How to Become a Legal Assistant
Legal Assistant Careers & Degrees

Do you have great organizational skills, an ability to research well, and in interest in the legal profession? If so, you might like to become a legal assistant.

A legal assistant is an administration role within the legal field.

In the past, much of this kind of work was done by lawyers themselves, but is now delegated to assistants.

There are many different types of legal assistants.

Some provide a secretarial service, answering phones and completing administrative duties, while others such as paralegals, have a complex role which involves legal work such as preparing a defense, legal research, and attending trials.

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Education Requirements to Become a Legal Assistant

If you’re in high school you can start preparing to become a legal assistant.

Subjects like English and law will be of great assistance.

Other humanities subjects are also a good choice.

If you can get some work experience in an office environment this will also be helpful.

There are a few different education ways to become a legal assistant.

You could complete a two year associates degree at community college which is directed at those looking to work as a legal assistant.

Another choice is to complete a four year bachelors degree in criminal justice.

If you were looking at working in a role where you were completing legal work and research then the bachelors degree would be preferable.

Legal Assistant Job Description

Your job description as a legal assistant will depend on the kind of role that you are looking to work in.

As a legal secretary, you could expect to be completing diary management, greeting clients on the phone and in person, as well as some administrative tasks

Some legal assistants have a role that is more focused on the legal side of their work.

They could investigate a legal case, prepare a defense, interview witnesses, and look for precedent.

The role you take on will really depend on your preference.

With the right education you can be prepared for either.

Of course, you might prefer to do one type of work at an earlier stage in your career, and another later on when you circumstances and lifestyle changes.

Here are some of the responsibilities you might take on as a legal assistant:

  • Preparing legal documents and contracts
  • Preparing a legal case or defense
  • Interviewing clients and witnesses
  • Completing legal research
  • Attending a trial
  • Answering phone calls
  • Taking client inquiry
  • Meeting with clients

Legal Assistant Salary and Career Path

When you become a legal assistant, it’s likely you will begin your career in an administration role.

You could also start our working as an assistant to an experienced paralegal.

With some experience you could expect to move on to more complex roles.

Legal assistants work for lawyers, judges, public defenders, and within the court system.

In a smaller firm, a legal assistant would have a much broader range of duties, whereas in a larger firm they are expected to specialize in a particular area.

If you are looking for advancement then a larger firm is the best place for the most opportunity.

Many legal assistants work a forty hour week, but those in more involved legal roles might be expected to work overtime.

With this in mind, they also receive many benefits such as paid leave as well as health and dental insurance.

The median wage for a legal assistant is $45,000 a year.

The top 10% of earners make more than $70,000 a year.

Some similar roles to that of legal assistant include:

Some legal assistants will be promoted to the more demanding and challenging work of a paralegal.

Some complete further study to become lawyers themselves.

Others move on to administration roles such as an office manager.

A good source on further information on a career as a legal assistant is The National Association of Legal Assistants.

If you are interested in the law and are a strong student of the humanities, then you might like to become a legal assistant.

There is lots of variation in the roles offered in this field, and once you have completed your initial qualification, there will be many different opportunities to work in various roles.

There is also plenty of opportunity for professional development.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$55,020
$32K
$39K
$55K
$65K
$82K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$47,380
Alaska$56,360
Arizona$50,940
Arkansas$40,820
California$61,810
Colorado$62,250
Connecticut$60,240
Delaware$57,140
District of Columbia$82,010
Florida$51,130
Georgia$54,440
Hawaii$54,530
Idaho$48,110
Illinois$59,960
Indiana$48,280
Iowa$50,140
Kansas$44,460
Kentucky$44,650
Louisiana$50,140
Maine$52,320
Maryland$56,890
Massachusetts$61,650
Michigan$51,790
Minnesota$57,390
Mississippi$45,960
Missouri$48,160
Montana$46,270
Nebraska$53,010
Nevada$58,110
New Hampshire$55,930
New Jersey$60,300
New Mexico$49,020
New York$58,070
North Carolina$47,370
North Dakota$46,660
Ohio$48,210
Oklahoma$46,950
Oregon$57,970
Pennsylvania$55,490
Rhode Island$52,440
South Carolina$46,540
South Dakota$49,130
Tennessee$49,830
Texas$54,430
Utah$52,200
Vermont$49,050
Virginia$52,520
Washington$60,840
West Virginia$48,580
Wisconsin$50,380
Wyoming$45,250
Guam$43,470
Puerto Rico$37,500
Virgin Islands$59,470

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $82,010.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $82,010
Colorado - $62,250
California - $61,810
Massachusetts - $61,650
Washington - $60,840
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Paralegals and Legal Assistants, OCC Code 23-2011, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat does a legal assistant do?

In a nutshell, legal assistants are the lawyer’s right hand.

The professionals can work in a wide range of fields (corporate law, criminal law, litigation, immigration, and so on).

The duties of a legal assistant would certainly depend on the size and type of the firm, but typically include keeping the legal documents and correspondence up-to-date and organized; answering phone calls; responding to emails; greeting clients; providing help during a trial; gathering all the statements, documents, and evidence the lawyer would need for the trial; scheduling appointments and interviews; performing accounting and billing duties; creating drafts of legal documents, etc.

A legal secretary would also have to deal with project management; that means keeping paper and electronic files in order, setting up appointments, keeping track of deadlines, maintaining a detailed calendar, etc.

Legal assistants can work in law offices for government agencies or for legal departments at corporate offices.

QuestionHow much do legal assistants make?

On average, a legal assistant can make a little less than $44.000 per year in the United States.

In case you decide to choose this career path, you can expect to earn anywhere between $31.000 and $65.000 annually.

The salary would certainly depend on a variety of factors – your education and experience level, the employer, the location and so on.

Legal assistants that work in Washington, New York, and Oregon, for example, have the highest average salaries.

An entry-level legal assistant can earn around $12.00 per hour, while a top-level professional with plenty of experience can make $25.00 and more per hour.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become a legal assistant?

Becoming a legal assistant can provide you with a foundation for more advanced careers.

In a lot of cases, you would need an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, public policy, political science or a related field, in order to become a legal assistant.

A year in a university can cost you anywhere between $8.000 and $45.000 (and more); the cost depends on a variety of factors (the books, supplies, and accommodation expenses are not included).

Later on, you can apply for a paralegal certification program (around $1500 – $12.000).

QuestionWhat is the demand for legal assistants?

Between 2018 and 2028, the legal assistant job market is expected to grow by 12%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That is much faster than the average for all occupations in the United States.

Aspiring legal assistants who possess a degree and strong computer and database management skills will have the best job prospects.

QuestionHow long does it take to become a legal assistant?

It will take you 2 years to earn an associate’s degree and 4 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

A lot of employers prefer the candidates to have a few years of on-the-job experience, so make sure to seek internship opportunities.

Some certification programs might require the aspiring legal assistant to complete an internship before applying for certification.

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