states require legal assistants to obtain certification through the state’s Bar Association, but in other states certification is optional. To qualify for certification, candidates must provide proof they have completed a degree program and pass an exam. Even in states where certification is optional, many law offices and firms prefer to hire certified legal assistants (CLA) because they have demonstrated suitable knowledge and capability in their field. 

Most of what a legal assistant does on a daily basis requires a broad set of skills that allows them to perform administrative and law-oriented tasks. 

The ability to read, write, and speak fluent English is critical to a legal assistant’s success. These individuals spend a great deal of time writing and interpreting court documents, which requires a firm grasp of common legal vocabulary. As the country’s population grows more diverse, the demand for legal assistants fluent in two or more languages is expected to rise. 

Communication Skills

Communication is at the center of a legal assistant’s career. From serving as a first point of contact for potential clients, to discussing potentially sensitive topics with clients and witnesses, excellent communication skills are a must. 

Organizational Skills

Often, the task of maintaining the internal documents within a law firm or office falls to the legal assistant. The ability to organize vast amounts of electronic and physical data is important in this profession. Furthermore, legal assistants may also organize the busy schedules of attorneys and paralegals in accord with the courts. 

Computer and Tech Skills

Legal assistants should possess a wide range of computer and technology-related skills. The ability to type 80 or more words per minute, write or type court documents and letters, and work with a range of scheduling and word processing software is a must. 

Research Skills

Research is a vital aspect of many court cases. Depending on the needs of the law firm or office, the legal assistant may be called upon to help. The ability to search vast stores of data, such as a law library, for highly specific information sets skilled legal assistants apart and gives them a competitive advantage in the job market. 

The median annual salary for legal assistants was roughly $59,200 as of May 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Factors such as geographical location, the size of the law office or firm, and the legal assistant’s skills and experience can all impact salary figures. The highest 10% of earners, which represents those working for reputable law offices in large metropolitan areas, earned more than $94,000.

The BLS predicts employment opportunities for legal assistants will grow by 4% between 2022 and 2032, which represents about 38,000 new openings each year. This growth will be driven partially by corporations hiring in-house legal staff to help navigate increasingly complex laws and regulations surrounding diversity, equality, environmental concerns, and other key matters. 

Turn Your Passion for Justice into a Meaningful Career

Understanding what a legal assistant does is important when preparing for a career in law. Due to the relatively low barrier to entry, many aspiring paralegals, attorneys, judges, and even politicians take their first steps into the legal field by first working as legal assistants. Their diligent research, excellent communication, and impeccable organizational skills provide the support to ensure justice and equity for all. 

If you have a passion for justice and want to make a difference as a legal assistant, the Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice degree program from Wilson College Online can provide the skills and knowledge you need. 

Discover how you can prepare for a career that enables you to pursue your passions while changing lives, families, and communities for the better.

Sources:

Indeed, A Guide to Legal Assistant Skills for Job Seekers

Indeed, How to Become a Legal Assistant

Indeed, Legal Assistant Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

National Association for Legal Support Professionals, Career Outlook and Projected Growth

Thomson Reuters, What Is a Legal Assistant?

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Legal Assistants

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