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Working As A Legal Assistant

  • Interacting With Computers
  • Getting Information
  • Organizing, Planning, and Prioritizing Work
  • Communicating with Persons Outside Organization
  • Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates
  • Deal with People

  • Mostly Sitting

  • Stressful

  • $53,286

    Average Salary

What Does A Legal Assistant Do

Paralegals and legal assistants do a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents.

Duties

Paralegals and legal assistants typically do the following:

  • Investigate and gather the facts of a case
  • Conduct research on relevant laws, regulations, and legal articles
  • Organize and maintain documents in paper or electronic filing systems
  • Gather and arrange evidence and other legal documents for attorney review and case preparation
  • Write or summarize reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
  • Draft correspondence and legal documents, such as contracts and mortgages
  • Get affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence in court
  • Help lawyers during trials by handling exhibits, taking notes, or reviewing trial transcripts
  • File exhibits, briefs, appeals and other legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
  • Call clients, witnesses, lawyers, and outside vendors to schedule interviews, meetings, and depositions

Paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. 

Paralegals use technology and computer software for managing and organizing the increasing amount of documents and data collected during a case. Many paralegals use computer software to catalog documents, and to review documents for specific keywords or subjects. Because of these responsibilities, paralegals must be familiar with electronic database management and be current on the latest software used for electronic discovery. Electronic discovery refers to all electronic materials obtained by the parties during the litigation or investigation. These materials may be emails, data, documents, accounting databases, and websites.

Paralegals’ specific duties often vary depending on the area of law in which they work.

Corporate paralegals, for example, often help lawyers prepare employee contracts, shareholder agreements, stock-option plans, and companies’ annual financial reports. Corporate paralegals may monitor and review government regulations to ensure that the corporation is aware of new legal requirements.

Litigation paralegals maintain documents received from clients, conduct research for lawyers, retrieve and organize evidence for use at depositions and trials, and draft settlement agreements. Some litigation paralegals may also help coordinate the logistics of attending a trial, including reserving office space, transporting exhibits and documents to the courtroom, and setting up computers and other equipment.

Paralegals may also specialize in other legal areas, such as personal injury, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate.

Specific job duties may also vary by the size of the law firm.

In small firms, paralegals’ duties tend to vary more. In addition to reviewing and organizing documents, paralegals may prepare written reports that help lawyers determine how to handle their cases. If lawyers decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help draft documents to be filed with the court.

In large organizations, paralegals may work on a particular phase of a case, rather than handling a case from beginning to end. For example, paralegals may only review legal material for internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for lawyers, or collect and organize evidence for hearings. After gaining experience, a paralegal may become responsible for more complicated tasks.

Paralegals and legal assistants often work in teams with attorneys, fellow paralegals, and other legal support staff.

Unlike the work of other administrative and legal support staff employed in a law firm, the paralegal’s work is billed to the client.

Paralegals may have frequent interactions with clients and third-party vendors. In addition, experienced paralegals may assume supervisory responsibilities, such as overseeing team projects or delegating work to other paralegals.

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How To Become A Legal Assistant

Most paralegals and legal assistants have an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor's degree in another field and a certificate in paralegal studies.

Education

There are several paths a person can take to become a paralegal. Candidates can enroll in a community college paralegal program to earn an associate’s degree. However, many employers prefer, or even require, applicants to have a bachelor’s degree.

Because only a small number of schools offer bachelor’s and master's degrees in paralegal studies, applicants typically have a bachelor’s degree in another subject and earn a certificate in paralegal studies.

Associate’s and bachelor's degree programs in paralegal studies usually offer paralegal training courses in legal research, legal writing, and the legal applications of computers, along with courses in other academic subjects, such as corporate law and international law. Most certificate programs provide intensive paralegal training for people who already hold college degrees.

Employers sometimes hire college graduates with no legal experience or legal education and train them on the job. In these cases, the new employee may have experience in a technical field that is useful to law firms, such tax preparation, nursing, or criminal justice.

Other Experience

In many cases, employers prefer candidates who have at least 1 year of experience in a law firm or other office setting. In addition, a technical understanding of a specific legal specialty can be helpful. For example, a personal-injury law firm may desire a paralegal with a background in nursing or health administration.

Work experience in a law firm or other office setting is particularly important for people who do not have formal paralegal training.

Many paralegal training programs offer an internship, in which students gain practical experience by working for several months in a private law firm, the office of a public defender or attorney general, a corporate legal department, a legal aid organization, or a government agency. Internship experience helps students improve their technical skills and can enhance their employment prospects.

Certifications

Although not required, some employers may prefer to hire applicants who have completed a paralegal certification program. Many national and local paralegal organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications to students able to pass an exam. Other organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications for paralegals who meet certain experience and education criteria. For more information about paralegal certifications, see the More Info section.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Paralegals must be able to document and present their research and related information to their supervising attorney.

Computer skills. Paralegals need to be familiar with using computers for legal research and litigation support. They also use computer programs for organizing and maintaining important documents.

Interpersonal skills. Paralegals spend most of their time working with clients and other professionals and must be able to develop good relationships. They must make clients feel comfortable sharing personal information related to their cases.

Organizational skills. Paralegals may be responsible for many cases at one time. They must adapt quickly to changing deadlines.

Research skills. Paralegals need good research and investigative skills to conduct legal research.

