A legal assistant is a fairly broad job description for a law professional. Legal assistants aid attorneys, conduct research, investigate, and prepare legal documents and contracts. A lot of legal technical knowledge is mastered by legal assistants and these professionals can be found in a variety of businesses, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporations. However, the vast majority of legal assistants work in law firms directly with attorneys.

A term that is often synonymous with legal assistant is “legal secretary.” Employers might use these titles interchangeably. Both terms could mean that the position requires general management of clerical duties and the office. If a firm does not have an office manager, it’s possible these law professionals might be charged with administrative tasks. Legal assistants wear a lot of hats, from organizing an entire office to preparing subpoenas. It’s a very demanding career, but it can also be lucrative. Most legal assistants have a very stable schedule and solid job security.

Educational Requirements for Legal Assistants

The educational requirements for legal assistants depend on the employer, but an associate’s degree is the most common prerequisite. There are also vocational certificates in legal studies that can help an individual get into the field. Another popular educational route is attaining a bachelor’s degree, even in an unrelated field, and getting on the job training. Some graduates of four-year universities aren’t sure what to do with their degree, and being hired as a legal assistant is a way to earn a good salary.

Diverse personalities are attracted to this field. Every legal assistant should be a skilled researcher, have excellent attention to detail, and preferably have a law background in order to secure the best job prospects. There is fierce competition in this field, so pursuing a paralegal or law associate’s degree is a smart move.

Being a legal assistant is also a great way for individuals to see if law, or possibly becoming an attorney, is a good fit for their personal and career goals. The educational commitment is relatively small, especially when considering an attorney must have a doctoral degree. Many legal assistants work for a firm while deciding if a career in law works for them, or while pursuing a bachelor’s degree or advanced degree. Others are satisfied with a career as a legal assistant and are not interested in the added pressure of becoming an attorney.

Job Outlook for Legal Assistants

The Bureau of Labor Services expects generous job growth in this field in upcoming years. Job growth for paralegals and legal assistants is set to expand 18% by 2020. There are currently 256,000 of these professionals in the field, but the high need for law experts is growing.

Legal assistants average $46,680 per year or $22.44 per hour. Most of these professionals are salaried and work full time, though overtime is sometimes necessary to meet deadlines. Others opt to freelance or contract for multiple clients and can demand a tidy hourly sum for their services. Legal assistants should weigh the pros and cons of working with firms or branching out on their own. A firm offers stability and the opportunity to work directly with attorneys. However, for those interested in variety and more control of their schedule, freelancing might be best.

Skills and Abilities of Legal Assistants

Whether a person is considered a legal assistant or secretary, he or she must possess excellent multi-tasking skills. Some professionals are in charge of maintaining all company files, both hard copies and electronic. This requires a strong grasp of technology and database management. The need for tech-savvy legal assistants is growing as businesses and firms are increasingly moving to an electronic file format.

These professionals also need to have confidence and be able to handle stressful environments. They are the foundation of a firm and both attorneys and clients rely on them to keep everything running smoothly. Individuals who are detail oriented and looking for a career with responsibility will likely fare well as legal assistants.