What Does a Legal Assistant Do? Roles & Duties Explained

Navigating the intricacies of a law firm requires solid teamwork and organized support staff. Legal assistants are vital cogs in this machine, seamlessly managing crucial tasks that keep the wheels of justice turning.

This article will explore the multifaceted role of a legal assistant, providing clarity on their day-to-day contributions to legal work. Dive in to discover how these professionals streamline law practice efficiency!

Definition of a Legal Assistant

Shifting focus to legal assistants, these professionals play a crucial role in law firms. A legal assistant helps lawyers by doing many different tasks. They prepare documents, handle client information carefully, and support lawyers with their work.

Legal assistants need strong computer and communication skills to manage electronic files and talk with clients.

These helpers follow strict rules set by the American Bar Association (ABA). They make sure not to practice law or give advice, as that is the lawyer’s job. Their main aim is to keep everything running smoothly behind the scenes in a law office.

Role and Duties of a Legal Assistant

A legal assistant is responsible for administrative tasks such as managing calendars, answering phones, and organizing files. They also assist with legal work under the supervision of lawyers, including conducting research, drafting documents, and preparing for trials or hearings.

Administrative tasks

Legal assistants juggle many office jobs every day. They answer phones, type out letters, and keep the calendar clear for the lawyers they help. These workers also handle billing clients and look after money matters for the firm.

Another big part of their day is keeping all the legal papers in order. With so much work to do, a law firm must have good systems that help legal assistants work well, even from far away.

Their job does not stop at paper tasks; they also get into more serious legal stuff.

Legal work under supervision

Moving from the administrative side, legal assistants also help lawyers with important legal tasks. They must do this work carefully under a lawyer’s watchful eye. Legal assistants may prepare court papers like affidavits or help put together documents for trial.

They can’t give legal advice to clients, but they can still do a lot of work that supports lawyers in big ways. For example, they might look up facts for a case or organize information about laws and court decisions using databases and software tools.

That way, attorneys have all they need to make good arguments and win cases.

In some law offices, legal assistants also help during meetings with people involved in lawsuits or other legal actions. They write down what everyone says at these meetings and gather written statements from witnesses – which are called depositions.

All this careful preparation makes it easier for lawyers when it’s time to go to courtroom battles or work out settlement agreements outside of courts.

Comparison: Legal Assistant vs. Paralegal

Legal assistants and paralegals both work in law offices, but they do different things. Legal assistants focus on administrative tasks like scheduling meetings, filing documents, and answering phones.

They help lawyers stay organized so the office runs smoothly. Paralegals do more legal work like writing reports, researching laws, and helping with cases. They need to understand legal terms and procedures well.

While legal assistants can learn on the job with a high school diploma or college degree, paralegals often go through formal education in paralegal studies. They might get a certificate or even a bachelor’s degree to show they know how to handle legal tasks.

Because of their training in the law, paralegals usually make more money than legal assistants.

Compensation: Average Salary for a Legal Assistant

Legal assistants in the US earned an average salary of $44,229 per year, while paralegals made an average of $51,239 annually. The pay for legal assistants can differ based on factors such as practice area, experience, and location.

The compensation for legal assistants is influenced by various factors including their field of practice, level of experience, and geographical location.

Requirements to Become a Legal Assistant

To become a legal assistant, individuals need to meet certain requirements such as obtaining the necessary education, completing training programs, acquiring certifications, and developing essential skills for the role.

These requirements are crucial in preparing aspiring legal assistants for their future responsibilities in a law firm or legal setting.


To become a legal assistant, one can pursue an associate degree in paralegal studies. Some employers also look for candidates with bachelor’s degrees in legal or paralegal studies.

Completing a paralegal certification program is preferred by some employers and can be another educational path to enter this field.

Various educational paths are available to aspiring legal assistants, from earning an associate’s degree in paralegal studies to obtaining a bachelor’s degree in another field and then completing a paralegal studies certificate program.


Legal assistant training includes various aspects such as obtaining a paralegal degree, gaining experience through internships or on-the-job training, and completing certificate programs.

Some employers prefer candidates with paralegal certification programs. It’s essential to build skills in legal writing, research, alternative dispute resolution, and electronic filing systems.

Additionally, contacts for more information about certifications, training programs, and standards for legal assistants are available through organizations like NALA and the American Bar Association.


Legal assistants can pursue Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) certification, which focuses on paralegal duties and involves passing an exam through the state’s bar association. Employers may prefer candidates who have completed a paralegal certification program.

Voluntary certifications are available through national and local paralegal organizations. Some states require legal assistants to take additional tests before working in the legal field, and certification might need to be renewed every two to three years.


Legal assistants need strong communication, computer, interpersonal, organizational, and research skills. These qualities are crucial for excelling in their role and responsibilities.

Additionally, completing a paralegal certification program or obtaining voluntary certifications from national and local paralegal organizations could be advantageous for aspiring legal assistants.

With the median annual wage for paralegals and legal assistants at $59,200 in May 2022, honing these skills can lead to a successful career in this field.

Legal Assistant Work Environment

Legal assistants usually work in law firms, corporate legal departments, or government agencies. They often work closely with attorneys and other support staff in a team environment.

The primary work setting for legal assistants is in law offices, where they may sometimes need to put in more than 40 hours a week to meet deadlines. Most of them work full-time, although the highest wages are found in the finance and insurance industry.

The majority of paralegals and legal assistants typically find employment in law offices where they collaborate with attorneys and other support staff. Their workplace primarily includes law firms, corporate legal departments, or government agencies.

