Legal assistants need postsecondary training in paralegal studies to enter this career field. They can pursue an associate's degree, or if they already have a bachelor's degree, they can complete a certificate in paralegal studies. Certification is optional, although it may increase job opportunities.
Legal assistants, also known as paralegals, conduct research and complete substantive legal work for attorneys. Aspiring legal assistants typically need to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies before entering the field. Individuals with bachelor's degrees in other fields might complete a certificate program. Voluntary certifications are available through multiple organizations.
|Required Education||Associate's or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies or a certificate if a student has a bachelor's degree in another field|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||8%|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$48,810|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Because they are not licensed attorneys, legal assistants aren't allowed to provide legal advice, set fees or represent clients in most court proceedings. However, assistants help practicing attorneys carry out administrative tasks, such as filing, word processing and organizing documents. They can also help lawyers prepare for trial, which might require research of case histories or legal statutes. Some paralegals specialize in a particular area, like labor law or corporate law.
As paralegals gain experience and become more proficient, they might find opportunity for advancement into managerial or supervisory positions within their firms. They might become responsible for increasingly complicated or advanced tasks, including those typically carried out by attorneys.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 279,500 paralegals and legal assistants working in the country as of 2014, and that number was expected to increase 8% from 2014-2024. As of May 2015, legal assistants earned a median annual salary of $48,810.
Aspiring paralegals can find associate's degree programs in the field of paralegal studies or legal assistance. For individuals who already hold a bachelor's degree in another field, post-baccalaureate certificate and diploma programs are available in the subject as well and can be completed in as little as one year. Core topics in these programs include legal writing, constitutional law and the court system.
Bachelor's degree programs in legal studies also are available. Some schools offer master's degree programs in legal administration that could help aspiring or practicing paralegals move into management positions.
While certification for paralegals is voluntary, earning a professional credential could lead to additional career opportunities. The National Association of Legal Assistants offers the Certified Legal Assistant and Certified Paralegal designations. Other certification options are available through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. In most cases, certification requirements include completion of a postsecondary program, some work experience and an exam.
Legal assistants are responsible for researching case information for attorneys and completing paperwork related to cases. They can't provide legal advice, but they perform administrative tasks and help lawyers prepare for trial.