Legal research assistants gather information to support the facts of cases presented by lawyers. The research often includes related laws and legal articles. An associate's degree or professional certificate may be required.
Legal research assistants, also known as paralegals, provide significant support to both lawyers and the public. Most assistants have completed an associate's degree program in paralegal studies; professional certificate programs are also available for those who hold a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field and want to transition into the paralegal field.
|Required Education||Associate's degree or professional certificate|
|Projected Job Growth (2018 - 2028)*||12% for all paralegals and legal assistants|
|Median Salary (2018)*||$50,940 for all paralegals and legal assistants|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Legal Research Assistant Occupational Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in the decade between 2018 and 2028, the amount of open positions for paralegals and legal assistants was expected to increase by 12% (www.bls.gov). These professionals predominantly work at law firms, but recent hiring trends indicated that businesses with in-house legal departments have been hiring legal assistants more frequently. Since legal assistants may perform some duties performed by lawyers, organizations are choosing to hire more legal assistants than lawyers as a cost-effective hiring strategy.
BLS records from May 2018 show that the median salary for paralegals and legal assistants was $50,940. Information from that same year indicated that those who worked in the San Jose and Sunnyvale metropolitan regions of California earned $86,630 annually, the highest amongst all metro areas. Paralegals and legal assistants working in the following five industries received the highest average annual wages during May 2018: grantmaking and giving services; software publishers; motor vehicle manufacturing; natural gas distribution; and pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing.
Legal Research Assistant Career Overview
Legal research assistants mainly help lawyers prepare for trial cases and other legal proceedings. Assistants do most of the groundwork in setting-up trial cases and legal meetings, including pulling documents, talking with clients, submitting paperwork and analyzing legal research. Assistants read through legal paperwork to verify that the information is correct and to determine if additional steps are required. For example, after reading through a court docket, assistants might decide that additional paperwork needs to be filed with the county courthouse, and so assistants file the appropriate paperwork on behalf of their law firm.
Sometimes assistants need to pull up additional research, summarize it and make copies of the information for lawyers to use at a later date. Besides helping lawyers, assistants can also maintain accounting records, write-up contracts and guide individuals through the process of setting-up wills and trust funds. Assistants also explain legal forms to the public and help individuals complete and file documents. Through their work experience, legal research assistants may also gain expertise in various fields of law like copyright or social welfare law among other areas.
Aspiring legal assistants typically complete an associate's degree in paralegal studies from a community or junior college. Those who have already earned a bachelor's degree in another field may earn a professional certificate. Studies generally last 1-2 years and include topics in litigation procedures, research methods and property transactions.
Legal research assistants are projected to see an 12% rise in employment opportunities through 2028 due to the increased use of assistants rather than lawyers to save money. Formal training resulting in an associate's degree or postsecondary certificate is required so that they can perform duties such as explaining important legal documents, creating contracts and conducting research. Depending on the industry and location, legal research assistants could earn close to $73,000 per year.