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How to Become a Legal Assistant

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How to become a Legal Assistant

What legal assistants do

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, 2012), paralegals and legal assistants, an integral personnel component at law firms and the legal departments of organizations, are trained to support lawyers by performing a diversity of tasks. One’s specific job responsibilities depends on the particular law firm or legal department worked in and the job’s work objectives and can thus vary considerably.

Typically, the responsibilities of the paralegal include writing, editing, organizing, and preparing legal documents; researching laws, regulations, and public records; organizing, summarizing and then presenting research findings in preparation for a case; discussing the details of a case with colleagues and clients; assisting in the preparation of trial materials and presentations; filing court pleadings; and maintaining case records (BLS, 2012).

The terms paralegals and legal assistants are used interchangeably.

How to become a legal assistant

At minimum, most paralegals have an associate degree in paralegal studies or a related field, which generally takes two years to complete, depending on the program, coursework and student aptitude. Associate degree programs tend to prepare candidates for more general, full-time paralegal work and don’t often have career tracks for specializing in a certain type of law.

Students may have the option of majoring or minoring in paralegal studies for their bachelor’s degree at some four-year institutions. Students aspiring to bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies have the opportunity to take more advanced legal courses as well as specialize in a certain field of law. A bachelor’s degree can potentially increase a student’s competitiveness in the job market (BLS, 2012).

A number of paralegal programs offer internships, in which students gain real-world experience in law firms or other types of organizations and improve their technical skills. Such opportunities can also help candidates’ job prospects.

While career paths vary, the following steps can generally be taken to become a legal assistant or paralegal.

  • Earn a high-school diploma or GED
  • Enroll in and complete a program of study in paralegal studies or a related field at a college or university
  • Apply for employment

Certificate programs are also available, and in general, are for those people who have already earned an associate or bachelor’s degree in another field who are interested in a paralegal career.

There are more than 1,000 paralegal education programs in the United States, according to estimates from the American Bar Association (ABA).

No employment is guaranteed as additional certifications, training, education or professional experience may be required for employment.

Career outlook for legal assistants

The BLS reports that the national employment of paralegals and legal assistants is expected to grow by up to 18 percent between 2010 and 2020. This projected increase—according to the BLS—could be due to law firms seeking ways to reduce company costs and increase efficiency, leading to hiring of additional paralegals, which are commonly viewed as a less expensive alternative to lawyers.

The national annual wage for paralegals and legal assistants in 2011 was $46,730 median, or $22.47 per hour. On a national scale, the lowest 10 percent earned an annual salary up to $29,390 nationally while the highest 10 percent earned up to $75,400 nationally.  Salaries for paralegals can vary, depending on the number of hours per week they work, the tasks performed, and their qualifications or level of expertise in a particular field of law.

Paralegals work in all kinds of organizations, but the vast majority work in the legal services industry, reports the BLS.

Quick Facts: Paralegals and Legal Assistants
*All facts from BLS.gov*

2011 National Median Pay

$46,730 per year; $22.47 per hour

Entry-Level Education

Associate degree

Work Experience in a Related Occupation


On-the-job Training


Number of Jobs, 2011


Job Outlook, 2010-20

18% nationally (About as fast as national avg)

Employment Change, 2010-20



U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Paralegals and Legal Assistants

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Paralegals and Legal Assistants

American Bar Association: Standing Committee on Paralegals

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