Do you think a career as a legal assistant could be right for you? Are you wondering what the job involves and what qualifications you need to succeed? As the name suggests, legal assistants assist lawyers, and skills such as communication, critical thinking, and teamwork will allow you to excel.
In this post, we’ll be discussing all of the essential skills that every legal assistant should have. As a quick summary, the top 10 skills for legal assistants are:
- Organizational Skills
- Writing Skills
- Technical Skills
- Detail Oriented
- Interpersonal Skills
- Understanding Legal Terminology and Documentation
- Critical Thinking
What Does a Legal Assistant Do?
Legal assistants perform similar duties as other administrative assistants, but of course, the legal field presents a unique set of challenges. Although responsibilities vary depending on the type and size of the firm, legal assistants may be asked to…
- Answer phone calls, respond to emails and greet clients
- Schedule meetings, appointments, and interviews
- Organize paperwork
- Maintain legal files and other relevant information in digital databases
- Write drafts of contracts, letters, and legal documents
- Gather information about cases
- Conduct research on laws and regulations
- Reference law libraries
- Assist during trials and hearings
- Prepare and deliver affidavits
- Perform billing/accounting duties
What’s the Difference Between a Legal Assistant and Paralegal?
Usually the terms legal assistant and paralegal are used interchangeably. Technically, the title paralegal is reserved for someone who is certified through an organization such as the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). Neither legal assistants nor paralegals are qualified to give legal advice or sign pleadings or formal documents.
Where Do Legal Assistants Work?
Most legal assistants work out of law offices or law firms. However, government agencies and legal departments in large corporations also hire legal assistants. As an office job, the position requires lots of sitting and computer work. In some cases, legal assistants may be asked to travel to court cases or gather/deliver documents. Generally, the job is fast-paced. Tight deadlines and fluctuating workloads may lead to overtime.
How Much Money Do Legal Assistants Make?
A legal assistant’s salary depends on the type and size of the law firm, the individual’s experience, and the location of the office. In other words, a legal assistant with fifteen years of experience stationed in a nationally-recognized corporate law firm in downtown Manhattan is going to make more than a legal assistant with one year of experience working for a single lawyer in a small town. Entry-level rates begin at $13 to $14 per hour with top rates of up to $39 per hour. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019)
What’s the Long-Term Job Outlook for Legal Assistants?
Although there is some concern technological advancements will replace administrative workers, legal assistants perform many duties that are difficult to replicate with artificial intelligence. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for legal assistants is expected to grow 12 percent from 2018 to 2028. This rate is considered much faster than average for all occupations.
What Qualifications Are Required to Become a Legal Assistant?
Some lawyers hire assistants without a legal background and train them on the job. However, a two or four-year degree in paralegal studies can improve the chances of landing a position. Another option is either a high school or college degree combined with a paralegal studies certificate. Both NALA or NFPA offer these certifications.
10 Essential Skills for Legal Assistants
1. Organizational Skills
Attorneys are busy professionals. Between ongoing trials, piles of paperwork, and daily meetings, their offices can easily become chaotic. Legal assistants with exceptional organizational skills keep their bosses organized too. By completing tasks such as overseeing calendars, managing projects, and handling paperwork, legal assistants help law offices to run at top efficiency.
2. Writing Skills
Most lawyers rely on their legal assistants to draft everything from everyday emails to professional legal documents. As a result, legal assistants must know how to communicate effectively through writing, create documents according to accepted formats and proofread. Strong spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and transcription skills all prove to be useful.
3. Technical Skills
As experts in the law, attorneys often don’t have the time to stay up to date on the latest technology. Therefore, legal assistants usually take care of a variety of tasks ranging from creating presentations to running video conferencing sessions to backing up files. Legal assistants with knowledge of Microsoft Office, legal software, and document management systems have an advantage over their less tech-savvy counterparts. In addition, legal assistants may wish to encourage ongoing technological upgrades, so their offices remain competitive with other up–and–coming firms.
4. Detail Oriented
In a trial, even a minor mistake could result in a lost case. And legal documents are no less forgiving. It’s up to legal assistants to catch and correct the errors everyone else may have missed. This includes everything from typos to double-booked meeting to missing pieces of evidence. Accuracy, note-taking skills, and attention to detail are necessary.
5. Interpersonal Skills
On a daily basis, legal assistants may interact with stressed-out attorneys, unhappy clients, difficult members of the opposing counsel, and unwilling witness as well as judges, coworkers, vendors, and more. These encounters may take place face to face, over the phone, in a video conferences, or through email, text messaging or writing. A top-notch legal assistant should be able to greet people graciously, provide instruction, and diffuse tense situations. This involves listening, expressing ideas clearly, interpreting non-verbal cues, negotiating, and being emphatic.
6. Understanding of Legal Terminology and Documentation
Full mastery of commonly-used legal terms is essential for any legal assistant. Words and phrases like acquittal, habeas corpus, and subpoena must be second nature to them. Furthermore, since the job requires regular reading, writing, and interpretation of legal documents, they should be familiar with everything from trial briefs to living wills.
Law offices can be high-stress environments. Legal assistants may by working with several different people on several different projects each day. Plus, many assignments are finished under tight deadlines. Thus, legal assistants need to be able to prioritize, delegate, and keep track of multiple workflows… all while staying calm under pressure.
Sometimes things don’t go as planned. And often, legal assistants are the ones who must quickly come up with solutions. Whether it’s dealing with double-booked meetings or locating a hard-to-find expert witness, legal assistants discover clever ways around roadblocks.
9. Critical Thinking
Since legal assistants are responsible for conducting research, strong analytical skills are a necessity. They must know how to search for information, identify trustworthy sources and distinguish relevant facts. Especially when working on a case or with an attorney, they need to know when to intervene and when to step back. Ultimately, the critical thinking skills of a talented legal assistant can be an amazing resource.
Legal assistants depend on many people and many people depend on them to get the job done. This remains true regardless of the size of the office. To be successful, they must view themselves not as a single person working in isolation but rather as a contributing member of a larger team. And since legal assistants seldom are the star of the show, they should be willing to accept their role as a supporting, albeit vitally important, player.
What Can You Do to Improve Your Legal Assistant Skill Set?
As with any profession, legal assistants need a combination of both hard and soft skills. Technical or hard skills will part of your formal training. In classes (or in some cases on the job), you’ll learn legal terminology, complete research projects, and practice writing legal documents. Many of these technical skills are useful throughout your career, while others, such as knowledge of the latest legal software or tort reform trends, will require you to consistently reskill yourself. To stay on top of ongoing changes within the industry, you may choose to enroll in online or in-person classes, attend conferences and/or regularly read legal articles, books, and blogs. Soft skills, on the other hand, are more difficult to learn in a traditional setting. Nevertheless, you still can work toward improving your natural abilities and addressing areas of weakness. For example, if you want to be a better team player, you could set a goal to assist three of your co-workers with projects before the end of the month and, of course, follow through.
What Factors Should You Consider When Looking for a Position as a Legal Assistant?
Because duties vary depending on the type and size of the firm, you’ll want to take this into account when applying for a role. For example, at a small office, you may oversee a wide variety of tasks but have limited opportunities for advancement. Whereas at a larger firm, you may be limited to a few specific tasks but have lots of opportunities to climb the corporate ladder. Also, if you are interested in a certain area of the law, such as immigration, you may wish to look for an office specializing in that area.
Are You Hoping to Find a Job as a Legal Assistant?
If you are a legal assistant looking for work in the Atlanta area, BOS Staffing can help! Our recruiters would be happy to review your skillset and match you with the right-fit law office. Learn more about our hiring process and launch your job search today!