Posted in Career Insights

What is a Legal Assistant?

how to become a legal assistantA legal assistant is someone who helps attorneys draft contracts and agreements, conduct research, and prepare for trials.

They might work at law firms, nonprofit institutions, government organizations, or large corporations.

Many times, a legal assistant and a paralegal are the same jobs.

In fact, most court rules, bar associations, legal opinions, and statues say that legal assistant and paralegal are the same jobs.

However, in some offices, a legal assistant is actually a legal secretary who performs administrative tasks.

This post will give you some recommendations on how to become a legal assistant/paralegal.

We will review different education options, internships, professional certification, and helpful additional skills.

A convenient and affordable way to begin learning more about being a paralegal or legal assistant is Stratford Career Institute’s Legal Assistant/ Paralegal Distance Learning Course.

How to Become a Legal Assistant

Education

While there are no official minimum education requirements to become a legal assistant, some firms want their paralegals to have a certificate or a degree. Generally speaking, the more education you have, the more competitive you will be in the paralegal job market.

You have several options for education in paralegal studies including an undergraduate certificate, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a post-degree certificate.

Undergraduate Certificate in Paralegal Studies

Some employers require an undergraduate degree certification. These certifications may be offered through community colleges and proprietary schools and teach you the basics of working as a legal assistant.

For these certifications, you will likely only take classes directly related to being a paralegal and what they need to know about the legal field.

While completing one of these programs can be the fastest way to get paralegal training, it may not be enough education for some employers. Additionally, you may not be able to transfer these credits if you want to earn a degree later.

Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies

Oftentimes, employers prefer an associate’s degree from an accredited school over having an undergraduate certificate. An associate’s degree in paralegal studies teaches you information about the paralegal profession and the legal system. General education courses help you become more well rounded.

Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal Studies

The next possibility is getting a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. Depending on where you live, some law firms might only consider job candidates that have at least a bachelor’s degree—but not all. Getting your bachelor’s degree will take about 4 years, which isn’t realistic for everyone.

Like an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies will include some general studies courses. A bachelor’s degree will allow you to take more classes than an associate’s degree. You might also have to complete an internship.

You can find bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies at many community colleges, 4- year institutions, and private universities. Admission into one of these programs requires you to meet specific admission requirements. Typically, you must have a high school diploma or GED, write a personal essay, and earn specific scores on a standardized exam such as the ACT.

However, each school sets its own admission requirements. Some schools can be very competitive or extremely expensive. Therefore,  you should research if this is the best option for you.

If you are having trouble deciding, taking an introductory course on being a paralegal/legal assistant could be an option for you, like the one offered by Stratford Career Institute.

Post-Degree Certificate for Paralegal Studies

If you already completed a degree or are looking to make a career switch to become a legal assistant, getting a post-degree certificate can help you achieve your goals.

Many post-degree certificate programs are designed for someone who has completed a degree in another field. Combining a post-degree certificate in paralegal studies with a degree outside of a legally related field may make you more valuable to employers.

These certificates can be offered by many institutions including colleges, private universities, vocational schools, proprietary schools and business schools. They often teach you the basics of the United States’ legal system and how to be a paralegal.

Some programs also allow you to specialize in a specific area of law.

Post-Degree Online Courses

Depending on the position you are applying for, you may not need formal education. A course that prepares you for the work without the costs and time that a degree or certification require could be a good option for your schedule.

Internships and On-the-Job Experience

No matter what educational program you choose, completing an internship at a law firm, nonprofit, government organization, or large corporation can be a worthwhile experience. Internships give you a chance to work in the field while you gain on-the-job training and make industry connections.

Having an internship can give you firsthand experience in what it is like to work as a legal assistant and help you define your career goals.

Additional Skills

Besides a degree or certificate, there are several additional skills that can help legal assistants be successful. Successful paralegals might have:

  • Excellent research skills
  • In-depth knowledge of computers and technology
  • Strong oral communication skills
  • Outstanding written communication skills
  • Superb interpersonal skills
  • Wonderful time management abilities
  • A highly organized mindset

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Start Training to Become a Legal Assistant

Start Training to Become a Legal Assistant

A class at Stratford Career Institute might be just what you need! Get more info or sign up today!