If you open up the dictionary and look up either legal assistant or paralegal, you will find the following description: “Warning…these positions including the following duties: receptionist, office manager, accountant, support staff and quasi-lawyer – without the fancy degree and six-digit student loan debt.” You see, attorneys rely on legal assistants and paralegals to be their right-hand man (or woman). The relationship an attorney has with their legal assistant and/or paralegal is forged due to the demands of our industry. It is pivotal that a legal assistant or paralegal is the point of contact for all issues. With that kind of responsibility, it is no wonder that some of these professional relationships last for decades.
How does one become either a Legal Assistant or Paralegal?
There are two routes that most individuals take: formal education or hands-on experience.
There are currently 268 ABA-approved paralegal education programs in the United States. Most of these programs are two-year associate degrees offered through a local community college. However, there are also four-year universities that offer the same program with the completion of a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, there are also a number of post-baccalaureate certificate programs that are targeted for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in any field who are looking to change career paths. For a further explanation of the different types of degrees, you can visit http://www.nala.org/paralegaleducation.aspx.
Some law firms will hire individuals with a passion for the legal industry that may not have worked as a legal assistant or paralegal before. Often times, these individuals have previous administrative experiences that can easily be translated into a legal assistant or paralegal role. With this type of training, most attorneys will train and mentor their legal assistant or paralegal on best practices within the legal industry and how they prefer their practice to be run. However, with this type of training also comes the risk that the attorney may be too busy to train their legal assistant or paralegal. In such cases, a legal assistant or paralegal at times will be thrown into the kitchen and be told to prepare a four-course meal based on trial and error.
What does a Legal Assistant or Paralegal do?
Legal assistants and paralegals are tasked with duties ranging from:
· answering the phones;
· creating and maintaining client files;
· researching case law and legal statutes applicable to a particular case;
· drafting pleadings and motions on all jurisdictional levels; and
· everything in between.
If you find yourself doing these tasks instead of working with your clients, you should consider hiring an assistant.