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Legal Assistant jobs

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Legal Assistant Demographics

Gender

  • Female

    80.5%
  • Male

    17.3%
  • Unknown

    2.2%

Ethnicity

  • White

    77.0%
  • Hispanic or Latino

    13.8%
  • Asian

    7.1%
  • Unknown

    1.6%
  • Black or African American

    0.6%
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Languages Spoken

  • Spanish

    58.2%
  • French

    9.7%
  • Mandarin

    3.8%
  • Chinese

    3.5%
  • Russian

    3.3%
  • Italian

    3.1%
  • German

    3.1%
  • Portuguese

    2.9%
  • Arabic

    2.1%
  • Korean

    2.0%
  • Japanese

    1.7%
  • Cantonese

    1.3%
  • Polish

    1.0%
  • Hindi

    0.9%
  • Tagalog

    0.7%
  • Vietnamese

    0.6%
  • Urdu

    0.6%
  • Armenian

    0.5%
  • Hebrew

    0.5%
  • Greek

    0.4%
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Real Legal Assistant Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Legal Assistant, Patent Shinjyu Global Ip Counselors, LLP Washington, DC Jan 27, 2016 $80,954
Legal Assistant Ryu Law Firm Los Angeles, CA Aug 18, 2016 $77,251
Legal Assistant CLI Ny LLC New York, NY Apr 01, 2015 $72,000
Legal Assistant New Weiming Law Group McLean, VA Jul 28, 2016 $69,867
Legal Assistant Finacon Systems LLC Chantilly, VA Feb 15, 2015 $68,557 -
$69,500
Legal Assistant Finacon Systems LLC Chantilly, VA Jan 15, 2015 $68,557 -
$69,500
Legal Assistant Bilingual Ilasz & Associates New York, NY Mar 17, 2016 $66,726
Legal Assistant Sidman Law Group Inc. CA Nov 21, 2016 $65,354
Legal Assistant Mona Shah, P.C. New York, NY Sep 15, 2015 $65,219
Legal Assistant A O E Law & Associates Inc. Los Angeles, CA Aug 22, 2015 $65,000
Legal Assistant Advisor Nineteen and K, Inc. Washington, DC Mar 18, 2016 $65,000
Legal Assistant Human Rights Foundation, Inc. New York, NY Nov 20, 2015 $64,000
Patent Legal Assistant Oppedahl Patent Law Firm LLC Westminster, CO May 27, 2016 $63,003
Legal Assistant/Immigration Velez Immigration Law PLLC Nashville, TN Aug 22, 2016 $61,984
Legal Assistant Zhengyi Law Group, Ltd. Las Vegas, NV May 29, 2015 $51,397
Legal Assistant Cao Law Group West Palm Beach, FL Dec 23, 2016 $50,088 -
$62,610
Legal Assistant American Education Center, Inc. New York, NY Jun 08, 2015 $50,088
Legal Assistant China Labor Watch Inc. New York, NY Sep 15, 2015 $50,088
Legal Assistant Baker & McKenzie LLP New York, NY Nov 14, 2016 $50,000
Legal Assistant DS-Concept Factoring Inc. New York, NY Sep 21, 2016 $50,000
Paralegal/Legal Assistant Sharma Yaskhi & Associates LLP New York, NY May 05, 2016 $50,000
Legal Assistant The Jensen Law Firm PLLC New York, NY Oct 14, 2016 $49,130
Paralegal/Legal Assistant Law Office of BWO Marian Chou DC Sep 23, 2015 $43,890
Paralegal/Legal Assistant Law Office of B. Marian Chou DC Mar 24, 2015 $43,890
Legal Assistant Cheng Yun & Associates, PLLC Franconia, VA Sep 01, 2015 $43,890
Legal Assistant/Paralegal National Capital Legal Cervices Falls Church, VA Dec 16, 2016 $43,285
Legal Assistant and Researcher Unity One, Inc. Las Vegas, NV Jan 12, 2015 $43,200
Legal Assistant The Canales Law Firm PLLC Edinburg, TX Jun 25, 2015 $42,328
Legal Assistant System Soft Technologies LLC Tampa, FL May 14, 2015 $42,000
Legal Assistant Partners Law Group Inc. Santa Monica, CA Jul 09, 2016 $41,740

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Top Skills for A Legal Assistant

LegalCorrespondenceLegalDocumentsDiscoveryResponsesTrialPreparationRealEstateClosingsCounselLegalResearchPersonalInjuryCasesComplaintsMedicalRecordsBankruptcyClientFilesAffidavitsTravelArrangementsCourtDocumentsPhoneCallsSchedulingAppointmentsDataEntryFamilyLawEstatePlanningDocuments

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Top Legal Assistant Skills

  1. Legal Correspondence
  2. Legal Documents
  3. Discovery Responses
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Prepared legal correspondence of all kind such as documents, briefs, contracts, agreements, pleadings, and court papers.
  • Coordinated and transmitted legal documents and correspondence to comply with deadlines.
  • Clarified written discovery process for clients and facilitated the timely completion of discovery responses.
  • Assisted with trial preparation, including preparation of trial exhibits, creation of trial notebooks, and witness contact.
  • Drafted and sent municipal lien certificates, insurance binder requests, and deeds for real estate closings.

Top Legal Assistant Employers

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