Legal Assistant Careers: Job Description & Entry-Level Salary Info

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A legal assistant's average salary is around $51,000. Is it worth the education and training requirements? See real job duties and get the truth about career outlooks to learn if becoming a legal assistant is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Legal Assistant

Legal assistants, sometimes referred to as paralegals, help lawyers by performing research and organizing documents. You can learn additional pros and cons to being a legal assistant by reading below.

PROS of Becoming a Legal Assistant
Income is above the national average (about $51,000 yearly)*
Government benefits when employed by a government agency*
Career advancement options with work experience*
Full-time and part-time career options*

CONS of Becoming a Legal Assistant
Deadlines at work can lead to overtime and long hours*
Employers prefer legal assistants with prior work experience*
Strong job competition*
Light travel can be assigned depending on the nature of work tasks*

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

Occupational Information

Job Duties

The employee responsibilities of a legal assistant are dependent upon the firm with which he or she is employed. Generally, you'll work on a case and examine the facts of it by researching regulations and laws that pertain to the case. You'll keep this information organized and present it to the lawyers associated with your firm. Sometimes, it might be necessary to draft reports of the information you found. These reports are often used by lawyers in court cases. During a trial, a legal assistant might help out by retrieving documents for the lawyer and consulting him or her on certain cases.

Salary Information

Legal assistants earned an average of around $51,000 annually as of May 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This resulted in an hourly wage of roughly $25. Legal assistants in the lowest ten percent of wage estimates made about $30,000 per year. If you want to work in one of the best-paying states for legal assistants, look for employment in Alaska, New Jersey, Washington, Oregon or California. The District of Columbia was also on the list of areas that paid the highest mean wages.

Job Outlook

An employment growth about as fast as the average of all occupations was projected from 2012-2022 for legal assistants. The BLS expected this growth to be around 17%. This growth was attributed to employers trying to increase efficiency while minimizing costs. For example, many legal assistants can perform tasks and duties that used to be done by lawyers.

Career Requirements

Training and Education

You could become a legal assistant in a number of ways. You can earn an associate's degree in paralegal studies. At some schools, you might find a paralegal studies major for bachelor's degree programs or master's degree programs with paralegal concentrations; you'll want to obtain an internship involving legal studies if you choose to major in paralegal studies. If you have a bachelor's degree in another major, you could work at obtaining a paralegal studies certificate. In certain circumstances, an employer might hire someone with a bachelor's degree in a subject other than paralegal studies and then train them on the job.

What Do Employers Want?

Employers generally look for legal assistants who have previous work experience. Generally, a year of experience in an office setting or a law firm is the minimum employers want. You may want to obtain a specialty in a specific legal area. A focus in an area such as personal injury law can be beneficial to the right firm. You can learn what real employers looked for in legal assistants in November 2012 by reading below.

  • A legal assistant opening in Washington D.C. needed applicants who can type at 65 words per minute and who received an 80% score or higher in legal and Microsoft Office tests.
  • A Florida company required a legal assistant who had spent 3-5 years in insurance defense.
  • In Rhode Island, a company looked for a legal assistant who was familiar with online court filings.
  • A company in Texas needed a legal assistant with a minimum of five years of experience in foreign and U.S. patents.

How Can You Stand Out as a Legal Assistant?

Certification for legal assistants is a voluntary process; not all legal assistants have certification. By acquiring certification, you can stand out from your peers who don't have it. Different types of local and national paralegal organizations offer certification. You can check with organizations including the Association for Legal Assistants and Paralegals (NALA), the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. Typically, you'll have to pass an examination to earn your certification. Education and work experience requirements may also exist.

Other Career Choices

If you're interested in a career you can begin with a high school diploma or the equivalent, then claims examiner, adjuster and investigator are all research-focused careers you might consider. In a claims career, you would work at investigating insurance claims and ensure that claims are paid out. If you're an investigator and you suspect that a claim isn't legitimate, you ask questions and inspect the damage to find the truth about the claim. In May 2011, claims adjusters, examiners and investigators had average yearly earnings of about $61,000, according to the BLS. From 2010-2020, the BLS projected a three percent employment growth for claims adjusters, investigators and examiners.

If you want to take your law career further than being a legal assistant, you may look into becoming a lawyer. Lawyers represent companies or people in court cases. To be a lawyer, you'll need a bachelor's degree (no specific major is required), a professional degree in law (the J.D., or Juris Doctor) from an American Bar Association-accredited university and to pass the bar examination. The BLS expected lawyers to have a 10% growth in employment from 2010-2020. Lawyers were reported to earn around $130,000 on average annually as of May 2011.

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