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What is a Legal Assistant?

In the late 1960s, attorneys started hiring assistants to help them in their legal practices. The term “legal assistant” was born and this profession has been growing ever since.  Legal assistants can do anything an attorney can do except practice law. This generally means that a legal assistant cannot: Accept a case, Set legal fees, Give legal advice or Present a case in court.  However,  in most states, a legal assistant can do everything else. See our legal assistant job description page for a more in-depth look at the expectations and responsibilities of a modern-day legal assistant.

Becoming a Legal Assistant

There are no educational or licensing requirements in any of the 50 states that regulate the employability of legal assistants. Therefore, there are no uniform standards for the education or training of this profession.

Many community colleges, universities, and trade schools offer at least one of these training programs, or degrees, for legal assistants:

  • Certificate in Paralegal Studies. This degree can be completed in less than a year because its curriculum focuses on the actual skills needed to be a legal assistant. There are usually no general educational requirements in a certificate program.
  • Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies. This is a 2-year degree program that combines a considerable amount of general education requirements with those courses needed to become a legal assistant. Most legal assistant enter this field with an associate’s degree.
  • Bachelor or Master’s Degree in Paralegal Studies. These advanced degrees offer the full range of liberal arts courses combined with legal courses and training. Having a bachelor’s degree is a good option if you would like to expand on your education at some point. These advanced degrees also create more promotional opportunities for legal assistants.

These are of course only a small sampling of the degrees and certificates available for those interested in joining the legal assisting field. Curriculum and program length can vary depending on which legal assistant training program a student chooses.

Who Employs Legal Assistants?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of legal assistants work in private law firms. But a growing number work in industries that are outside of the legal field. Because legal assistants can do much of the work of an attorney, but at a much cheaper rate, many companies employ them so that they can save the costs of attorneys.

Some of the places that employ legal assistants include:

  • State, City, and Local government agencies
  • Community legal services
  • Corporate law firms
  • Courts
  • Consumer organizations

Work environment and geographical location factor heavily into determining a legal assistant salary rate. Naturally, the larger the firm or company the more a legal assistant can expect to make. Though there are several ways of increasing earning potential.