Executive Legal Assistants
Executive legal assistants provide high-level support in legal offices and assist top lawyers within the firm. While their specific duties may depend on the law firm, executive legal assistants typically have many different responsibilities, including preparing legal documents, researching cases and reviewing reports. Long work hours might be spent in offices and libraries, and travel is sometimes required.
Some of the key skills necessary include research skills, writing skills, organizational acumen, and the ability to work under pressure. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the mean annual salary of all legal assistants in 2015 was $52,390.
Career Requirements at a Glance
|Degree Level||Associate's degree required; bachelor's degree may be preferred|
|Degree Field||Legal studies, paralegal studies|
|Certification||Optional certification via National Association for Legal Assistants|
|Experience||About 5 years law firm experience to earn an executive position|
|Key Skills||Research, writing, organization, ability to work under pressure|
|Salary*||$52,390 (mean annual salary of all legal assistants in 2015)|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Occupational Information Network
Earn a Degree
The first step to become an executive legal assistant is to earn a college degree. An associate's degree program in paralegal or legal studies from an accredited college or university teaches students the fundamentals of the field. Aspiring executive legal assistants may want to select a program that has been approved by the American Bar Association. Students take courses that introduce them to basic legal concepts and terms. Covered course topics include legal analysis and writing, professional communication, legal research, legal technology, civil litigation, and ethics.
- Participate in an internship. Internships can give students valuable opportunities and practical lessons to gain experience in the court system or with private law firms and corporations.
Gain Work Experience
The second step to become an executive legal assistant is to gain work experience. Executive legal assistants support licensed attorneys by preparing cases, researching case law and statutes, gathering and organizing legal documents, and analyzing legal decisions. While working in an entry-level position for several years, aspiring executive legal assistants may develop a specialty in the field. For example, legal assistants may focus on family law, criminal law, international law, or litigation.
Consider an Advanced Degree
The third step to become an executive legal assistant is to consider an advanced degree in order to advance your career. Before applying for executive legal assistant positions, individuals usually must gain up to five years of experience in the field at the paralegal or legal assistant level. Additional degree requirements are typically helpful for advancement, as employers may prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree. Depending on the college or university's policies, it may be possible to transfer credits earned at the associate's degree level to an accredited bachelor's degree program.
While not required to work in the field, the National Association for Legal Assistants offers certification for legal assistants that can demonstrate a professional's knowledge and skills in the field. Applicants must pass a certification exam that covers topics on the American legal system, research techniques, analytical thinking, ethics, and communication.
To become an executive legal assistant, you should earn a college degree and participate in an internship, gain professional legal work experience, and consider obtaining an advanced degree to advance your career in addition to considering certification through the National Association for Legal Assistants.