Legal Assistant/Paralegal

A legal assistant may work closely with a lawyer to help them prepare their cases. A legal assistant is sometimes to referred to as a paralegal. These professionals may perform some of the most important tasks within a law firm. They may also verify that all legal documents are written properly. They also may do research to help support the attorney's case. Also, they may help stay in touch with the lawyer's clients.

In addition, a legal assistant may perform some legal tasks on their own. A legal assistant who has earned a legal assistant degree may prepare civil documents or interview witnesses. However, a legal assistant cannot practice law. Rather, they work to support the attorney who is practicing law. They have the ability to work in the legal field and play a unique role in the law firm.

There are many colleges and universities that offer a legal assistant degree program. These degree programs aim to prepare students for a career as a paralegal. While each paralegal program is different, many of them will have these courses included as part of the curriculum:

Introduction to Law

Many legal assistant degree programs may require students to begin with an introductory course. This class aims to provide an overview of the legal system in the United States. It may allow students to develop an in depth understanding of their chosen field. The course may cover a variety of topics. One topic may be the litigation process in the United States. The structure of the court system may also be addressed. In addition, the course may provide an overview of legal terminology. This course may be a key component of the entire legal assistant degree program. 

Paralegals are often responsible for helping their employer's research their cases. It may be imperative that they have advanced legal research and writing skills. The legal research and writing course may cover many different topics. It often begins by introducing students to different types of legal documents. They may learn how to read and interpret them.

In addition, students may need to apply their skills by drafting samples of legal documents. Throughout the class, students may learn how to use legal resources to provide the best possible legal documents for their employers. It is a class that may allow them to develop the skills they will need for their first job as a legal assistant.

Ethics in Law

Much like practicing attorneys, legal assistants may need to have a solid understanding of ethics in law. The Ethics in Law course that is a part of nearly every legal assistant degree program looks at the responsibilities that paralegals have to stay fair and balanced. This course aims to provide detailed instruction on the importance of attorney-client privilege. It also may talk about potential conflicts of interests that legal assistants will need to be aware of.

Introduction to Contracts

Drafting contracts may also be an important part of a legal assistant's job. The Introduction to Contracts course aims to provide students with the information they need about creating binding legal contracts. Throughout the class, students may work on drafting and analyzing contracts. They often may be given samples of legal contracts, and asked to identify potential problems with those documents.

Understanding Law Office Procedures

Paralegals may be employed by an individual attorney or by a law firm. Many legal assistants work at a private law office. This is why the Understanding Law Office Procedures course may be an important part of any paralegal program. This class aims to provide information about the structure of a law firm. It also may talk about daily operations and procedures at these offices. It is intended to provide students with an overview of what life is like each day at the office. It aims to help prepare students for their next role as a legal assistant.

Legal assistants often may help support their employer by communicating directly with clients. They may respond to e-mail messages or phone calls. The Legal Communication course aims to provide instruction on how to professionally communicate with legal clients. The course may cover appropriate ways to address clients. It also may discuss the importance of avoiding legal ramifications from specific types of communications.

Similar to earning a jurisdoctorate degree, the best legal assistant degree programs may be accredited by a qualified institution. An accredited legal assistant degree program may follow the best guidelines in the industry. It aims to provide students with the assurance they need that they are investing in a worthwhile degree program.

Students should consider enrolling at a school that offers an accredited legal assistant degree. The American Bar Association accredits legal assistant degree programs.

Paralegal

  • Min. Education Level: Associate's Degree 
  • Median Annual Salary: $51,740 (2019) 
  • Projected Job Growth: 12 percent (Faster than average) 
  • Number of Jobs: 325,700 (2018) 

What Does a Paralegal Do?

A paralegal works as a legal assistant to a lawyer. A paralegal may draft binding legal documents. The paralegal often provides support services to an attorney. Many paralegals may be employed full-time. They may work for an individual attorney. They also may be hired by an entire law office. Some paralegals may work for government agencies. The work may vary from day to day.

  • Min. Education Level: High School Diploma or Associate's Degree 
  • Median Annual Salary: $44,730 (2017) 
  • Projected Job Growth: 1.5 percent (Slower than average) 
  • Number of Jobs: 185,870 (2017) 

A legal secretary provides administrative support to an attorney or a law firm. A legal secretary may prepare legal papers. A legal secretary often corresponds with clients. A legal secretary should be familiar with legal terminology and processes. In addition to providing clerical support, a legal secretary also may conduct research. A legal secretary may expect to work in an office environment. A legal secretary generally works during typical business hours. 

Source for school statistics and data is the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

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