Law school isn't for everybody. Admissions are competitive, tuition is very high, and the job market for new lawyers is brutal. If you have a passion for the law but don't want to dedicate three years and a lot of cash to law school, a legal assistant or paralegal program may be a good fit. The following article looks at the advantages and disadvantages of legal assistant programs.
A Growing Industry
New legal assistant opportunities arise every day. In addition to the traditional role of assistant to an attorney, leadership and management roles for legal assistants are increasingly common.
There are also financial considerations that make these roles highly attractive. To become an attorney, a person must complete both an undergraduate degree and a law degree, typically spending more than a hundred thousand dollars and at least seven years in school. Paralegals and legal assistants can complete their training programs in a few months or perhaps a year and then begin working.
Furthermore, high enrollment in law school has depressed salaries for new attorneys in recent years. The earning potential of legal assistants and paralegals, on the other hand, has increased significantly. A skilled and experienced paralegal or legal assistant can earn more than a starting attorney.
What Do Legal Assistants Do?
Like paralegals, legal assistants often correspond with clients and assist attorneys in law offices or legal departments. Their role is often more administrative than paralegals, who conduct legal research and draft legal documents. A legal assistant might be responsible for scheduling, data entry, filing, and other support services. They might do some legal writing, but not as much as a paralegal.
Legal assistants can find work in the following areas:
- Law offices
- Government agencies
- Insurance companies
Legal assistants have become an integral part of the legal profession, especially as law firms try to become more efficient. You can even tailor your job search to the type of law that interests you most, whether that's family law, real estate, business law, or civil litigation.
Becoming a Legal Assistant
Legal assistants should be highly organized, comfortable with technology, and excellent communicators. You can develop these abilities through work experience, but certification programs are available to help you develop the necessary skills.
Most legal assistant jobs require a high school diploma or GED. If you'd like further to develop your skills for a legal assistant job, many community colleges offer associate's degree programs for legal assistants and paralegals. You might see these programs listed as an AAS degree or Associate of Applied Science.
If you've completed an undergraduate degree, you could pursue a legal assistant certificate program to tailor your skills to the legal field.
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers certifications for Certified Legal Assistants (CLA) and Certified Paralegals (CP). The organization also offers an Advanced Certified Paralegal designation for those who have completed the training and testing requirements.
Your state's bar association or other local organizations may provide additional paralegal and legal assistant certifications. The value of a given certification depends mainly on its reputation in the region and within the industry. A clear notion about your intended career can help you tailor your certification to meet your employer's expectations.
Making Informed Choices
At every step in your legal career, you'll face difficult decisions. Many paralegals and legal assistants decide to go on to law school and become an attorney. Return to FindLaw's Law Students section for more articles about exams, the bar, financial aid, and more to help ensure that you make informed choices.