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Legal Aid: Employment Information & Career Requirements

Learn the job duties of legal aides, also called legal assistants. Find out about education requirements and salary potential for this career, as well as for some alternative careers.

Career Definition

Legal aides help attorneys in law firms by researching laws, investigating facts, preparing documents, and assisting during court proceedings. They undertake these routine duties while being supervised by a lawyer.

How to Become a Legal Aide

Required Education

Becoming a legal aide requires earning an associate degree in paralegal studies. Individuals with bachelor's degrees in related fields, can complete a certificate program in paralegal studies in order to prepare for a career as a legal aide.

Students take courses in investigation, interviewing, legal research, and office management. They may also study different types of law, such as probate, administrative, criminal, or corporate law. A program may include classes in creditor rights, business organizations, legal ethics, and professional responsibilities.

There are voluntary certifications available. The National Association of Legal Assistants oversees the CLA (Certified legal assistant) exam.

Skills Required

Legal aides need the ability to be timely with documents, detailed, and knowledgeable of legal processes and procedures. One should also possess above average communication skills since legal aides interact with attorneys, other legal personnel, and the public.

Economic and Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for paralegals and legal assistants will increase by 17% from 2012 to 2022. This faster-than-average job growth projection is partly because it is more cost effective to hire legal aides, who can do both administrative and legal tasks, than to hire legal secretaries, according to the BLS. In May 2012, the BLS published the median annual salary of paralegals and legal assistants as $46,990.

Alternative Career Options

Lawyer

Those interested in studying the law more intensely may want to consider becoming lawyers. Lawyers, also called attorneys, require more education and training than legal aides, but they also have a higher median salary. Lawyers typically complete a bachelor's degree and then three years of law school. After law school, aspiring lawyers must pass the bar exam in the state in which they want to work. Job duties for lawyers can include legal research, filing legal documents, appearing in court and arguing a case in a courtroom. The BLS projects that jobs for lawyers will grow at an average rate of 10% from 2012 to 2022. According to the BLS, lawyers had a median annual salary of $113,530 in May 2012.

Legal Secretary

Like legal aides, legal secretaries assist legal professionals in law offices. The duties of legal secretaries, however, are largely administrative in nature. While a legal aide may mostly complete research and writing tasks, a legal secretary may mostly work on editing, formatting and scheduling projects, although some legal research may be required. Although legal secretaries with basic skills can begin entry-level positions with only a high school diploma, completing postsecondary courses or a bachelor's degree may increase job opportunities. The BLS reports that the legal secretary career field will likely decrease by about 3% from 2012 to 2022. This decrease is mainly due to paralegals taking on some of the duties of legal secretaries. As of 2012, legal secretaries had a median annual salary of $42,170, according to the BLS.

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