Becoming a Legal Aide: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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A legal aide's median annual salary is approximately $52,000, but is it worth the training requirements? Read real job descriptions and see the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming a legal aide is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Legal Aide

Legal aides, also referred to as legal assistants or paralegals, help lawyers by researching legal precedents, providing legal documents and investigating evidence and facts. Learn more about the pros and cons of career as a legal aide.

PROS of a Career as a Legal Aide
Significant job growth (17% increase between 2012 and 2022 for paralegals and legal assistants)*
High average salary (nearly $52,000 in 2014 for paralegals and legal assistants)*
Bonuses and excellent benefits are common*
Minimal education requirements*
Several areas of specialization available*

CONS of a Career as a Legal Aide
Very competitive field*
Potential to work long hours for private firms, which employ 71% of legal aides*
Potential for high stress*
Must stay updated on changing laws and regulations**
Tasks can be routine or repetitive*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **National Association of Legal Assistants

Career Information

Job Description and Responsibilities

Legal aides perform work delegated to them by lawyers. Though much of the work performed by legal aides, assistants and paralegals involves paperwork, such as drafting legal documents and other correspondence, the work involves a higher level of legal knowledge than clerical or office administration jobs. Legal aides regularly perform research, help lawyers prepare for trial, interact with clients and prepare summaries of interviews or testimonies. Also unlike a legal office administrator, a legal aide's time is often billable to clients.

Legal aides working at public offices and businesses typically work 40 hours per week. However, those working in private law firms, which employ the majority of legal aides, could be required to put in quite a bit of overtime when faced with tight court schedules or filing deadlines.

Specialization Areas

Legal aides can specialize in the same areas of law as a lawyer. Certificate and degree programs typically focus on the basic requirements and legal regulations in their core curricula, though you can opt to take elective courses or seek out professional seminars to focus your studies in such areas as bankruptcy, environmental law, litigation, intellectual property, entertainment law or real estate.

Job Prospects and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipated over 46,000 new job opportunities would be created for legal aides between 2012 and 2022. However, it also expected a high degree of competition for these popular jobs. Some aspects of legal assistance could wane with economic downturns. For example, reductions in estate planning and corporate litigation might occur when financing is a consideration. However, during recession periods, there could be a higher demand for legal aides to assist with bankruptcies or foreclosures.

The salaries of legal aides can vary widely, depending on whether or not they work in the public or private sector and the kind of law firm they work for. According to the salary survey conducted by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), legal aides with 1-5 years of legal experience earned around $37,000 in 2010, though those who'd held the same job for that amount of time made closer to $50,000. The level of education legal aides attained at the time didn't make much difference in their compensation. The survey showed that legal aides who specialized in mergers and acquisitions, securities and antitrust, aviation law, corporate law and lobbying earned the highest wages, while those who focused on entertainment, collections, family, tribal, social security and worker compensation law made the lowest salaries.

What Are the Requirements?

Even though education didn't play a huge factor in salary, the BLS stated that the most common education legal aides pursued in 2008 included associate degrees and certificates in paralegal studies. Aspiring legal aides could also be able to find employers who offer on-the-job training. To become a legal aide, you'll need to have a strong knowledge of legal terminology, excellent research skills and the ability to compile and present your work to supervising lawyers.

Recommended Skills

Research generally tops the list of skills and interests necessary for a job as a legal aide or paralegal. You should also have a strong interest specifically in the law, since changes to rules and legal practices can require you to continually revisit and revise some of your previous work. The American Bar Association and NALA outline a few necessary characteristics and standards you should develop for this career, including:

  • Professional integrity
  • Ethical standards
  • Confidentiality

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers seek legal aides with undergraduate education who are problem solvers and strong communicators. Specific companies prefer applicants with experience in their particular field, such as real estate or family law. Following are some job postings for legal aides from March 2012:

  • A New York City non-profit organization was seeking a paralegal with excellent research skills, the ability to work independently and a commitment to defending civil liberties. Candidates also needed to be highly organized with strong computer skills.
  • A San Diego family law firm was looking for a legal aide with at least two years of family law experience. Applicants needed a bachelor's degree and experience performing legal research and drafting legal memos.
  • A realty group in Albuquerque was interested in hiring a legal aide with a bachelor's degree or paralegal certificate. The successful candidate needed excellent organizational and communication skills and the ability to pay attention to detail. The company preferred a legal aide with strong computer skills.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Because many legal aides are often competing for the same jobs, it may be beneficial to separate yourself from other job candidates. Even though a bachelor's degree might not improve your compensation level, NALA's education survey found that nearly half of legal aides, assistants and paralegals held bachelor's degrees in 2010. If you already have a bachelor's degree in another field, many universities, vocational schools and community colleges offer paralegal and legal assistant certificate programs that can teach you about the law and prepare you for a job as a legal aide. Additionally, the organization found that most employers don't offer training programs, though 87% of legal aides sought outside professional development through seminars.

Get Certified

NALA also reported that over half of legal aides obtain professional certification, such as the organization's Certified Paralegal or Advanced Certified Paralegal credentials. To compete with these individuals, you could obtain a certification that shows your understanding of the law, ethical standards and the U.S. legal system. You can pursue other certifications through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) or the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. These organizations have slightly different eligibility criteria regarding educational and experience requirements, but typically cover the same topics on their certification exams.

Alternative Fields

Law Clerk

If you decide that working as a legal aide is not a great fit for you, but you still want to work in law, you might consider becoming a law clerk. Law clerks can work for lawyers, government agencies or in the judicial system, helping judges prepare for court. They can also perform legal research, and typically serve as the scheduler and first point of contact for lawyers seeking an audience with a judge.

If you'd eventually like to become a lawyer, participating in a law clerk program could provide an alternative to earning a law degree and qualify you for your state bar exam. The BLS projected that job opportunities for law clerks would grow 14%-19% between 2008 and 2018. A bachelor's degree was reported to be the most common requirement for this job. The National Association for Law Placement found that law clerks working in legal firms varied with the size of the firm, but most earned $24-$50 per hour in 2010.

Claims Adjuster

If you're not enthused about working in a legal profession, but you do like some aspects of the law, you can work in the insurance industry as a claims adjuster. In this job, you'd investigate claims, prepare insurance documents and consult legal records. The BLS stated that having legal knowledge could help when handling specific types of cases, such as liability and worker compensation. It also expected jobs for claims adjusters would grow 7% between 2008 and 2018. Claims adjusters earned a median annual salary of around $59,000 as of May 2010. The BLS indicated that you could qualify for the job with just a high school education, though most employers look for candidates with a college degree.

Title Examiner

If you enjoy researching and reporting your findings, you might think about a job as a title examiner. Title examiners research real estate records and summarize the important insurance and legal information they find. Most title examiners are trained on the job and averaged around $43,000 in 2010, according to the BLS. The bureau didn't expect this profession to undergo much growth between 2008 and 2018, though it reported that there were over 50,000 employed in the U.S. as of May 2010.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

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      • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal
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    2. Saint Joseph's University

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      • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis
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    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor - Business Administration
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    4. Baker College Online

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    Bachelor's
      • Criminal Justice - Bachelor
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    5. Northcentral University

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      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice
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    6. Grand Canyon University

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    Bachelor's
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    8. Penn Foster Career School

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    Certificate
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      • MS in Criminal Justice
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    10. Penn Foster High School

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

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

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis

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Argosy University

  • Bachelor - Business Administration

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Baker College Online

  • Criminal Justice - Bachelor

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Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice

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Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies

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Keiser University

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

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Penn Foster Career School

  • Career Diploma: Legal Secretary

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