What is a Legal Assistant? How They Contribute to a Successful Law Practice
When it comes to the legal profession, people may mistakenly believe that only those who have a law degree can make an impact. But, similar to most industries, it takes a team of people with various educational backgrounds, skill sets, and experiences to succeed.
One integral member of any law firm is a legal assistant. Let’s explore what a legal assistant is and how their role helps attorneys in their daily operations.
What is a legal assistant?
A legal assistant is someone who is typically hired to help a lawyer complete various types of administrative work.
Different from a paralegal, a legal assistant is hired to do routine (but necessary) tasks so that a lawyer can focus more of their time on being productive and helping clients.
There is no “one size fits all” legal assistant job description, as the role can vary depending on the specific needs of the lawyer and/or law firm.
While some knowledge of legal procedures and processes can certainly be valuable, a legal assistant is not typically expected to have a law degree. Therefore, this is a great role to explore if one is interested in working closely with the legal world without necessarily completing law school.
What responsibilities does a legal assistant have?
So, what does a legal assistant actually do? The majority of a legal assistant’s time will be spent helping a lawyer or group of lawyers with administrative duties. Specific tasks might include:
- Scheduling meetings: A legal assistant may be in charge of managing calendars, finding available time for meetings between parties, and ensuring that whoever they report to is aware of their schedule for the day.
- Communicating with clients: Often, legal assistants are the first line of communication between clients and their attorneys. Legal assistants may answer phone calls and emails, greet clients in-office, and help maintain a law firm’s level of communication in a satisfactory way.
- Legal research: Depending on the legal assistant’s experience or level of interest, they may be asked to conduct some legal research pertaining to a specific case or topic. If they are particularly skilled in grammar and writing, they might be asked to proofread important documents and motions.
- Establishing ways to stay organized: Lawyers are busy and need to focus their time on billable, productive hours. However, it is also really important that they have processes in place to keep them organized and accountable. They may ask legal assistants to come up with processes, filing systems, and record-keeping protocols that keep their accounts and documents organized, safe, and accessible.
- Invoicing: A law firm that is smaller in size may not have a dedicated accounting team on hand to manage the sending and receiving of invoices. In such cases, a legal assistant may act as a go-between for clients and attorneys, ensuring that invoices are received and paid in time.
- Assist paralegals: In addition to helping lawyers with administrative duties, legal assistants may also need to make themselves available to paralegals, helping with administrative or document-related tasks as needed.
Legal assistants may find themselves involved in the process of completing affidavits, witness reports, court documents, and more. It can be a highly educational, interesting, and challenging profession for someone who is interested in the legal system.
How do lawyers benefit from legal assistants?
A lawyer working for a private law firm makes their money by billing hours. Billable hours are how law firms track revenue, conduct forecast planning, and make decisions about hiring new team members or taking on new cases.
The phrase “time is money” can appropriately be used to describe billable hours.
Anytime a lawyer is busy with routine tasks, office management duties, professional development, or client development, that is not considered billable time.
Anything directly related to a client is considered billable time.
At most law firms, lawyers are required to meet a certain number of billable hours per year.
Clients benefit when an attorney spends their time on billable activities because that means their case is getting the attention it deserves and attorneys are gaining invaluable experience that will make them more effective, knowledgeable, and competitive.
It’s clear that a lawyer’s schedule needs to be protected as much as possible so that they are able to bill as needed. Hiring a legal assistant to help with administrative – or non-billable duties – can help a lawyer and a law firm remain as productive and profitable as possible.
Who fills legal assistant positions and what do they typically earn?
We have established that a career as a legal assistant can be challenging and exciting. But, how much does a legal assistant make?
Because legal assistants are often not required to hold a specialized degree – usually an Associate’s degree is sufficient – there is a lower barrier to entry. This makes it an appealing option for a wide range of people who can expect an average salary of about $56,230 (according to 2021 data).
Of course, the salary range is dependent on a number of factors, including where the person resides, their level of experience, and what kind of law firm they support.
In the past decade, females have outnumbered males in earning legal degrees and represent 60% of legal degree recipients. White students hold the largest share of legal degrees, with the percentage of people of color slowly rising.
There’s a great opportunity to further diversify the legal world. Bringing different backgrounds and perspectives into the industry can only serve to strengthen the hard work and integrity that is essential to this profession.
Tools that can help legal assistants
There are many tools that can help a legal assistant do their job in an optimal and efficient manner.
Often, a legal assistant is tasked with finding and completing forms that are pertinent to specific legal matters. It can be tricky knowing exactly what is needed.
US Legal Forms is the largest online library of state-specific legal forms, with more than 85,000 forms available. For more than 25 years, legal professionals have trusted US Legal Forms to provide specific (sometimes, obscure) forms that are needed and guidance for completing such forms.
Whether a legal assistant is looking for forms pertaining to real estate, probate and estate planning, family law, employee agreements, power of attorney, or more, it’s likely to be found in the US Legal Forms library.
Documents can even be securely notarized online using US Legal Forms.
A legal document tool like US Legal Forms can help legal assistants do their work quickly and professionally, and ultimately save their law firm time and money.