Employed by law firms, corporations, and the government, certified legal assistants act as support workers for lawyers. They are largely responsible for various administrative tasks, such as preparing documents for trials and hearings. An associate's degree in paralegal studies is generally required, and professional certification can be helpful for career advancement.
Certified legal assistants, also known as paralegals, handle many administrative and research tasks for lawyers. They compile and organize evidence, perform legal research and draft correspondence. Most of the professionals hold at least an associate's degree, though some find jobs with a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field and prior work experience. Certification is optional, but can enhance credibility and supplement educational training.
|Required Education||Associate's degree|
|Certification Options||Optional certified Legal Assistant or Certified Paralegal credential|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||8%|
|Average Salary (2015)*||$52,390|
Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Certified Legal Assistant Job Description
Certified legal assistants can be employed by the government, corporations and law firms. Full-time positions are available in addition to seasonal positions based on busy work periods. These careers have typical 40-hour work weeks with occasional long hours when there are deadlines that have to be met. Certified legal assistants start out performing routine assignments related to administration or correspondence when first employed and then take on additional duties as they acquire more experience. Travel is occasionally a requirement for certified legal assistants. Likely destinations for traveling include law libraries and client offices.
Lawyers require assistance in preparing for trials, meetings, hearing and closings. This is the biggest job duty of certified legal assistants. They help examine evidence and facts for a case, arranging the information and finding laws, decisions and other relevant materials related to the case. All manners of preparatory work is performed by the certified legal assistant at the request of a lawyer. In addition, when they aren't performing duties on a current case, they may be working on additional agreements or contracts relevant to the law firm.
Certified legal assistants can choose from numerous educational routes. Many complete a paralegal associate's degree program at a community college. Students who possess a degree in a different subject may complement their previous studies with the addition of a paralegal studies certificate. Additionally, there are bachelor's and master's degrees available in legal assisting. Job training is common and expected for new certified legal assistants.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), certification is a voluntary process for legal assistants (www.bls.gov). However, certification may give workers an edge in the job market. Many certification options are available.
For example, the National Association of Legal Assistants offers the Certified Legal Assistant or Certified Paralegal credential to applicants who can pass an examination and meets the necessary experience and education requirements (www.nala.org). The examination covers ethics, communication, substantive law, legal research and analytical ability. An application and a modest fee are needed to take this examination. Other organizations that offer similar credentials include the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the BLS, the annual average salary for legal assistants and paralegals in 2015 was $52,390. The BLS predicted 8% employment growth for these professionals from 2014-2024, which is on par with the national average for all job sectors.
Although certification is not required to work as a legal assistant, it can help to increase employability and supplement any missing educational training. In addition to clerical tasks, legal assistants often perform research duties for lawyers, so they should possess strong analytical skills. An associate's degree is the standard education requirement, but many legal assistant with legal experience hold bachelor's degrees in other fields.