Posted in Career Insights
what is a legal assistant

Most law offices consist of more staff than just a lawyer.

This is true whether they’re a small office or a large firm with many partners.

To be able to offer services to clients and to get the most out of the lawyer’s time, they have help from legal assistants.

So, what does a legal assistant do? Essentially, they help the lawyer with a variety of administrative and supervised legal tasks to ensure that the law office runs smoothly.

General Legal Assistant Job Requirements

Before we get into the day-to-day work of a legal assistant, it’s important to understand the overall role and its requirements. Generally, legal assistant job requirements are lower than they would be for a paralegal position.

This is because legal assistants tend to focus on the organizational aspect of a law firm rather than legal procedures and document preparation. However, you may find that many law firms use the terms “legal assistant” and “paralegal” interchangeably.

Some even provide on-the-job training for both. That being said, paralegals usually have an ABA-approved certification, while legal assistants often don’t. 

So what kinds of things do firms look for when hiring a legal assistant? 

Here are some common requirements that you may find on job postings:

  • Education—high school diploma or equivalent required with typical entry-level positions preferring an associate’s degree;
  • Technical skills—proficiency in office software and legal research databases (e.g., LexisNexis, Westlaw);
  • Legal knowledge—understanding of legal terminology, court procedures, and document drafting;
  • Organizational skills—meticulous attention to detail, strong time management, and efficient document management;
  • Communication skills—clear written and verbal communication and professional client interaction; and
  • Professionalism and ethics—strict confidentiality and adherence to ethical standards.

While you may not see this exact list of requirements on every job posting, these are the core parts of a legal assistant’s work. Overall, their goal is to ensure that the firm runs smoothly so that the attorneys can dive into the details of their cases.

What Does a Legal Assistant Do in a Typical Week?

Legal assistant work is diverse and dynamic. They generally handle everything from managing case files to coordinating appointments and—in some cases—help draft legal documents and conduct research. Here are some of the tasks you may expect to do in any given week as a legal assistant.

Task 1: Performing Various Intake Tasks

Before most people ever talk to an actual lawyer, they speak to a legal assistant.

The legal assistant listens to the issue that the prospective client may have, ensuring that this is something that their law office deals in. They also gather basic information about the client’s issue, which can include finding court documents, filings, and other legal information.

A good legal assistant makes sure that before the prospective client ever has an initial meeting with the lawyer, they have as much information as possible about the case.

Task 2: Drafting Legal Documents

Nobody in a law office can give legal advice except a lawyer.

However, that does not mean that only the lawyer writes legal documents. Depending on the office and the type of law services the office provides, a legal assistant may perform services for the lawyer in drafting various legal documents for clients. The lawyer will then review the document before sending it to its final destination.

This depends heavily on the type of law the lawyer practices. A legal assistant at an office practicing criminal law, for example, may draft legal motions. A legal assistant working in a family law focused firm may find themselves writing documents related to child support payments.

Task 3: Legal Research

One of the most important tasks that a legal assistant may perform is research.

This is often done with various legal libraries that law firms pay to access and requires searching through federal, state, and local laws for applicable information and precedent concerning the case at hand.

A law office spends a lot of time performing legal research, and it can be very long and arduous work. The less legal research the lawyer needs to perform, the more time they can spend on casework, and the more effectively their time is being spent.

Task 4: Managing Case Files

A legal assistant is often responsible for managing and organizing the case files. This means ensuring that all relevant documents are stored in an accessible manner and that critical paperwork is filed correctly and in a timely fashion.

This process includes maintaining both physical and electronic files, ensuring that they are updated with the latest client information, as well as copies of court documents, correspondence, and other essential materials.

For example, in personal injury cases, a legal assistant might organize accident reports, medical records, and insurance information, so the lawyer has quick access to vital data when building the case.

Task 5: Scheduling and Coordinating Appointments

Legal assistants also play a significant role in maintaining a lawyer’s busy schedule. They arrange meetings with clients, opposing counsel, and witnesses, as well as coordinate depositions, hearings, and trial dates.

This requires careful attention to detail to avoid scheduling conflicts and ensure that the lawyer is prepared for each meeting or proceeding. For example, a legal assistant in a real estate firm might coordinate appointments with clients, brokers, and title companies to ensure smooth property closings.

Task 6: Communicating with Clients and Other Parties

Legal assistants often act as liaisons between the lawyer and the client, as well as other parties involved in the case. They communicate with clients to keep them updated on the status of their cases and to relay any information from the lawyer.

In addition, legal assistants might respond to inquiries from opposing counsel or other stakeholders in the case, providing relevant information or clarifying procedural matters. For example, in an estate planning practice, a legal assistant may answer clients’ questions about documentation needed for wills or trusts.

Task 7: Assisting in Trial Preparation

When a case goes to trial, legal assistants help with the preparation process. They organize exhibits, evidence, and witness lists to ensure that everything is ready for court. They may also handle logistics, such as reserving conference rooms for depositions or coordinating travel arrangements.

In a corporate litigation firm, a legal assistant might prepare binders of exhibits and witness statements, providing quick reference points for the lawyer during the trial.

This is just a small sample of the tasks that a legal assistant will perform. The tasks you may perform as a legal assistant can vary wildly depending on the firm and the law the firm is practicing. 

Potential Career Path and Advancement

After all this, you might be wondering, what does a legal assistant do once they have a lot of experience? Beyond entry-level tasks, there are ample opportunities for growth. Legal assistants can focus on particular areas of law, become office managers, or transition to paralegal roles with additional education or certification.

Some even pursue law school, leveraging their experience to become practicing attorneys. Overall, their foundational work can offer a stepping stone to diverse and rewarding career trajectories in the legal field.

Stratford’s Legal Assistant Course Can Teach You the Fundamentals

If you would like to begin a career as a legal assistant, the legal assistant course at Stratford Career Institute can help you to better understand how to perform the necessary functions of a legal assistant.

It can be a good starting point for anyone who is looking to work toward a new career. Ready to learn the basics of becoming a legal assistant? Enroll today or request more information to get started!


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