A legal assistant and paralegal make important parts of the U.S. justice system. Their main function is to help lawyers prepare for consultations and courtroom proceedings. This work can include researching legal codes, judicial decisions and relevant laws or drafting court paperwork and contracts.
The American Bar Association (ABA) defines a legal assistant or paralegal as “a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”
You will need to possess a variety of skills and knowledge bases if you are thinking of joining this profession. Increasingly complex legal statutes and relationships have made it essential that you earn a degree or certificate from an accredited program.
Legal assistant or paralegal education
One of the most common routes to becoming a legal assistant or paralegal is to earn a paralegal associate degree, requiring about two years of study. Some schools also offer bachelor’s and master’s programs in paralegal studies. Another common method of entry, for individuals with at least a bachelor’s degree in another area, is to earn a paralegal certificate. Finally, a small number of employers train their own legal assistants on the job.
Over 1,000 institutions in the United States offer formal paralegal training; about 260 of them are approved by the ABA, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Degree programs will combine paralegal courses with variety of other academic subjects. Certificate programs vary greatly but focus on legal subjects and issues. Some of these programs can take as little as a few months to complete.
Coursework can include legal research, criminal justice, technology for legal application and an internship. While graduation from an ABA approved program will not ensure employment, it certainly will enhance your opportunities and resume.
Legal assistant or paralegal career outlook
Modern legal relationships are complex and varied. As a result, there are a number of areas legal assistants can specialize in during the course of their career. Some of these specializations include family law, immigration, an intellectual property, personal injury, real estate and corporate law.
Nationally, legal assistants are a profession growing faster than average according to the BLS. However, competition is expected as many individuals seek to enter this career. Applicants with formal education will have the best prospects for employment.
Individual states have different requirements and conduct rules for professional legal assistants. If you are interested in the standards for your state, professional organizations like the National Association of Legal Assistants or the American Association for Paralegal Education can provide more specific information.