Legal assistants play a vital role in helping attorneys prepare documents for clients and and planning for court cases. They currently have a more expanded role in the legal process and are expected to have increased job growth over the next few years.
Job opportunities for legal assistants, according to the United State’s Bureau of Labor statistics, is projected to increase by 28% by the year 2018. Legal assistants are being sought to take on more of the basic responsibilities that in the past were done by attorneys. These individuals are primarily employed by private firms, but there are positions available in the legal departments at corporations, insurers and real estate agencies. Increased demand is also projected for individuals with knowledge in specialized areas and for those working with low income families, senior citizens and minority groups.*
The annual salary for a legal assistant can vary depending on the employer, area of specialization and part of the country that the individual works in. The average annual salary for a legal assistant is approximately $46,120, with the highest pay at or above is $73,450 and the lowest at or below $29,260. The middle salary range for legal assistants is between $36,080 and $59,300 per year. Those working for an insurance company have an average salary of $52,200, while those in the corporate sector earned approximately $55,910 per year.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Benefits for these individuals consists of life insurance, dental coverage, paid sick leave, annual vacation and a savings program. The individual may also receive bonus pay if overtime hours are required on the job. Some employers may even offer the individual help in paying for any continuing education in legal areas.
Job Description and Outlook
Legal assistants have a variety of responsibilities when working with an attorney, and over time these have grown quite a bit. They are not allowed, under legal regulations, to provide clients with any type of legal advice, represent a client in court or establish legal fees. The primary job this individual will have is to aid in attorney in preparing for a trial, various meetings and related court activities. Part of this preparation is aiding in the research to find relevant laws, past decisions and any other material that can help in case preparation. They may also assist in doing paperwork, filing and helping the attorney to write arguments and motions to be used in court.
Drafting paperwork for an attorney is also a key part of the job. This may include writing of wills, helping with tax returns, mortgage documents and various contracts for clients. A legal assistant works primarily in an office setting and/or a legal library in order to do research and related tasks. The work may be of a temporary nature or can be a steady, full-time position of 40 hours a week. The hours can be longer depending on the types of cases that an attorney has. In addition to possible long hours, there may be stress on the job due to the need to meet case deadlines.
Training and Education Requirements
Individuals wanting to become a legal assistant can receive an associate degree through a local community college. They can also choose to take part in a certificate program, which can be completed in the period of several months. These are normally chosen by individuals who already have a bachelors degree, and these certificate program focuses primarily on classes related to legal work. Associate degree programs have legal classes, that the individual will also have to take core classes that come from a variety of subject matter. Others may be trained by the employer as they work.
The American Bar Association has recognized around 260 programs for training as a legal assistant. This is not a requirement to get hired, that can give the applicant a better chance of getting employed. Depending on the program, the individual may receive the opportunity to take part in an internship and/or take advantage of job placement services.
It is not required to have a certification to work as a legal assistant, but being certified does carry more weight on a resume was employer. The National Association of Legal Assistants, or NALA, offers certification as either a Certified Legal Assistant or as a Certified Paralegal. This five-year certification requires that the individual complete a total of 50 hours in continuing education during that period. There is also an Advanced Paralegal Certification for individuals who want to get into specialty areas. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations also offers a Registered Paralegal certificate that requires a bachelors degree, two years of work experience and successfully passing an examination.
The National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc. offers certification opportunities and can can you an education programs to its members. The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. has a certification program, resources and job information for its members.