Legal Administrative Assistant Careers: Salary & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a legal administrative assistant career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a legal administrative assistant is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Legal Administrative Assistant

Legal administrative assistants, also known as paralegals, assist lawyers by preparing legal documents, investigating facts and looking into legal precedents. Read on to learn the pros and cons of a career as a legal administrative assistant.

PROS of a Career as a Legal Administrative Assistant
Several educational paths from which to choose*
Increase in job demand because assistants are less costly than lawyers*
Certain specialty areas may help you assume more supervisory responsibilities*
May find work at many different types of organizations, such as law firms, insurance companies, corporations and government agencies*

CONS of a Career as a Legal Administrative Assistant
Those who work for law firms might work extended hours to meet deadlines*
Lawyers sometimes take over legal assistant duties when business is slow*
Competition for jobs through 2022 will be strong, since many are entering this field*
The American Bar Association only approves about 270 paralegal programs out of more than 1,000 available programs*

Source: *The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Duties

As a legal administrative assistant, you must coordinate and direct a great deal of the activity in the law office, including the delivery of subpoenas. Sometimes you might meet with other professionals and clients to discuss cases, call upon witnesses to testify and file pleadings with court clerks. Part of your job could also be maintaining the law library by monitoring legal volumes.

The size of your firm may determine many of your job duties. If you work at a small firm, you might perform a greater variety of tasks, like organizing and reviewing information, preparing written reports for lawyers and filing legal arguments and documents. At a larger firm, you must often work on just one phase of a case; for example, you might become a litigation paralegal who works just on trial documents or settlement agreements and doesn't even attend trials. Areas of specialization that might allow you to assume the most responsibility include personal injury, litigation, criminal law, employee benefits, corporate law, bankruptcy, family law, immigration and real estate.

Salary

The mean annual wage for paralegals and legal assistants was about $51,000, according to reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2014 (www.bls.gov). At that same time, the top-paying industries for this occupation were software publishing, professional and commercial equipment, electronic component manufacturing, information services and pharmaceutical/medicine manufacturing.

What Are the Requirements?

Education

There are certificate, associate and bachelor's degree programs available in paralegal studies. Programs can include courses in legal research, property law, legal writing and law office administration. Some programs also offer internships to help you get some practical experience. The path most commonly taken is completing an associate's degree program in paralegal studies or earning a bachelor's degree in another field combined with a certificate in paralegal studies. Some certificate programs only take several months to complete and include intensive paralegal training. In addition, if you have a bachelor's degree in another area, especially in a field like tax or criminal justice, you might be able to find an employer who will simply train you on the job.

What Employers Are Seeking

Employers often prefer applicants with at least one year of experience in an office or law firm setting. This could be especially crucial if you don't have formal paralegal training. Experienced paralegals are sometimes hired to supervise other paralegals or clerical staff. Read the following excerpts taken from real job postings in April 2012 to find out what employers were looking for in a legal administrative assistant or paralegal.

  • A firm in Texas advertised for a full-time litigation paralegal with a minimum of four years experience, a paralegal certificate, strong computer skills and the ability to manage projects. This employer also looked for knowledge of electronic research technology and electronic court filing, along with experience in summation.
  • A law firm in Los Angeles, California, was looking for a full-time family law legal assistant/paralegal. This employer required at least five years of experience, a strong knowledge of family law, litigation experience, strong technical skills and the ability to work well independently or with a team. A degree or paralegal certificate was preferred.
  • A national law firm was seeking a permanent legal administrative assistant for one of their offices in Florida. Your work would involve defending financial institutions in foreclosure litigation. This employer required a minimum of three years of experience in commercial litigation, advanced Microsoft Word skills, ability to communicate well with co-workers and a thorough knowledge of Florida Rules of Civil and Federal Procedure.
  • A company based in both Jersey City, NJ, and Manhattan, NY, advertised for a part-time paralegal with life insurance industry experience. This job requires a bachelor's degree, and job duties include filing insurance and annuity products, revising policy forms, performing legal research, updating compliance manuals, assisting in summarizing legislation, overseeing reproduction of legal records and acting as a liaison between the legal and clerical staff. The job required 20 hours per week, and candidates needed at least two years of experience.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Most employers don't require certification for their legal administrative assistants, but it might help you secure a position. There are exams offered by many organizations that can enable you to earn voluntary certifications. The BLS reported that you could become a Certified Legal Assistant through the Association for Legal Assistants/Paralegals (NALA), or you could become a Professional Paralegal through the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS). To earn either of these credentials, you must pass a certification test that can assess your knowledge of legal ethics, analysis, research, communication and different legal fields.

Other Careers to Consider

Lawyer

If you love law and are willing to spend more time on your education, you might consider a career as a lawyer. As a lawyer or attorney, you'd represent and advise businesses, individuals and government agencies on disputes or other legal issues. After completing a bachelor's degree, you must attend law school for three years and then pass a written bar examination. Other requirements vary from one state to the next. According to the BLS, expected job growth from 2010-2020 was average, and competition was expected to be strong. The mean annual wage for lawyers as of May 2011 was approximately $130,000.

Claims Adjuster, Examiner or Investigator

If you're attracted to a job that involves research, you might be interested in a career evaluating insurance claims. You'd inspect damaged buildings and vehicles to decide if an insurance company should pay a claim and if so, how much they should pay. Usually a high school diploma is sufficient, but you can stand out more with employers if you earn a bachelor's degree, vocational training or some work experience related to insurance. Depending on your state, you may need to earn licensure. Although the expected job growth through 2020 was slower than average for this occupation, growth in the health insurance industry should remain strong. As of May 2011, the BLS reported that claims adjusters, examiners and investigators earned a mean annual wage of about $61,000.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Criminal Justice
      • Master: Legal Studies
    Bachelor's
      • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
      • BS - Legal Support and Services
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      • Bachelor: Criminal Justice
    Associate's
      • AAS in Legal Support and Services
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
    Certificate
      • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Legal Studies
      • B.A. - Criminal Justice
    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
      • Associate of Arts - Paralegal
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Lewis University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Argosy University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor - Business Administration
  • Campus and Online Programs
    8. South University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Criminal Justice (BS)
    Associate's
      • Paralegal Studies (AS)
  • Online Programs Available
    9. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
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      • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
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    10. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
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      • M.S. - Criminal Justice
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      • BS - Criminal Justice

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Criminal Justice
  • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
  • AAS in Legal Support and Services
  • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal

Which subject are you interested in?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Legal Studies
  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Paralegal

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Lewis University

  • MS in Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Argosy University

  • Bachelor - Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

South University

  • Criminal Justice (BS)
  • Paralegal Studies (AS)

What is your highest level of education completed?