To meet deadlines, these professionals might have to exceed 40 working hours per week but are compensated well particularly within finance and insurance sectors.

Steps to Becoming a Legal Assistant

To become a legal assistant, individuals can begin by obtaining a paralegal degree, gaining experience in the field, completing a certificate program, building necessary skills, and then applying for jobs within the legal industry.

These steps provide a foundation for entry into this profession while also allowing for growth and advancement within the field of law.

Obtaining a paralegal degree

To become a legal assistant, obtaining a paralegal degree from a certified program is beneficial. Some employers prefer candidates who have completed this certification. This education equips individuals with the necessary knowledge and skills to fulfill their roles effectively, which may include administrative tasks and legal work under supervision.

Additionally, it enhances employment opportunities and potentially leads to higher salaries in the field.

Gaining experience

To become a legal assistant, gaining experience is important. It can be done through additional legal studies or on-the-job training. Having more experience can lead to higher pay and opportunities for advancement as a legal assistant.

The amount of pay varies based on the area of practice, individual experience, and location.

By acquiring practical knowledge and skills in the field, legal assistants can enhance their expertise which could positively impact their compensation. This could be related to specialized fields such as personal injury law or bankruptcy law.

Completing a certificate program

Legal assistants who have completed a certificate program often have an advantage in the job market, as it showcases their commitment to the profession and enhances their skills. These programs cover essential topics such as legal research, electronic discovery, occupational rules, and professional conduct.

Completing a certificate program also provides opportunities for networking and access to valuable resources offered by organizations like NALA, NALS, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, and the American Bar Association.

Overall, obtaining a certificate can enhance a legal assistant’s qualifications and increase their chances of career advancement.

Building skills

To build skills as a legal assistant, gaining on-the-job legal training can provide valuable experience and knowledge in the field. Additionally, utilizing effective law firm processes and cloud-based legal practice management systems can help in collaborating on administrative tasks, improving document management abilities, and enhancing overall efficiency.

This practical approach combined with strong administrative skills is essential for the development of a successful career as a legal assistant.

It’s also crucial to develop the ability to handle client communications effectively and efficiently. Moreover, being adept at using technology for database management and document organization will further enhance the skill set of a legal assistant.

Applying for jobs

To pursue a job as a legal assistant, start by reviewing available positions in law firms, corporate legal departments, or government agencies. Create a resume that highlights relevant skills and experiences such as administrative tasks and legal work under supervision.

When applying for jobs, ensure to demonstrate strong written communication, organizational abilities, and tech-savviness emphasized by employers. It is important to research the average salary for legal assistants in your area to negotiate fair compensation.

Considerations When Hiring a Legal Assistant

When hiring a legal assistant, it’s important to ask the right questions, consider rules and ethics, and understand the legal assistant hiring process. These factors can help ensure that you hire the best candidate for your legal team.

Questions to ask before hiring

Before hiring a legal assistant, it’s crucial to ask specific questions. Inquire about their responsibilities, level of education and training, fit into staffing budget, use of effective processes and cloud-based legal practice management systems, cost-effectiveness for routine tasks delegation, and experience in managing client communications, calendar coordination, legal research and writing.

These questions help ensure that the legal assistant meets the firm’s requirements and can effectively handle the responsibilities assigned to them.

It’s important to consider these factors when moving forward with filling this position. This careful approach will help ensure that the selected candidate is well-equipped to fulfill the demands of the role within your law firm or organization.

Rules and ethics

Legal assistants are bound by the ABA Model Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegal Services, which set out specific limitations. They are prohibited from practicing law or providing legal advice.

When hiring legal assistants, firms must consider these ethical boundaries and ensure that candidates understand and adhere to them.

Employers should also prioritize hiring candidates who have completed a paralegal certification program as it indicates a foundational understanding of legal ethics and rules. This ensures that legal assistants can navigate their duties within the firm’s specific needs while upholding professional standards.

Legal assistant hiring process

To hire a legal assistant, start by identifying the specific needs of the law firm or legal department. Consider whether a full-time employee or a freelance legal assistant would be suitable.

After this, it’s important to assess candidates for qualities such as strong communication, computer, interpersonal, organizational, and research skills. Also evaluate their ability to handle sensitive information and work under pressure.

Consider asking questions about how they handle tasks in previous roles which can help gauge their experience and capabilities. Lastly, ensure that the hiring process aligns with model rules of professional conduct relevant to employing individuals in the legal field.


In conclusion, legal assistants play a crucial role in supporting attorneys by managing administrative tasks and coordinating client interactions, allowing lawyers to focus on legal work.

They do not require formal education beyond a high school diploma or GED, but may benefit from additional legal studies or on-the-job training. The average salary for legal assistants was $52,920 per year in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


1. What work does a legal assistant do every day?

A legal assistant helps lawyers by writing memos, preparing contracts, and making sure financial reports are correct. They also gather facts for cases and help during trials.

2. Do you need a college degree to become a legal assistant?

Yes, to be a legal assistant, you usually need at least a bachelor’s degree. Some jobs might ask for more education like in law or paralegal studies.

3. Can someone be a part-time or freelance legal assistant?

Absolutely! Legal assistants can work part-time or as freelancers helping with tasks like mediation, arbitration, and handling pleadings without being full-time employees.

4. Is working as a legal assistant good for learning about the law?

Working as an assistant is great for getting experience if you’re interested in becoming one of the many types of legal professionals because it teaches you about different parts of the law while doing real work.