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What does a Legal Assistant do?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A paralegal or legal assistant is a trained person, often with certification from state or government agencies, who performs a variety of support jobs for supervising lawyers. The paralegal cannot give legal advice, represent people in court, or sign any legal documents, except in the capacity of a notary if the person has been certified. Most people train to become a paralegal through either two-year or four year degrees at the college level, and they must be gifted at secretarial work, legal research and writing in order to perform their jobs proficiently.

There are many things that a legal assistant might do as employed by a lawyer or law firm. They can draft contracts, and most other legal documents, which are then reviewed by lawyers to be certain they conform specifically to the requirements of the client and the law. They also perform legal research, and may in the defense or prosecution of a person, do much of the research that will help support arguments in the court setting or in legal briefs.

The legal assistant may also perform preliminary interviews of clients, and/or witnesses. One employed in the real estate field may be present at the closing of real estate sales. Since there are so many branches of law, a person in this position may be particularly versed in different branches. Through training, they come into the field ready to work in just about any area, but their own interests may further help assistants specialize in certain kinds of law.

For example, a legal assistant who specialized in marriage and family law would, with work experience, become very familiar with drafting various legal documents pertaining to adoptions, divorces, custody agreements, and prenuptial agreements. Conversely, someone working as an assistant in criminal law would have experience researching cases, drafting briefs and legal memos, and perhaps assisting lawyers with maintaining files on any current cases. In other instances, legal assistants in corporate law might become most experienced at drawing up contracts, filing articles of incorporation, or drafting partnership agreements.

Some legal assistants are not formally trained, but are nevertheless so experienced in the law that they make for valuable assets to individual lawyers or law firms. Other lawyers prefer to hire paralegals with formal training and demonstrated skill. When first beginning a career of this type, it is much easier to get hired if you have training or certification.

Qualities needed for a good legal assistant include the following:

  • Excellent writing and research skills
  • Eye for detail and ability to edit carefully
  • Good customer service skills, since client interaction is usually involved
  • Knowledge of the law, especially in the area you plan to work
  • Excellent organizational skills
  • Computer skills
  • General office and secretarial skills
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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon332842 — On May 01, 2013

@anon231062: I am seeking employment as a legal assistant, however, I'm in New Hampshire. Would telecommuting work for you?

By anon324837 — On Mar 12, 2013

Becoming a legal assistant definitely is a good choice for those who are considering going into this field. According the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, this field is expected to grow 18 percent each year, which is about the same as the average growth generally of other occupations. Getting the education and training needed to become a legal assistant can be achieved by anyone who is dedicated to the work.

By anon231062 — On Nov 22, 2011

I am looking for a legal assistant in Vancouver British Columbia. Where should I look?

By anon176800 — On May 16, 2011

It is a demanding job, and the phrase "they must be gifted at secretarial work" is not altogether accurate. Makes one wonder if the author is a paralegal, or merely did a little online research that barely scratches the surface of what a paralegal does. I should know--I am one.

By anon151182 — On Feb 09, 2011

Thank you for the education on becoming a paralegal i have made up my mind and am going for it. thank you.

By anon138875 — On Jan 03, 2011

Ribbeckv: Your last statement may have been an inside joke. However, I thought it was quite funny because I have not worked for one law firm that had dental insurance.

The salaries can be upwards of $70K a year. Depending on the size and that firms recognition. It is a demanding job. Not a hard job. The hard part of being a Legal Assistant/Paralegal is being paired with an attorney who is miserable.

By ribbeckv — On Mar 01, 2010

so how would i begin to break into the field as a paid legal assistant in my area? i already do quite a bit of the work in the field as it is, and it has been suggested that i pursue schooling in this area. i enjoy the research and helping others, and am very studious. what are salaries like? do they have dental? lol. (sorry inside joke, you had to be there.)

By lokithebeak — On Feb 28, 2010

So they pretty much do most if not all of the leg work. I wonder what the salary is like for what seems like a very demanding job.

Although the degree requirements are not as long as I would have thought.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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