How Do I Become a Legal Assistant?

Are you a highly-organized, skilled writer and speaker with proficiency using computers and researching information? If so, you may be wondering how to become a legal assistant. Legal assistants provide research, organizational and document writing support to attorneys. Both legal secretaries and paralegals, who are professionals that have been formally educated and certified to assist in legal matters, are sometimes referred to as legal assistants.

A legal assistant performs research related to a legal case. This may include fact-checking information about the case as well as investigating relevant regulations and laws that may have an effect on the outcome of the case. Gathering evidence, such as formal statements from witnesses, may fall under the responsibility of a legal assistant. Legal assistants also provide organizational skills in presenting this research and in maintaining and updating information in computer databases. A legal assistant prepares written materials such as correspondence, reports and legal documents such as mortgages and contracts.

Some legal assistants specialize in a relevant area of law in order to expand their job responsibilities within that discipline. Legal assistants might focus specifically on litigation, real estate, bankruptcy, immigration, employee benefits, intellectual property, personal injury, corporate law, criminal law or family law. The United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, as of May 2010, 70 percent of legal assistants and paralegals worked in a law firm or other legal services provider. Other legal assistants found employment with the federal government, in state and local governments or in the finance and insurance industries.

Aspiring legal assistants typically acquire legal education or experience, or both, to obtain a position as a legal assistant. Paralegals may earn a two-year associates degree in paralegal studies by taking courses in legal research, the legal applications of computers, and other paralegal training topics. Paralegal studies programs might require students to complete a relevant internship to get real-world experience. Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in paralegal studies also exist. Aspiring legal assistants that have already earned a bachelor’s degree in another field can complete a certificate program in as little as a few months to develop the skills they need to become a legal assistant. Additional experience working in an office setting, especially a law firm, is also valuable for obtaining a job as a legal assistant.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that legal assistant and paralegal jobs will increase by 18 percent during the 2010 to 2020 decade. This expectation is comparable to the predicted 14 percent average job growth rate for all occupations. Legal assistants and paralegals earned a median salary of $46,680 per year, according to data collected in May 2010. This salary is noticeably higher than the average median salary for all occupations, which is $33,840 per year. If you have excellent computer and research skills, a high level of organization and successful writing and speaking abilities, you can begin a fast-paced new career now that you know how to become a legal assistant.

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