Guide to Legal Assistant Jobs
So, You Want to Be A Legal Assistant?
So, you want to work as a legal assistant to a bunch of wound up lawyers who use their "outdoor voices" all the time, eh? Be warned, law can be a fast paced, deadline driven environment, and most lawyers don't give a hoot about your "feelings". That being said, doing a job well can be very rewarding, and if you are organized, precise, and quick you can become a very valuable member of a law firm. If you are thinking about becoming a legal assistant, here are some things to consider.
Education and Experience
While no formal education is required for many legal assistant jobs, it does help, especially in this competitive market. An associate's degree should be your goal at the very least. If you have a bachelor's degree it may push you above the competition, and can be a great use for a liberal arts degree, like English (ask me how I know). It also helps to have experience in the clerical world, if you don't have legal experience already.
Legal assistants do require some skills sets in order to do their job effectively. I started in the field with little to no legal experience, but a skill set that allowed me to learn quickly about law. Firstly, you must be comfortable with computers, and a relatively quick typist. You'll spend a lot of time formatting documents, letters and pleadings, and you must be able to do so with ease. You should, at the very least, be comfortable with MS Word. I type about 50 wpm, and that allows me to keep up with dictations under most circumstances.
Another vital skill for legal assistants is mastery of the English language. You must have crisp grammar and speech, because nothing is more embarrasing than plunking down a letter riddled with errors in front of your lawyer. You have to have a close attention to detail, because even little errors can cause big problems in law.
Dress and Demeanor
A law office is a professional place with high standards, your conduct should be professional and courteous. When talking to clients, always remember that less is more, and never comment on anything unless you are 100% sure of what you are talking about. If there is even the slightest doubt, take a message and have a lawyer call the client back. There will be some complete nut-jobs, no matter what area of law you deal in, but you'll have to be polite (though sometimes firm) with all of them.
Many of your responsibilities will depend on which law firm you work at! I work in a small firm, and we three legal assistants do everything from preparing pleadings to answering the phone to shredding documents. You will probably be taking a lot of dictation, preparing letters, and filing pleadings in the local courts. Get to know where the county buildings are and who works in them, these people can be your best friends or your worst enemies. Some lawyers may have their legal assistants do research, though I never have. If you do research this is great! It gives you a wonderful opportunity to learn, and who knows, maybe some day you could be the lawyer!
While you may not become rich as a legal assistant, I find it to be a steady job with interesting and reliable work, I never get bored! You'll learn a lot, and grow a lot if you give yourself a chance as well. Good luck in your job search!