Legal Assistant/Paralegal

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

In addition, a legal assistant can perform some legal tasks on their own. A legal assistant who has earned a legal assistant degree can 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.

Legal Assistant Degree Course Examples

There are many colleges and universities that offer a legal assistant degree program. These degree programs 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

Most legal assistant degree programs will require students to begin with an introductory course. This class provides an overview of the legal system in the United States. It allows students to develop an in-depth understanding of their chosen field. The course covers a variety of topics. One topic may be the litigation process in the United States. The structure of the court system also will be addressed. In addition, the course may provide an overview of legal terminology. This course is a critical component of the entire legal assistant degree program. 

Legal Research and Writing

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

In addition, students need to apply their skills by drafting samples of legal documents. Throughout the class, students learn how to use legal resources to provide the best possible legal documents for their employers. It is a class that allows 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 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 provides detailed instruction on the importance of attorney-client privilege. It also talks about potential conflicts of interests that legal assistants will need to be aware of.

Introduction to Contracts

Drafting contracts is an important part of a legal assistant's job. The Introduction to Contracts course provides students with the information they need about creating binding legal contracts. Throughout the class, students will work on drafting and analyzing contracts. They often will 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. Most legal assistants work at a private law office. This is why the Understanding Law Office Procedures course is an important part of any paralegal program. This class provides information about the structure of a law firm. It also talks 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 helps to prepare students for their next role as a legal assistant.

Legal Communication

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

Accreditation for Legal Assistant Degrees

Similar to earning a jurisdoctorate degree, the best legal assistant degree programs are accredited by a qualified institution. An accredited legal assistant degree program will follow the best guidelines in the industry. It provides 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.

Career Possibilities for Legal Assistant Degrees

Paralegal

  • Min. Education Level: Associate's Degree 
  • Median 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 can draft binding legal documents. The paralegal often provides support services to an attorney. Most paralegals are employed full-time. They may work for an individual attorney. They also may be hired by an entire law office. Some paralegals work for government agencies. The work varies from day to day. Most paralegals enjoy the fast-paced work environment. They appreciate the fact that they can provide their law firm with essential services.

Legal Secretary

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

What Does a Legal Secretary Do?

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 must be familiar with legal terminology and processes. In addition to providing clerical support, a legal secretary also may conduct research. A legal secretary can 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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